Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Life after Loss

Sarah would be 6 months old now.

I can't bring myself to say those words out loud. I kind of choke on them. 6 months seems like a weird milestone to mourn. But this also seems a fitting time to share some thoughts about life after loss. (Here's her story if you need a refresher).

The dreaded question

First, there's the question I hate: "How many kids do you have?"

It's really incredible how quickly I can break out in a cold sweat. Often I panic and say "one." It seems to blurt out of my mouth before I can stop it.

It's the easy answer but it's the wrong one. I am a mother of 2. One of those 2 is just really, really easy to take care of right now.

If I do manage to answer "two" I pray they won't ask the natural follow-up question: "How old are they?" Poor souls. I have to tell them the truth, and I wish I could warn them first that things are about to get awkward.

The grief bucket

Then there's grief, Mr. Unpredictable. Grief isn't like I thought at all. I thought I would grieve a lot at first and then gradually just heal and move on, in a tidy linear fashion. It doesn't feel like that. It feels like a bucket that slowly fills up and then spills over in a fresh wave of sadness. In between spills I go about daily life and I lead a happy, full life. Over time the bucket does seem to fill up more slowly, but once it spills over the feelings are just as fresh as day 1.

Known and Unknown

I have to admit there's some fear wrapped up in the question, "What about the next?" After years of infertility and two miracle pregnancies, will I ever be pregnant again? And should I be that lucky, will my baby survive?

I should back up and explain that we chose to have an autopsy done on Sarah (is this too macabre to blog about? I'm a medical person and this is all very natural for me, so my apologies...). She had a condition called "multicystic encephalomalacia". That's a fancy term for extensive damage to the brain from massive oxygen depletion, due to infection or circulatory problems.

Put in plain terms, the most likely scenario is that, sometime during my second trimester, Sarah's cord got kinked or twisted, blocking blood flow for long enough to cause irreversible damage to her brain, but not long enough for her to pass away in utero. She had been perfect at the 20-week ultrasound.

Thus, as far as we know, there's no greater risk of this happening to us again as there is of it happening to anyone.

I'm still nervous.

Irony...or poetry?

This is probably an appropriate time to mention something else about Sarah. Her name was Sarah Emily, in honor of Isaac's twin sisters, Sarah and Emily, who passed away as babies. They had a shared blood supply, and due to complications of this, Emily was stillborn and Sarah, similar to our Sarah, had severe brain damage from the lack of blood flow. She lived about 7 months and then passed away as well. 

We really felt like Sarah Emily was the right name for our daughter when we picked it after the gender ultrasound. It seemed so redemptive to imagine her living the full life they missed and honoring their memory in that way. 

Instead, in one of life's ironies, we watched our Sarah follow a similar path as her sweet aunts. Perhaps this would be an opportunity to let bitterness in. But I see it differently. I think it's fitting that such pure, beautiful spirits as Sarah and Emily would have a namesake equally as pure and beautiful. Isaac's mom says she likes to picture the three of them up in heaven, dear friends, and jumping on beds like teenagers at a slumber party. 

Closing the door on bitterness

I picture Bitterness as one of those door-to-door salespeople trying to shove his foot in my door while I've got my back against it, trying to force it closed. I can't dwell on other people's large families or the healthy babies born around the same time as Sarah. I can't dwell on the seeming unfairness of struggling with infertility and then losing a child.

Despite it all, though, I regard Sarah's life and passing as one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. It was a privilege to be in her presence, to be her mother, to give her life and love her, and then to send her peacefully back home.

I remain convinced that, if her time here needed to be short, she was taken in the gentlest way possible. There's no way to send a child home without grief unless you don't love her--a rare scenario indeed. But she lived and died peacefully, with little distress and almost no trauma or pain. We had a little notice that something was wrong but not too much. Choosing to take her off the ventilator didn't feel like a dilemma--we all agreed it was the best thing for her. All these things softened the experience. And through it I came to know God in a way that would otherwise be impossible. I have felt peace that didn't--couldn't--come from me.

That's how I keep the door (mostly) closed.


I am a different person now. More compassionate, I hope. Better educated on grief. Better equipped to empathize. I have received so much kindness that I feel eager to give back where I can.

I used to see other parents losing children with health problems and think it mattered less to lose a "damaged" child than a normal one.

Here's the truth--I loved (and love) Sarah just as much as Mary. It's remarkable, really, since our time together was so short. That beautiful girl wasn't damaged goods. But the gift her health problems gave me was the ability to let go with fewer regrets. On days when I try to imagine life with her here, a chubby, laughing 6-month-old that's sitting up and grabbing my hair and learning to eat solids, I remember she wouldn't be doing those things. I can't wish she were here if it means keeping the body she came in.

I would have never chosen the past 6 months to happen as they did. But I'm forever grateful they happened anyway.


  1. Oh Camber, my heart can relate in so many ways. I would totally agree that grief is VERY different than I had thought as well. I am a little over two years into this journey, and have realized that grief will forever be my companion. There is a fabulous article by Steven Kalas on grief. I wrote about it in a blog post at the beginning of last year titled "some big milestones". Everyone grieves so differently, but I have noticed that when losing a child it seems, grief is a lifelong experience. I also really liked this quote as well,

    ...Much had changed since then. She'd learned to live within her grief , and then to live beyond it though she could always touch it if she tried...

    From Passion Blue by Victoria Strauss

    Know that even though our stories and experiences aren't the same, I have many of the same feelings and you aren't alone. This post just made me want to give you a hug! I really, really hate that question too about the number of kids I have. So many similar feelings. Beautiful post. Sending prayers your way my friend.

  2. Beautifully written and expressed Camber. Thank you so much for sharing this. I think the world of you and your little family...all 4 of you!

  3. Your blog is always so thoughtful and gracefully written. We think of you often and hope you are doing well!

  4. This post was beautiful, as they all are. You touch my heart in ways I can't explain. Hugs and love to you and your sweet family. You guys are just amazing.

  5. Love this post. Thanks for the reminder that we need to be thoughtful of those who have experienced such a loss, even long after the initial experience. I love how you have expressed your heart in such a way that it reaches into your reader's hearts.

  6. You're beautiful. I love you. And Mom used to tell me the SAME THING about Sarah and Emily when I was little. I'd completely forgotten and reading that again made me gasp.
    It's totally true. And I can't wait until you get to hold your baby in your arms again, never to be parted again.