It was heartbreaking. They were in their 24th week of gestation. They were in no way ready for life outside the womb. As the nurse shot me full of steroids to help prepare their little lungs for breathing three-plus months early, I quietly cried. The seriousness of the situation couldn’t be ignored.
Isaac was the firstborn. He was the one who made it. As I write this, I hear him breathing next to me in his sleep—Sweet Isaac, so fat and happy and normal. The only hints of his horrific struggle to survive are the ever-shrinking scars from his multiple surgeries. Isabella came second. She’s the one who didn’t make it. She wanted to, I am sure, but was just too small, too sick, and too weak to fight. Even as I write this, tears pour down my face. She was the one who held on to our fingers from the first few hours after her birth. While Isaac pushed us away, his little hands held up in what we learned was the preemie “stop” sign, Bella grasped our fingers tightly. She was so alive.
My First Introduction to Pain
This loss was my first real introduction to pain. Sure, I’d been sad now and then; the loss of friendship, my favorite cat disappearing, Grandpa passing away, but nothing like the loss of my child who took her last breaths in my arms, completely small and helpless. This loss was a different league of pain, and I knew then and there that I would need to be very present, honest, and intelligent if I would make it through this ordeal without being shut down or bitter.
It was not easy, but I was committed to doing this. I was not going to die with my daughter; I was going to live, and to live, I would have to grow.
Pain Is a Response
The first thing I learned was that pain is not what destroys us. Pain is only a response. For me to grow through the pain, I had to see it as a friend and feel it fully. The pain was only lethal when ignored, hidden, or lied about. And so I opened my arms to the pain.
How I did this was simple. I cried whenever I felt the urge. I looked at Bella’s clothes she’d never wear, her photos, the gifts people had sent, and even the little medical instruments they’d used to keep her alive. And I laid it all around to see. I was going to face this head-on and let all the sadness have every reason to show itself. When people asked about my life, I told them, tears running down my face, exactly what had happened—the clerk at the grocery store, the old friend, the nurse, the person next to me in the waiting room, the fellow jogger. I told my story to anyone who’d listen.
After about two months, I felt free of the overwhelming pain that had shaken my core. It was like all the pain had drained out; now, it was just a sense of sadness and loss that I carried. No longer bursting into tears at the sight of a double stroller, I knew that somehow I’d taken a significant first step. The tidal wave was now a few three-foot waves crashing on my shores every morning. Life was coming back into view.
Pain Never Leaves
The second thing I learned was that pain never entirely leaves. I will carry this ache for Bella until I see her in Heaven. It’s not bad; it’s not going to hurt my life; it just is. She is missing, and she is missed. What makes the ongoing ache so doable is that I never tried to answer the emotional distress in my head. I had pain to deal with in my heart, and it could never be resolved by thinking in my mind. This is where I’ve seen so many friends lose it and become bitter. Our minds were never meant to address pain. To think we can find some thought that will disperse the pain is crazy; we can only feel it, release it, cry for it, and talk about it.
When we go to our heads to find a way out of our pain, the emotional stress of the situation usually leads us to grasp why it happened. It’s almost as if we think our pain will subside if someone is to blame or some little tidbit of knowledge to be understood. This is a trap. The tragedy has happened, and it is not going to change. There is nothing I can do about it except embrace the process of adjusting. Anything more than this and I will begin to play a role that is not mine to play, and in the process, cut off who I am in this whole thing—the grieving mom.
A Great Teacher
Finally, I learned that pain is a great teacher. As shallow as we all tend to be, once in deep pain, the thinking and feeling of our deepest selves seem to surface. There is much I didn’t know about myself until Bella breathed her last. Talk about self-awareness! When pain is allowed and is embraced in the process of life, it’s like the soul opens wide, and one can sense where deep wounds were and are. Amid this present-day ordeal, many hidden wounds cried out. Being willing, I heard them in a place of humility and honesty.
It is not easy, pain. But it is predictable. You can count on the fact that if you embrace the process and stick with your heart, never rushing up to your head, you will come through it more aware, more real, and very much more sensitive to the reality of loss in others. I would never choose the road I’ve walked this past year, but I can also say that I am a far more caring, honest, and real person for having walked it. If you’re willing, pain will grow you like nothing else on earth.
Claire Worley writes from the Pacific Northwest.© 2002 - 2023, AnswersForMe.org. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.