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Kelly

Mom to Adam Michael and Sophia Rose

November 30, 1997

Illinois

Still, I Rise
“I will say your names.
I will whisper them to my heart.
I will find strength in my heart
which will always beat for you.”
-Kelly

Raw, numb, wounded, sad, despairing, lost.
21 years later these are a few of the words I use to describe my journey through the stillborn loss of one twin and the death of my second twin 27 minutes after she was born. People are often surprised when they hear how many years it’s been since that devastating day. It has taken me 21 years to find the courage and strength needed to face this kind of loss. It’s amazing what the mind will do to preserve itself after such heartache. People handle grief in different ways. My way of coping was to shut down emotionally and not deal with the pain of it all. I frequently judge myself for how I dealt with the loss. Time has given me the perspective to accept and love myself through the process which has aided in my continued healing.

My story is unique, in that there is an element of violence, which directly contributed to the loss of my twins. The myriad of feelings that were intertwined with my experiences has been intense and consuming at times. Gratefully, I have hung on and been able to find hope and healing.

My husband and I were joyfully anticipating the arrival of our twins. I was 36 weeks and my pregnancy had been going well. I was a few days away from being put on bed rest by my doctor in order to give the babies’ lungs at least two more weeks of growing stronger. 36 weeks of excitement, planning, preparing and loving and it would all come shattering down around me in 24 hours.

My husband was out of town for the weekend at a family funeral. I remained at home, unable to accompany him. I was content to be at home finishing washing their clothes and blankets, and putting the final touches on their nursery. Friday evening, a stranger broke into our home, assaulted and raped me. I was in a whole other world of terror, shock, pain and fear.

At the hospital, my physical trauma had to be addressed. I felt like I was in a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from. In the meantime, my body would begin to protest its’ violation and I started contracting. The doctors did everything possible to try and stop my labor, but a short time later my son slid silently into the world, stillborn. My heart broke wide open and my tears baptized his sweet, innocent face. I had little time to grieve as my labor started again. I held onto a faint glimmer of hope that my daughter would be okay and be born alive. Once again, all efforts were made to slow down my contractions. The assault had caused a placental abruption and I had lost a great deal of blood. I was weakening and as I leaned forward to push, I begged God to spare her. The nurse said she had a faint heartbeat and the NICU team quickly whisked her away. Fresh waves of grief overtook me as the Code Team was called. I feared my arms would be empty a second time. She lived for 27 minutes before drifting into heaven. 

In the meantime, I was fading. By that time I had lost half of my body’s blood supply. I slipped into unconsciousness. I awoke in the ICU a day later. I was told I was lucky to be alive, but I didn’t feel lucky. I asked to see them both. There were no words to adequately describe the ache and the grief that went straight to my core as they were laid in my arms. I could only stare at their beautiful faces and imprint each of them on my heart. I was inconsolable and once the tears started, I could not stop them. After several hours, I let the nurse take them. I couldn’t stop shaking and they covered me with warming blankets, unaware that my coldness had nothing to do with my physical body.

I laid awake all night. My body was in so much pain, yet at the same time I barely felt anything. My children were five floors beneath me when they should have been in my arms. I should have been smiling, snuggling them to my chest, nursing them. Instead, my chest was covered in wires. The monitor said my heart was beating, but I couldn’t feel it. I fell into a fitful sleep filled with nightmares of the rape, their labor and the silence that was deafening when they were delivered. I was awakened by the sounds of my own screams. The nurses came running in and every alarm was screaming with me. I was sedated and finally stopped fighting. I fell into a deep and hard sleep from which I didn’t awaken for two days.

I returned home in a fog. I was numb. My husband helped me up the steps. I stopped cold in my tracks in front of our bedroom. Everything came flashing back and I couldn’t breathe. My husband quickly moved me past the room. I found myself in front of their nursery. Everything started spinning and the deep sadness knocked the wind out of me. Soft pastels on the wall, cozy quilts in their beds, a bookshelf filled with books. My gaze drifted to the framed ultrasound pictures on their dresser and then to their rocking chair. My rocking chair. I picked up their stuffed bears from the shelf, sat down in the rocking chair, closed my eyes, and rocked until the moon was high in the sky. This was where I was supposed to be rocking them, feeding them nourishing milk and humming lullabies. Instead there was just the silence and me. I looked down at my still swollen belly. I had nothing left. This couldn’t be happening. I was trapped in this desolate place where I couldn’t escape. Their funeral was a blur and I remember very little. I shut down completely and put all of my feelings and grief behind a thick, locked door. It would take me years before I could open the door again.

“The pain of losing you is etched on my heart. The joy of carrying you is woven into my soul.”
-Kelly

Grief changes you. Trauma changes you. No one could reach me or get through the walls I had so carefully constructed. I could not face the unimaginable. I was drowning on dry land.

 The pivotal moment came one night while I was sitting alone under my favorite Oak tree. A feeling came over me that’s said,”Fight. Now it’s time to fight for you.”

I finally found the help I so desperately needed. I felt ready to face what had so deeply wounded me. I had to reach deep inside to find the courage and strength it was going to take to begin to heal – to fully come alive again. Slowly, I began to climb out of the dark hole I had fallen into. The light hurt at first. The grief would resurface as I stood face-to-face with the despair and memories of my precious babies.

Healing occurs in layers. I had to go through layer after layer, and at times found myself faltering and unsteady. I had to address anger at what had been done to me and the devastation that resulted. I still have days where the anger and desolation creep in. Sometimes in the most unexpected moments and places. I’m learning to stop and breathe and let it move through me.

I’ve recently come to a place where I want to say their names and honor them. For years, I could not let their names escape my lips for fear I would shatter into a million pieces. Their beautiful names are: Adam Michael and Sophia Rose. To honor them, I started by writing a letter to them which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most healing. It’s so hard to give birth to silence when you so desperately wanted to give birth to the beautiful sound of your babies first cry.

Part of my grieving process has included saying goodbye to the loss of hopes, dreams and wishes I had for them. I spent months planning and dreaming of a future I thought I would always have with them. I had felt them move and grow inside of me and in 24 hours it was all gone. And gone in a way that was so violent and that I had no choice in.

As a former labor and delivery nurse, I found another way I could honor them was by caring for the moms and families who had experienced a fetal loss of any type. I could give them what they needed because it was similar to what I needed when I went through my loss.

A wise friend, who had suffered the term loss of her baby, also offered some suggestions as a way to honor and remember your child. Ideas could be: a remembrance ornament, a memorial stone or jewelry that represents your child, a grief journal or a book that addresses grief and loss. For some, having something they can wear and touch helps them feel closer to that baby or child. Additional ideas could be: planting a tree or a flowers that you can see changing and growing each season. Everyone is unique, as is their healing process.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve and to find healing. Some people won’t understand your journey. That’s OK. They don’t have to. It’s not for them. Don’t let anyone rush you through your grieving and healing process. It’s individual for everyone and there is no timeline for grief. You can think or feel that you’ve worked through it and then a month, or a year or even years later-something triggers it and the feelings and memories resurface. That’s OK. It’s another layer, and now you’re a little stronger and a little wiser. Lexi Behrndt said it beautifully. “Grief is a sacred and messy experience. It’s a balance of grief and healing, of joy, of brokenness, and you have to move through both to make your rough edges smooth again. You have to wade through the dark waters to heal your broken pieces, and it will happen – gradually, steadily, sometimes with setbacks, but you will slowly mend.”

I was on a retreat and really struggling with the “why?” of my experiences. Why did I have to go through such a horrific experience and endure the losses that I did? I was standing alone and watching the wind blow through the trees. The branches bent, but they didn’t break. The tears welled up in my throat and I sank to my knees. I finally surrendered. Surrendered and opened my clenched fists to let go of all of the hurt I had been carrying alone. I finally felt ready to let others in and walk beside me on my healing journey.

I began to find new ways to help me express my pain from the rape and the deep grief from my losses. I found that writing, music, swimming and taking walks in nature to be helpful in alleviating my pain. Each avenue of expression helped me tell my story safely when my voice could not. I have begun to see beauty again and I feel my strength rising.

It takes a village of support to navigate the healing process and painful times, and  to learn to breathe deeply again and be fully alive. I am truly grateful to the people who have walked beside me and held the light for me when I could not see it. I am so thankful to those who listened to the very hard parts of my story, held my hand and didn’t walk away.

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