7 months ago today, our sweet Hadley Grace was born. 7 months. I cannot believe how quickly the time has gone by but in many other ways, we have trudged through this year---burdened, weary, and longing. I never thought in a million years I'd be writing a monthly post about our girl that would be like this. Much like how we got our bad news is doses during our 15 day hospital stay, our healing journey has come in doses as well. One huge truth that we have leaned in these months is that we just need to get comfortable with this journey being a forever thing. We will mourn our daughter every second of every minute of every hour of every day of our lives. The healing comes in the sitting with that reality----how do you go on, as yourself, when yourself is now traveling this rocky road, with no end in sight? My grief is woven into who I am. Yet my grief does not define me, I won't let it. So what have these 7 months been like?
Messy: There were awkward moments that came like gut punches again and again and again facing people after we become parents....and after we weren't anymore; after I birthed a 3 lb, 12 oz. baby but never got to take her home. That was excruciating. I was scared to even walk to get the mail for fear that a neighbor might wonder why my pregnant belly was gone but we had no stroller with us. Some people sat with us, some cried with us. We were sent cards, gift cards, meals, flowers, books, memorial jewelry and more. We received phone calls, texts, and emails from close friends and people we hadn't talked to in years. It was all very surreal. I will always appreciate the kindness we were shown in those early weeks. People showed up and we felt love and it really really helped. I will never be able to repay the kindness that we were shown in those days. But much like sharing the news we were pregnant, sharing the news we lost our daughter came in waves......there were calls to close friends, family visits, Facebook announcement, some people heard through the grapevine, and there are the rounds of people you'd never even think of: the dentist, the nail salons I no longer visit because I don't want to explain, people at church, acquaintances at school, my students and their families. It was like one day after another, people would wonder, some would ask, some would ignore it, and pretend my big belly just disappeared on its own.
There is no magic formula for how to react to something like this. Feeling like we were making people uncomfortable added entire levels of pain and worry that looking back now, I know we should have let go. But death makes people uncomfortable. The fact that Hadley was real, and breathing, and born alive, and with us for a week, but passed away in the very hospital where she was born is hard for people. I get it. I've thought many times how I would deal with that situation if I was on the other side, and I always come up empty. I think we don't know how to act in this situation because it's just so unnatural and not supposed to happen.
Devastating: I have shed more tears than I can even describe. The days have gotten so much easier and the difficult, stop you in your tracks moments are fewer, but the pain is just as raw, just as deep. For the first month or so after everything happened I felt numb. I become sort of obsessed with researching Hadley's condition, digging up medical articles, taking notes, and feeling like as Hadley's mom, it was my mom job to get to the bottom of it all. One afternoon, in bed, after googling about preterm labor, infant sepsis, brain hemorrhaging, for hours upon hours, I just broke down: It wasn't ever going to make sense was it? Being certain I will never be able to accurately answer the "why?" is terrifying. It's a puzzle that cannot be solved and that will frustrate me every day of my life. It's rare for a day to go by where I don't turn to AJ and say, "I just miss her." I do, truly. Hadley never got to come home to her nursery but in the weeks after we came home from the hospital, our house felt lonely, empty, quiet. AJ and I both remarked that we felt this odd sense of being home-sick. That's because Hadley was already a part of our family. We read to her, felt her, talked to her, and ultimately, got to hold and meet her. Her presense was (and is) very much alive in our lives. It's a harsh realization that no matter how incredible life feels, a piece of my heart will whisper to my brain, "She should be here."
Hard Work: I believe so strongly that there is nothing wrong with getting help. Ever. As soon as we left the hospital AJ and I both knew we needed a plan. We needed to establish ways of hoping and ways to stop crying, to get out of bed, to laugh again, to hold our marriage up, and to feel things again. The doctor who delivered Hadley is one of my personal heroes. She called us nearly daily in the weeks after everything happened. She coached us through our grief in those early days and I will never forget putting her on speakerphone on the 4th of July in a grocery store parking lot as AJ and I cried and cried and she offered practical, meaningful advice to us. We reached out to our Pastor at church and he too offered us beautiful truths and recommended many excellent resources. We entered therapy about 2 weeks after everything happened. We went weekly for the entire summer. We still go, but now only about once a month or so. Don't ever be ashamed to reach out for help. Life can be heavy sometimes, share the burden and work toward mental health. As I mentioned before, I learned that grief will always be in my life, but maybe I can build something around this huge mountain....it's not moving, so maybe I should figure out ways to make peace with it.
Beautiful: I remember our counselor told us in late June: "You are in the valley, but don't forget that beautiful things can happen in the valley." I have clung to that. I would trade every single thing for one more day with Hadley, but since I cannot, I take comfort in some beautiful things that have shone in the darkness. First and most important is my relationship with AJ. I wrote him a letter and gave it to him the night before we got married and wrote something along the lines of how we think we're in deep love now, but we have no idea what life will bring and that we cannot fathom the depths of love we will feel for each other. I see that letter now and know that God chose us to be partners in this walk through harsh terrain. He's my rock and seeing him as a daddy made that love soar and just take off. I was only worried about Hadley in those crazy 15 days, but he had to worry about both his girls and he shows me time and time again why saying "I do" was the best sentence of my life.
In August, our doctor told us about another couple who had lost their baby girl after a week just like us. She got us their contact info and we met them at Starbucks one night this fall. Now, Tracy and Matt are some of our closest friends. Tracy and I text every single day and AJ and I have so enjoyed making new friends on a deep level that we had business really getting to know...no similar social circles, and they live about 45 minutes away. Through grief and loss, our beautiful friendship was formed and we always say our girls are hanging out in heaven together. I know they are.
I have gained perspective that I know makes me a better friend, neighbor, teacher, daughter, sister, wife, and eventually a parent than I would have been without Hadley. Love the hell out of your people. Hold them tight, let stupid crap go, find beauty in the little moments, and enjoy the glimpse of the everlasting and deep love our hearts were made for. Hadley, you changed me. I hope and pray for the better. 7 months later I can say, I will not sugar coat it....the hurt exists, the tears fall, I feel sad, and broken, and lost still. I. just. miss. her. And that's ok. There's no guidebook for this and healing comes in doses. So 7 months ago, when I was still pregnant, my heart was so scared--the future was so uncertain and we knew our Hads might have a rough time after birth. I rely on her example, strength, and determination daily. I will always be thankful for the truth that there is life in the valley.