It is December and I am approaching my third Christmas without my baby girl. People tell me that I have to “move on” and “get over” the tragedy of my newborn’s death. These people have never held a still baby. They have never been pregnant with a baby that would die, but they have lots of opinions. The bereaved do not need opinions. We need truth.
My truth is that I am forever changed by my daughter, Mary Rose. Her brief life has broken my heart open – shattered it so that I am no longer the woman who naively thought that her second pregnancy would guarantee a second healthy child. The pain that I have experienced – walking through grief thick as molasses – has allowed me to help others going through an unspeakable loss. I started a blog and wrote a book about my pregnancy to comfort others. Mary Rose lived for one hour, and in that one hour transformed me and my beliefs about motherhood. Even without my living baby girl, I am her mother still.Continue reading “Small Gestures with Great Love: Supporting the Bereaved Throughout the Year”→
There were no words to describe the gut-wrenching emotions I felt. As I awoke from the anesthesia, I pleaded with the nurse to tell me that my baby was alive; that my body had not killed this child of mine. She stroked my face and as we both cried she explained that my tiny baby had died due to an ectopic pregnancy. The child was not viable and I could have died had they not performed the surgery. To me, what died that day was not a medical term, an embryo or a fetus. It was my baby.
I knew it was my fault. I knew I had done something wrong and God was punishing me. I tried to withdraw into a protective shell, but they wouldn’t let me. I sobbed uncontrollably. I screamed, cursed, and rejected the comfort of loving arms. I wanted to die. When I returned home from the hospital, my family and friends calmly ignored the fact that my baby was very real to me and had died. They stressed that, because it was Christmas time, it was imperative that I be happy and joyful and feel blessed in spite of this tragedy for the sake of my three living children. I faked it. I pretended that they were right and went about my life as if nothing was wrong. Nevertheless, deep inside my heart a tiny hole burned with a passion.
Several years later, I attended a professional workshop about neonatal and infant death by Joy and Marvin Johnson (Centering Corporation). The focus of the workshop was to educate the hospital’s obstetric doctors and nursing staff as well as bereavement educators and counselors about the best practices for helping bereaved parents whose child had died before birth or shortly after birth.
As Joy and Marvin gave us pointers on how to help those grieving an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage, I slowly felt the pangs of those horrific days in 1983. Without warning, I began to sob. As the tears streamed down my face, I was asked to share my story. It suddenly occurred to me that I had never grieved for this child. I was encouraged to give my baby a name, something I had never thought to do. Since I did not know the sex of my baby, I chose the name Noel, that could be used for either a boy or a girl. A name that would always remind me of their short life and the special day they were born during the Christmas season.
Quietly United In Loss Together is a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Campaign started by Nneka Hall.
Nneka’s vision for October 15, 2014 is one which includes thousands of families touched by the loss of an infant coming together in Washington, DC to march from the White House to the National Mall where our memorial quilt will be on display.
Our goal is to raise awareness about losses that occur from conception through the first 24 months of life.
We do not discriminate as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day was meant to honor every type of loss.
On October 15, 2014 we will march as a united body to remember babies who would otherwise be forgotten. We will march to raise awareness about the many causes of pregnancy and infant loss. We will take this time to grieve openly without judgment.
This is one event that is happening in FIVE locations, the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The US march will take place in Washington DC. We will march from the White House to the National Mall where our Memorial Quilt will be on display. The quilt itself will be a series of quilts made up of panels from each state. At the conclusion of the event, the state quilts will return to their states and will be displayed. A few months before October, new panels will be added and it will be put on display in a prominent place within that state for people to see during pregnancy and infant loss awareness month.
Please honor the memory of an Angel by marching with us on October 15, 2014.
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.
The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy,
while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. — John Muir
Grief finds us all at some point. It’s not always about the death of someone close to us – we also mourn our lost childhoods, broken relationships, and derailed dreams. We even experience grief vicariously – crying as we watch news stories about other people’s loss or tragedy.
In grief, we become children again – confused, lost, vulnerable. We seek comfort and reassurance that we will get through this, that our world will become safe again somehow, someday. We reach out for a hand to hold while we find our way through the dark woods. But what if the hand you usually hold isn’t available to you anymore? What if it’s your close friend, or parent that has died or gone away and you feel alone in the world? How do you find not just peace but poetry during these times?
Believing that we are connected to something bigger and more timeless than our frail physical bodies sustains us in these moments, makes it possible for us to weep, rage, sleep…and then wake up feeling joy unfurl once again like the clenched petals of a flowerbud. For some, faith in the god of their choosing gives them a lifeboat to carry them across stormy seas. While I do not affiliate with a particular religion, I have strong spiritual beliefs that we are all connected, eternal and infinite. I feel this most intensely when I am out in nature, looking up at the moon, examining the ants busily making their way across the dirt, feeling the warm sun on my face, dangling my feet in a creek and thinking about all that water journeying down to the sea and evaporating back up into the sky.
As Richard Louv teaches us so beautifully in his books, The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods, nature is essential to our lives…because we are part of nature. We are bombarded with advice on how to feed ourselves and our children – but one essential nutrient is often left off the list: Vitamin N – for nature. Improved physical health, mental well-being, spiritual growth, expanded creativity, increased intellectual capacity, a sense of connection and community – these are the gifts we receive every time we interact with the environment and understand that we are part of it. These are gifts I want to hand to my children, and to all children – an emotional resilience that enables us to see the stars even during the very darkest nights our spirits experience.
Since childhood, Mother Nature has wrapped me in her arms and let me weep on her strong shoulders every time my heart has broken open: The summer my parents were going through mysterious adult conflict, I stayed with my grandparents, combing the Galveston shore for sharks’ teeth and angel wings. The time my family moved yet again, I sat with my journal on a giant boulder under the oaks and poured out all of my teen angst about leaving my friends and horse. The week I miscarried my baby while on a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard — I walked for miles, giving the ocean my salty tears and gathering scallop shells that I still keep in a jar.
Nature is creative….and destructive…and creative again…endlessly….and we humans are a part of that rhythm, intensely connected to everything else in the Universe. My science studies and nature rambles provide endless metaphor to understand my human experience, which I weave into art and poetry…like so many humans who have come before me, back to our earliest ancestors who used minerals and charcoal to adorn their cave-dwellings with images of animals, waves, spirals and stars. Many of my life’s frustrations have been healed simply by going out to the backyard and turning over the compost pile, focusing my attention on this simple cycle: a seed becomes a tree, leaves grow, leaves fall, leaves crumble and reunite with the soil, transforming into nutrients that allow new seeds to sprout. This poem and an accompanying sculpture were my ways of transmuting my grief over my miscarriage and a dying marriage:
She is Not
No elle…she is not
who she used to be
not the self she thought she would become
She is loss and pain, sorrow and loneliness
Hollow at the center where something has been
cut out with a chisel
washed away with blood
Leaving jagged dark places that refuse to be filled
with cotton wool or comfort foods, alcohol or anger
To draw a picture of emptiness
like drawing the wind
you can only draw its effects:
The deflating of a balloon
The leaves on the trees trembling
The hawk circling over the meadow
how much pain is in a hole this wide, and so deep?
on the forest floor a hole is soon filled
with fallen branches, desiccated leaf skeletons
organic matter, every bit essential
rain and worms and time transform what has died
into nourishment for new life
without love there is no loss
but love can never be lost
Someday she will use this pain
the seeds of new joy will take root in it
and seek the sunlight. Susan Noelle Bernardo – 2010
Years later, I see how my words have come true — those experiences which were so painful at the time enrich my life today in ways I could never have expected. I’ve found love again on a deeper level, and published a book to comfort children experiencing separation and grief. New joy blossoms around me at every twist of the path, as well as new challenges – and I trust that all of them are exactly the experiences needed for me to grow and evolve.
“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” These lines from Desiderata by Max Ehrmann console me time and again. Water…sky…trees…earth…sun…moon….stars — they endure, and so do we. And all of our experiences, joyful or sad, are reasons to write poetry.
About the Author: Susan Bernardo has been writing poetry and stories since she could hold a crayon! She also holds her BA in English from UCLA, a master’s degree from Yale, and teaching credentials from Pepperdine. A former language arts teacher, Bernardo facilitates creativity workshops for adults and stays in close touch with her inner flower child by dancing, raising cats and chickens, sculpting, painting, tide pooling and taking nature hikes with her two sons. She is a published poet and is currently revising her first young adult novel. Her poem Tonic Waters was published in The 2013 Cancer Poetry Project anthology — it deals with her mother-in-law’s death from stomach cancer. Her children’s book, Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs (available through Amazon) is a picture book with a simple but powerful message: love lasts forever.