In 2002, everything I thought I knew about life changed. It was on Sept. 21 when I felt the last kick of my baby. Two days later, I would meet my child who lacked a heartbeat. On Sept. 23, 2002, I gave birth to him, Connor Marley, my baby who died 32 weeks into my pregnancy.
For years, especially in the first year, the loss of my son defined me. I was no longer Crissi; I was the mother of a dead baby. His death changed my whole identity. I was scared to talk about his life and death, as if the mere mention of his existence would wipe the smear of infant mortality on anyone I came around. But I also longed to talk about him all the time. I wanted to scream to the skies about Connor, to make his mark on the world for him because he had been stripped of that. He existed for nobody but me and our family. He was invisible. But to me, he was my whole entire world.
Over the years, recovering from Connor’s death has evolved. The first year I was a shell of a person. In my mind, living when my baby had died was unfathomable. How could I go on? If I failed to think of him every moment of every day, it meant I didn’t care. I had two living toddlers, and yet I could see nothing but Connor. His death devoured me, and it stripped my living children of their mom. In that first year, our family fell apart. We ran out of money and experienced poverty. My messy marriage took a turn for the worse, and eventually crumbled. I moved into my parents home and filed for divorce. I laid on the couch for days at a time.
I wanted to die.
In those first weeks after his death, my neighbor mentioned that she had suffered a stillbirth once, too. She mentioned that eventually I’d be able to move on. It felt like the coldest thing someone could say to me. Move on? Forget my baby? Never! How could she even suggest that?
But she was right.
When your baby dies before you even get the chance to meet him, you never forget him. But you learn how to exist. It’s a new kind of existence, though. Before, the world was a place where bad things happened to other people, which almost felt like they didn’t happen at all. After, it’s apparent that if babies can die, then anything bad is possible. And for awhile, that dread of living in such a horrible world crushes you, making it hard to breathe, eat, think, sleep…..live.
But soon, the pain of that loss lessens.
It’s gradual at first. I didn’t even notice it until I realized I’d gone almost a whole day without thinking of Connor. I tried to grab hold of my sorrow again, return to living within the sadness so that his death wasn’t for nothing. But a little more time passed, and I was able to loosen my grasp on that pain just a tiny bit more. Eventually I could breathe, I could feel the sunlight, I could see my living children and enjoy their company. Life was bearable at the very least, and hopeful at its best.
In between Sept. 23, 2002 and today, much has happened. Much of it has been good, some of it bad, and all of it exactly as it’s supposed to have happened. I will always be the mother who lost her baby before he was born. But that loss doesn’t define me. I survived, even when I swore it wasn’t possible. I still have twinges of pain from time to time, and I have moments of guilt for not thinking of him as much as I believe I should. But he’s okay wherever he is. My attention deserves to be on the living. They need me more than he does. And one day I know we’ll meet again.
A few years after his death, I wrote a poem that defines my heart wrapped around Connor. You can find it here, as well as in my poetry book, Everything I Am Not Saying. But I’ll post it below as well.
If you’ve lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, or as an infant, I’m sending you my love. Your child exists, and he or she lives in your heart. Your child is not invisible. And I know that he or she is loving you from afar until you meet again. <3
It is in the golden brown of brittle leaves
that I think of you most.
in a cloud of warmth against the crisp air,
expanding from its small containment
and reaching to the earth and sky,
breathes for you.
You exist between each click of the second hand,
when time momentarily stops
and all that can be heard
is the deafening roar
in the silence of a stilled heart.
The mornings are darker, the days shorter,
the hours precious as time slips by…
I wonder if I had only loved you more
would you still be here today?
The dates set in stone
that I have traced my fingers over
again and again
are etched in my mind
much more complete
than the memory of your face
that has faded with time.
Yet I know you by heart.
It was in the golden brown of brittle leaves
where you said your goodbyes
in a moment only we shared,
when the world around us
disappeared for a time,
leaving us floating in suspended reality
where all I felt was you
fluttering faintly from my grasp.
Yet with each setting of the summer moon
and rising of the autumn sun,
when the leaves turn from green
to a golden brown,
I smile at your spirit
that exists in the laughter of a child
and floats in the wind
with the remnants of trees.
Peace has melted together
the broken figments
of my injured heart,
revealing the beauty in leaves of golden brown,
gently holding them before letting them drift away,
watching them stay strong in the wind
while knowing they could shatter in an instant,
setting you free with a delicate prayer
of love for an autumn’s child.