Originally written for the “Return to Zero Blog: Stories of Hope.” The original link can be found here.
“Where there is life, there is hope.”
I used to love this quote. It seemed to motivate and carry me through life’s more challenging moments. It gave me strength to look inside, dig deep, and find the courage to keep moving and persevering during the tough times. To keep on keepin’ on, so to say, in this crazy, messy thing called life.
I found out I was pregnant with our rainbow baby six months after we had our first miscarriage. It was the best news albeit, scary. I was thrust into the world of pregnancy loss just two short months into our marriage. I knew I wasn’t exempt from bad things happening anymore so for the first 25 weeks of pregnancy I was pretty much on edge, hoping just to make it until the baby was considered viable. We made it to that point with very few complications and were overjoyed. After that, we allowed ourselves to get excited and prepare for our baby girl’s arrival. Finally, the baby shower was planned, the nursery was decorated, the car seat was installed, birthing classes were taken, and the hospital bag was packed. Now it was time to wait. I went into labor on my due date, April 20 , 2015. After a full night of laboring at home, I arrived at the hospital at 9am when I was 7cm dilated. I was told the baby would be in my arms by noon! How exciting!
Then the unfathomable happened. I started pushing when I was fully effaced and dilated. But Gianna wasn’t coming out. She was stuck and our midwives didn’t notice. I was just told to keep pushing, that she was going to come out eventually. After six hours of pushing, I asked for a c- section. She was severely deprived of oxygen during labor and was born not breathing on her own and completely brain dead. After 4 days in the NICU, assessing the situation with no improvement, we decided to let her die naturally in her arms. After a year of investigating her death, we found that the cause of Gianna’s death was a blatant case of medical negligence during my labor and delivery.
The quote came to mind again. “Where there is life, there is hope.”
But what about in death? What happens when there is no life that remains? What happens when the life you were just carrying is snatched away from you and buried 6 feet under? I felt that I was falling deeper and deeper into a black hole where there was no light, no life, no hope, no meaning. That is what it feels like to have your child ripped away from you – permanently.
So, I tucked that quote away and locked it with a key. It didn’t serve me anymore. In fact, when I thought about it, I felt like someone punched me in the gut and walked away laughing, confident that I was down for the count and would never bounce back again. And honestly, I had to agree. The optimistic, hopeful person I once was got buried with my daughter.
How do black holes disappear then? According to Wikipedia and Hawking’s theory, they “are expected to shrink and evaporate over time as they lose mass…”
After Gianna died, I just let all the feelings come. I felt them all. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I processed them in my own mind, with my husband, with my therapist, and with my friends that could handle it. I processed the trauma with an EMDR specialist. I walked through the beautiful Rocky Mountains over and over again, breathing deeply and letting nature soothe and heal me. I joined support groups where I felt less alone. I will never make sense of Gianna’s death, but I found ways to keep her memory alive, to honor her, to keep her present in my life. And the black hole I found myself in was slowing starting to shrink and lose mass.
And as I emerged from this darkness, I found myself feeling more alive than ever before. It is truly suffering that makes us more human, more alive – able to feel a full range of human emotions, to deeply empathize with others, to be vulnerable and courageous when faced with all of life’s challenges. And as I felt more alive, the quote resounded within me on an even deeper level. “Where there is life, there is hope.” Yes, my daughter is dead. But I am not. I have been graciously given this life to live. This life that my daughter would WANT me to live. And not just live, to thrive in.
First comes the effort to heal. The work. The struggle to grieve. To feel. To honor their life through our tears. Living in the black hole for however long it takes.
And then comes the healing.
Do we ever actually “heal” from the death of our child? I would definitely say no. But we integrate their life and death into our own being, into our own story, into our identity. And we emerge with hope, a sign of life. A sign that their life wasn’t in vain. A sign that their life, albeit short, has propelled us towards something more beautiful, something more meaningful, something more profound. And I dare say that this may be one of the most precious gifts our children could have given us.