Guest post by Ashley Patek
Her name is Harlow. And she is the child who made me Mom.
When I close my eyes and bring my hand to my belly, I can still feel her kicks and rolls inside the womb.
As I wrap my arms around myself, I imagine wrapping her in all the love and safety only a mother can give to her growing baby.
At 28 weeks, my body went into labor, 16 hours of it.
I began to panic. Can anyone tell me, Is this normal?
It was suggested that I was experiencing Braxton Hicks, so I forged on working my shift at the hospital and, at the end of my work day, drove home, curling over myself and the steering wheel.
I had no real grasp of the difference in intensity between Braxton Hicks contractions and labor, but what I did know was that my intuition was screaming, “Something isn’t right here!”
In fact, I had been telling people something wasn’t right for weeks now, mostly to be advised, “Everything is normal.” Or “This is just first-time mom jitters.”
But a mama knows. She knows her body unlike anyone else. And she knows her baby’s patterns, rhythm, and energy from the earliest of days. She knows.
By the time I returned to the hospital, this time as a patient, I crumbled, unable to walk to the door. My legs wouldn’t carry us any longer.
I felt like my body was failing me… failing her.
My husband frantically parked the truck while strangers rallied together to carry my fallen body inside and call for help. We were then quickly whisked away to a room with a doctor by my side, “You’re in the transition phase. Your baby is coming. We need to listen for a heartbeat.”
The jelly was cold and the minute was long. Before I knew it, there was a team of nurses and doctors surrounding my bed, most of them looking down or away, because if they looked at me, I would have seen their tears. But I already knew their unspoken pain, because I sensed it too. While I would deliver a baby girl, she would not come home with me.
I am sure my howls could be heard down the hall. They weren’t from the pain of an unmedicated delivery. It was the raw primal roar of a mama who had lost a child.
She came into the world quietly, beautiful, still. Our daughter, sweet Harlow.
I wasn’t able to focus on my grief for long. I still had a battle ahead. This time for my own life. With a dropping blood pressure, the room faded in and out. I heard them say to my husband, “She is losing too much blood and we are losing her.”
I was naked on a bed, hemorrhaging, and broken. I almost felt like telling the doctors to let me go. I was merely a shell of a woman at this point anyways. But as I looked over at my husband and saw his eyes of pain, I knew he couldn’t lose a daughter and a wife on the same day. Somehow, without knowing, and without a word, he sparked my fight.
Before the world went black, with my body and voice shaking, I pleaded to the doctor, “Please don’t let me die.”
There was a rebirth of myself that happened that day, a shedding of skin where I crawled out a different person, both flawed and beautiful, both tormented and transcending.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and I wanted to share a piece of my story with parents because the worst thing to feel is alone. And that is exactly how I felt for so long. But not anymore. It is time to break the enduring stigma and silence that surrounds child loss.
Life After Loss
Stepping out of the hospital and into life again felt like stepping into a world without the sun and the moon. It had gone dark, and I wondered if I would ever see the light again… smile again… be whole again.
Grief is not linear. One day you may find that brushing your teeth feels like a win, and other days, you may actually make it out the door. I allowed myself both types of days. As many as I needed. There is no expiration tag on grief, nor a mama’s love for her children, and I was no less a mother for having lost my child than I was if she were still here.
Eventually, I began to reclaim small pieces of myself. I donated my breastmilk because it felt nourishing, and I stopped when it didn’t. I connected with other moms who lost a child and looked into a local Share group. I journaled and got in nature. I got clear on what I needed and communicated it with my husband. It saved my marriage. I said my daughter’s name aloud, encouraging others to do the same because my daughter existed. She exists.
But maybe even more profound, I learned to forgive myself. It took me a long time to accept and believe that this wasn’t my fault. It’s not your fault.
Not that sip of wine before you knew, or the deli sandwich you had that one time, or that one thing you did or didn’t do. I no longer blame my body. I celebrate it. Us mamas are creators, portals from the stars to earth. I produced life, not took it away.
I could never tell a fellow mama how to grieve because that process is delicate and intimate, but I will say this: You are not alone, dear mama. There will be light again in your own time. But for now, feel what you feel. Minute by minute, second by second.
This is how we move through with tiny footprints on our hearts.
About the author: Ashley Patek is an OT, certified parent coach, Empathic Witnessing practitioner, and mama who takes a holistic approach to parenting, focusing on the whole-parent, whole-child, and whole-family system. She believes that the way we parent stems from our own childhood, and that as we parent our children, there is a re-parenting that happens within us as well. This is why she offers parent coaching and shadow work sessions for a more conscious, peaceful home.