Marriage After Loss: Will Death Do Us Part

This blog post was first published at Still Standing Magazine.

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This blog post was first published at Still Standing Magazine.

I thought we were okay. I really thought we were okay. Until that late night when we sat cradled on the floor crying into each other’s arms. The cloud of death was hovering over our lives and we were not okay.

It was the first time that we had cried, together. We finally admitted that death was destroying us. Death was destroying our relationship. It was death that was tearing us apart.

My husband and I were newlyweds when our one-week-old son died. Child loss can be devastating to any relationship. But experiencing the death of our firstborn son during the height of our honeymoon period came with its own kind of trauma. Everything that we believed life to be had changed. The sheer joy of our wedded bliss was shattered. As a new wife, a new mother, I was empty. We were empty.

But we were together, so I thought we were okay.

Days after our son’s death we received a visit from a hospital counselor. She came to our home, sat on our sofa and delivered one of the most piercing statements that our newlywed ears would ever hear. This certified counselor stated with an unpretentious air, “Most couples don’t survive infant death.”

I don’t recall her offering much guidance on the loss of our son. She didn’t give assistance on how to make funeral arrangements or who to call for help. It’s as if she came for one purpose, to let us know that we probably wouldn’t make it.

As the years passed, her words rang loudly in my ear. Most couples don’t survive.

Death had gripped us, but I thought we were okay.

Our relationship has been pretty solid over the years. We’ve experienced growing pains, but we’ve always been together. Until that night that we admitted to one another that we were hurting and afraid. We were afraid to be vulnerable and love deeply. Love that deep can be painful. And for us, it was traumatic. Death made loving traumatic.

We were trying to wrap our minds around the fact that we had buried our firstborn son. We were facing our individual pain, guilt, and grief of losing a child. But together, the brokenness left us afraid. Afraid to love.

By fearing the pain of losing one another, we had become afraid to love.

The residue of trauma!

I’ve always imagined putting the pieces of my heart back together so that I could live. But I never considered that I needed those same pieces in order to love.

I wanted to be okay. I wanted us to be okay. Despite my pain, I wanted to love.

As we sat on the floor that night, cradled in each other’s arms, we cried ourselves to sleep. The next morning we awakened and greeted each other with a smile and tender kiss. The room was filled with such euphoria. The air was peaceful and angelic. Our tears had cleansed us. They healed us.

We got up off the floor, together. And we were okay.

Death did not do us part.

For what God has joined together…

Yes, we are okay.


The Weight of Carrying a Baby – The One That I Lost

This blog post was first published at Still Standing Magazine.

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I never understood the weight of carrying a baby, until I had to carry the baby that I lost.

Standing at my son’s graveside one afternoon, I remember crying out, “Colby! Baby, please help mommy.”

It was a moment of desperation. I needed some relief, but I had run out of solutions. And all that I could do was turn to my baby. The baby that I had lost.

Not only was my heart hurting, my body was falling apart. I no longer felt like myself. I had changed. Physically changed. And I needed some help.

The birth of my angel was traumatic. Pure trauma!

We often share the emotional scars of infant loss, but the physical damage is just as painful. And the weight cannot be measured on a scale.

The onset of trauma-induced autoimmune disorders has left my body in disarray. From the day that I entered the hospital to give birth for the very first time, my body has been in a constant fight with itself.

And it won’t stop!

But what’s the issue with this weight?

The lingering weight. Am I carrying baby weight?! Or is what I see the weight of carrying a baby?! The baby that I lost.

I’ve tried all kinds of diets and cleanses. Clean eating and exercise. Boot camps and group challenges. But when I start losing weight, my heart hurts. It literally hurts my heart when I lose weight.

I’ve visited a cardiologist seeking answers. As he examined my heart, my tears became a more clear diagnosis for me. It has nothing to do with a scale or exam. The source of the pain won’t show up on my EKG, but it rests in every beat of my heart.

I’ve come to realize that my pain when losing weight, is actually the pain of losing the weight of my baby. The baby that I lost.

My body represents a mom of two. That includes the baby that I lost.

This belly pouch is from that emergency C-section that I endured in an attempt to save his life.

My large breasts produced the milk that I thought he needed to survive and thrive.

The rolls on my back aren’t just back fat, it’s the weight of carrying the dreams of my baby. The baby that I lost.

Here I stand at the start of a new year preparing to embark on yet another weight loss challenge. But this time the reflection in the mirror says something more. So I’m extending myself some grace for all of my failed attempts.

This weight that I have isn’t the baby weight that I expected, it’s so much more. And it can’t be counted on the scale.

My weight, the weight that I’m carrying, is the weight of carrying all that I wanted my baby to be.

As I commit to losing the weight and the pain of carrying it all. I’m choosing to let go. Let go of the weight. And let go of the pain. Let go of the baby that I lost.

 

Photo by: Margo/Flickr CC


To Our Men

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Our men are some of the quiet heroes in the pregnancy and infant loss community.

Shortly after last Sunday’s game a story broke about San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. The Goodwin story became trending news when it was revealed that his emotional breakdown in the end zone after an 83-yard touchdown was no ordinary celebration. As he stated, it was in fact a celebration of faith and life as he and his wife had experienced the tragic death of their baby boy earlier that morning.

It was heartbreaking to read that at 19 weeks, Marquise and Morgan Goodwin’s son was stillborn.

As I’ve followed the story throughout the week, reading various articles and blogs for updates, I couldn’t help but read the comments in response. The outpouring of love and support is inspiring.

Our men are often overlooked when discussing pregnancy and infant loss, so I’m personally moved by stories that feature pain from the father’s perspective. But in this instance, I found myself somewhat troubled. The lack of compassion expressed towards a grieving parent is mind-boggling. I’m not sure how anyone could trivialize the death of a child at any age or stage.

We must do better.

Our son Colby died when he was seven days old. His death, from complications following a premature birth, changed our lives. My husband was a high school head football coach at the time. I remember how he threw himself into work almost immediately. He never took a break. We worked through our grief together.

The only requirement in grief is that you grieve. Your way.

I’m sure my personal experience with child loss allows insight into the journey of a grieving parent. But I would imagine that I’d still operate from a place of compassion and empathy had I never lost a child.

I was struck by one of the first comments that I read following the Goodwin story. It was a reader insisting that Marquise should have been at his wife’s side instead of playing football. We’ve since learned that he played at the urging of his wife, but why does it matter? What if it was his decision? Why is he expected to forgo his pain? Who decides when it’s best for him to return to work? How long is he allowed to grieve? Is he allowed to grieve at all?

In the pregnancy and infant loss community we often focus on the needs of the mother. As I’ve combed the comments, it’s evident that for much of our society it’s the expectation. And that needs to change.

Our men need a safe space to grieve.

My husband’s father was killed when he was six years old. Shortly after our son’s death, during a moment of vulnerability, my husband questioned how a man is expected to live after burying his father and his son. In the midst of his cries he asked, “How do I go on?”

This moment in our journey remains one of my most heartbreaking memories. I felt extremely helpless. I wanted to do so much more than hold him. I needed to find the answers.

I needed him to go on!

The season following the death of our son would be my husband’s last season with that team. We actually relocated from Fort Lauderdale, FL to Atlanta when it ended. I remember sitting down to help write his resignation letter. He wanted to let it all go. We sold our home and left everything behind.

It all happened so fast and I was stricken with so much grief that I don’t think I even realized that we were making such a major decision.

Before we left, one of the players brought over a gift. In the bag was the movie “Facing the Giants”, great movie!

We both cried when we watched it. Not only was it a beautiful movie depicting faith and perseverance in football and family. In solidarity, I feel that this young 16-17 year old player was saying, “Hey Coach, I see you!”

It’s remained one of my favorite movies. Because Yes! Coach, I see you!

My husband is a gentle giant. He’s a man of great strength and character. He is the ultimate provider and protector of our family. For years he has carried my grief on his shoulders, sacrificing his own. He’s dried my tears while encapsulating his pain. In moments of doubt he assures me that I can go on, while he teeters along the healing journey himself.

He found a way to go on.

The 49ers are off this week. I pray that the Goodwins are given space to continue their journey of grief and healing.

In all of his post game interviews, I noticed how Marquise Goodwin praised his wife. It’s what our men do. They make us stronger.

Fathers of angels, its who they are.

They are indeed the quiet heroes of life after pregnancy and infant loss.

So to every man who has stood by a grieving mother, we see you. Thank You!

To the father who puts his needs aside to take care of his wife and family in times of grief, we see you. Thank You!

To the man who sits in his car on his lunch break crying after his girlfriend's miscarriage, we see you.  Thank You!

To the father who breaks down quietly at night when everyone is asleep, we see you. Thank You!

To Marquise Goodwin for exposing your pain to the world with such grace and courage, we see you. Thank You!

And to my man, Rodrick Taplin, for carrying me on your shoulders and being all that I’ve ever needed you to be, we see you. THANK YOU!  

 

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PICTURE NOTE: The featured image is from our engagement photo series with Phoetic. The original photo was placed in our son Colby’s incubator during his seven days in the NICU. It remains in our memory box created by the hospital staff and will forever be a cherished portrait. To Mr. Phoetic, a father who has grieved, Thank You!