By Jessica Martin-Weber
This post made possible by the support of My Baby’s Heartbeat Bear
Content Note: infant and pregnancy loss discussed.
Loss is profound and deep, that’s part of what makes it loss. The loss of a child amplifies that profound depth of pain in ways that are nearly tangible as loving as deeply as the extraordinary ordinary love a parent has for their children makes them vulnerable to extraordinary pain. Love is always a risk. A beautiful, breathtaking, agonizing risk. One worth taking, as terrifying as it is.
There is no balm for the rawness left after losing a child, no set of steps to follow to make things right again. Grief may have some known stages but each individual journey is unique and the path isn’t always clear. How one experiences grief and processes loss may look drastically different from another’s. The manner in which we move through grief and process loss isn’t a reflection of how real or deep our grief or our love is, it is a reflection of how we personally process, our personalities, and our needs. There isn’t right or wrong, good or bad, or more or less “real” ways to journey through such pain. It is all real and it is all personal. After 4 pregnancy losses, I have experienced how different it can be from one to the next.
Individual paths of remembrance may vary greatly. For some, the ways they remember will be internal with little external manifestation. For others, the external honoring helps center the internal grief, an extension of the love, joy, grief, and pain of their loss. What matters most is the significance to those for whom the memorials provide connection and comfort and while some would never visit such a memorial, others will find healing in something they can touch and see.
Throughout history people have intrinsically understood the need for memorials, external physical representations of the significant losses in our society be it through war, natural disaster, or other tragedy. We build memorials, commission sculptures, fashion fountains, mount plaques, and more to preserve the memory of and respect significant loss in our societies. These memorials provide connections, anchoring points not only for our grief but also for our collective memories, drawing our communities together reminding us not only of those lost but also the importance of having such connections in spite of the risk of great pain. Such memorials honor love and life as well those we’ve risked loving in this life.
So it is with personal loss. Without even realizing it we construct memorials for ourselves even on a psychological level. There is a reason we can feel the anniversary of a loved one’s death approaching without even checking the calendar, our bodies remember. For some creating a tangible expression can be a powerful step in healing, a sort of remembrance path to travel, not to get over their loss but rather to connect with it and embrace the significance. In embracing our emotions and very real loss we can fully grieve, releasing ourselves.
7 Remembrance paths that honor pregnancy and infant loss
Naming. If your child’s name wasn’t already known to you, consider selecting a name to honor their life and connect you with them as a person. Having a name for the one you’re grieving connects us with the realness of our grief and with the personhood lost. Whether you choose to display and publicly share your child’s name or to keep it to yourself, your heart will hold the name close in comfort and the reality of your loss won’t go unnamed.
Sharing. Society’s discomfort with personal grief tends to silence those that speak of pregnancy and infant loss, it was years before I learned that I had a great aunt and great uncle twins that died in infancy because nobody ever spoke of them. When I asked my grandmother about it she told me nobody ever wanted to talk about them but she thought of them often, just kept her thoughts to herself. We sat together that afternoon and memorialized the relatives I never knew who held a special place in my grandma’s heart. Speaking of those we’ve lost is a powerful way to honor and remember them. Sharing our stories of loss connects us with others and comforts both those sharing and those receiving.
Images. With pregnancy and infant loss we may not have very may still images or video given the short time our children were with us but any images we do have or ones we create are not only a cathartic connecting point for us as their parents, these images can invite others to connect as well and celebrate the joy that was, honoring the pain that is. Sonograms, bump photos, pregnancy announcements, birth photos, whatever we do have may be Be they kept in a private place or displayed in a special place in your home or a unique framing, the images of the children we have lost can give us a focal point in our grieving and remembering.
Audio. As with images, we may not have much by way of audio of the children gone too soon but the sounds of those we love are amongst the most difficult memories to hold onto. Any audio we do have, a recording of the first heartbeat doppler or ultrasound, the sounds of our own voices sharing our happy expecting news, first cries, newborn gurgles and coos, whatever it is we have, these sounds may be comforting evidence of the life of one we love. With today’s technology we can memorialize those precious sounds in special picture frames, card, or even a stuffed animal to hear whenever we need to.
Green and Growing. One of my dear friends lost a child she never got to hold other than in her womb. After a grueling delivery experience, she and her partner decided to plant a tree with a garden stone bearing their child’s name and the date as well as words that she had associated with the pregnancy up until the time of loss. That was 7 years ago. Today this beautiful tree has grown solid and tall, a climbing tree for the other children in the family and neighborhood. Under the tree planted in their child’s honor picnics, parties, life and love unfold regularly. “Riley’s Tree” has become a special connecting anchor not only for my friend but for their community, a beautiful tribute to Riley.
Rituals. Lighting a candle at certain times, touching a special stone, telling certain stories on certain dates, playing a specific song, and wearing certain articles give a sense of security much like the environmental ritual of seasons.
Personalized. During pregnancy I select an animal for my baby. Everything I purchase and make for them with that animal is theirs and what I intend to save as heirlooms. For the pregnancies I’ve lost they become talking points with my surviving children. The stuffed puppy, the little robin, they were bought with love for a baby that we never got to play with.
No matter how you honor the memory of a child you have loved gone from this world too soon, the greatest memorial that can ever be is to live fully, honoring those we have loved and lost by living well, daring to go on risking our hearts by connecting, loving, and remembering.
Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and creator and author of the children’s book and community of What Love Tastes Like, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book.