This week, the blog is going to be more personal than usual. While each post I write comes from the deeply personal place that shares in your pain as parents, or the place that has been a friend or family member supporting a grieving parent, or the place that has been a patient and cared deeply for her medical professionals, I do not often talk about my own story on this blog. This week, I cannot imagine sharing anything with you other than my own words about my own losses and what this experience is like for my family now.
On Wednesday, October 10th, my family and I will be celebrating and grieving the four year anniversary of the birth and death of our triplets, Bridget, Vivian, and Liam. We celebrate their birth because it is a day worth remembering and cherishing, as it is the day they lived, and their lives changed everything for my family. We continue to grieve their deaths because we will never not miss them. The deaths of babies are never natural, and their lives have value because they existed. They are worthy of a lifetime of love- in all the many forms that may take.
Over the last four years, our love for them has looked like consuming grief, a seemingly endless flow of tears, and a desperate longing to hold them, kiss them, and know them. Our love has also looked like remembering the beauty of their perfect little selves, the tender moments of holding them and resting in our time as a family, and the joy and pride we feel when we look at their precious pictures. Our love has looked like choosing to embrace and celebrate all that life still has to offer. It has looked like creating a legacy in their honor, and it has recently begun to look like sharing their lives with their baby sister.
Over the last four years, we have wrestled with the weight of our grief, the pain of living in a world without three of our children, and the tension that comes with balancing the impact of the past with the beauty of the present and the possibilities of the future. As a family, we have learned more than we ever wished to know about death, grief, and life after loss. While there is so much I could say about our experience and what we know now, four years later, I want to share three specific things that I am processing as the anniversary of our Bridget, Vivian, and Liam approaches: it is still hard, moving forward does not mean moving on, and impact and legacy are wholly unique.
It is still hard
This will likely be the truth that I wrestle with and process over the course of my entire life. Every year, I am hit with the magnitude of our losses and the depths of my grief. The first year of grief was about surviving- minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. It was about putting one foot in front of the other, simply inhaling and exhaling. My days were consumed by grieving, thoughts of grieving, or the few moments each day when I was not crying or I had managed to distract myself from the realities of what we had been through. As the months continued, we began to think beyond the immediate present. We began to make plans and gingerly test the waters of living life again.
On the one-year anniversary, I was pregnant with our daughter, so we were living in the tension of grieving Bridget, Vivian, and Liam and celebrating the little girl yet to come. The one-year anniversary is a mile-marker. It is a victory because it means you have survived the impossible- a year of life without your child or children. It was a day that I was not sure would ever come, and when it did, it felt like both a victory and an overwhelming defeat. While we had survived the first year, we were painfully aware of the reality that this was only the beginning. A lifetime of anniversaries and missed experiences stretched out before us.
The second and third anniversaries were focused on our desire for a legacy in their memory. We knew we needed to do something to honor them, and we wanted a way to incorporate our daughter in the process of honoring them every year. Over the years, we have done service projects, baked cakes, sung “Happy Birthday,” invited people into our grief, shared our story, and spent time looking at their pictures and remembering the beautiful moments from the day they were born.
This year is the fourth anniversary, and it feels different. It feels heavy in a new way. It feels like settling in under the weight and reality of being a grieving parent. The weight is there, I feel it, and yet, I feel comforted by its presence. The weight is a connection to my babies. It is the string that ties my heart to theirs. For years, I fought the weight of grief, and now, I cannot imagine it being lifted. I never want to be free of the weight of my love and grief because I never want to be free of them.
While I embrace the weight of a lifetime of grief, it does not mean that it is not still hard. Four years is a drop in the bucket of my life. I have many years ahead of me to mourn, and that reality can be overwhelming and consuming, if I allow myself to focus on it. As Wednesday approaches, I cannot help but think about the fact that my babies would have been four this year. As a mother to a three-year-old, I can only imagine what life would have been like with three four-year-olds running wild in our home. I long for the sound of their laughter and the hilarity of the crazy things they would say. I long to study them as they sleep, gently pushing the hair back from their faces. I long to kiss the hurts, snuggle away sickness, and wipe away tears. I long for the chaos, the stress, and the unadulterated joy.
Four years is just the beginning. In 2020, there will be three precious children missing from Kindergarten. In 2033, there will be three young adults missing from high school graduation ceremonies. I will never cheer from the sidelines or watch as my babies develop passions and hobbies. I will never pick out prom dresses or wedding dresses with my daughters. I will never dance with my son at his wedding. I will never watch my babies become parents. There is a lifetime of never waiting for me, and the weight of it catches me off guard every single year.
What I have come to terms with is the fact that being a parent to children that died will always be hard. There will always be secondary losses. There will always be three beautiful, precious, and unique people missing from our family.
Recognizing and accepting that this will always be hard has allowed me the freedom to embrace each part of the process and the feelings that come. When it hurts so bad that it literally takes my breath away, I allow myself to grieve without hindrance. When something reminds me of them and brings a smile to my face, I relish the way my heart swells with love, joy, and pride at the privilege of being their mother. It will always be hard, but it does not mean that I am stuck in my grief. It will always be hard, but it does not mean that I do not appreciate the present or the gift of the future. It will always be hard, but it will not consume or defeat me. It will always be hard. What I know now is that I can do hard things. I survived the worst moments of my life, and I can live in light of the hard that lies ahead.
Moving Forward Does Not Mean Moving On
Moving forward and moving on are two very different things. Moving on implies leaving something behind, as if you closed a door and severed the connection to that specific point on the map of your life. Moving forward is not about leaving something behind or putting distance between you and the loss of your child. Rather, moving forward is about continuing. It is a choice to continue to live life in light of all that has happened. Moving forward is about charting a new path that starts at the moment your whole world fell apart.
For me, moving forward is like an exploratory mission. As I carve out this new path, I am also learning who I am now and how I am continuing to change and grow. See, the birth of my babies was also the birth of the me I am now. New pieces of me were born when they were born, and old pieces of me died when they died. I am who I am because of them, the gift of loving them, and the process of grieving them. There is no moving on from them; there is only moving forward from the point in time in which I held them in my arms and felt my whole world change. I made- and continue to make- the choice to move forward because I am meant to continue to live.
I can trace my life now back to them. They are in every breath I breathe. They are in every word I write. They are in every single step I take in this life because they are a part of me. They were the beginning of the story that is being written for my life now, and the beginning is every bit as important as the both the ending and the journey between the two. I did not, and I will not, move on from being their mother, from loving them, or from grieving them, but I will move forward.
I will move forward by living in the present. I will move forward by honoring the past. I will move forward by grieving them when the weight of losing them bears down on me. I will move forward by laughing and loving and finding joy in the life I have with their father and their baby sister. I will move forward by continuing to build a legacy in their memory by sharing their lives and their story. I will move forward by channeling the love I have for them into the work I do with Carrying To Term.
Moving on is a false expectation, and in many ways, a prison, but moving forward is empowering, and it is the freedom to live, love, and grieve. You can move forward without leaving your baby or babies behind because living and grieving are not mutually exclusive.
Impact and Legacy are wholly unique
If there is one thing I have learned through the work that I do, the people I have met, and the experiences I have faced, it is that the impact a child has on his or her parents and the legacy that the parents create in the aftermath of losing that child are wholly unique.
There is no right way to grieve. There is no right way to honor or remember a child. There is no right legacy.
How you grieve, honor, and remember your child or children is entirely yours to decide. There should be no pressure or expectation. There should be no should or could or would. There is only your how and why. It took me far too long to realize that, and the freedom that came with embracing the uniqueness of our story and the impact of our babies was incredible. What I am learning now, four years down the line, is that impact and legacy are not set in stone. You do not have to settle on one type of legacy. You do not have to define your baby’s or babies’ impact in one way.
Every year can be different. How I honor my babies on the anniversary varies every year, and it often varies from how I honor them throughout the year between anniversaries. We have traditions, like baking a cake and singing “Happy Birthday,” and we allow ourselves the freedom to just be wherever we are in the weeks leading up to the day and on the day itself. We allow our daughter to play an active role in their legacy, and we let her teach us how their lives impact hers. This is her story, too, and her experience shapes our understanding of their impact and our desires for their legacy.
This year, I am giving myself permission to not know the answers or the future of their impact. I am allowing them the chance to impact me how they will in the coming years. I am embracing the change that will come as my daughter ages and understands this experience in new ways. I am giving myself permission to grow and change in the year between each anniversary.
Loving and grieving my babies is not comfortable or safe. It does not always make sense to the rest of the world. It is loud, messy, broken, and at times, so consuming it takes my breath away. Grieving my babies is the hardest thing I will ever do, but loving them is the most natural thing I could ever imagine. The love a parent carries for their child- living or dead- is unconditional, and unconditional love is always worth it.
While I wish I had the chance to mother my babies and raise them this side of heaven, there has never been a single moment of this journey that has not been worth all the tears and all the pain. They existed, and for as long as I exist, I will love them, and I will grieve them.