Sixteen years ago, my heart became heavy, and it will never be the same. My light dimmed, and it has not shined the same since. This October 25, sixteen years ago, at 35 weeks pregnant, my baby, Brooklyn, was born quietly. I will share my story of Brooklyn in detail in another piece directly honoring and remembering her.
Today, I want to share thoughts on Chrissy Teigen and her husband John Legend’s loss of their baby Jack. They chose to share it publicly, and I hate for them they were chastised and criticized for this decision as if what they are going through is not enough pain.
I have been here. I have been in a position where people who have not been through such a life-altering loss will not comprehend the many layers of emotional, physical, and mental significance in losing a baby to stillbirth, pregnancy loss, or infant loss.
There are three aspects, in my belief, of why it was important for Chrissy Teigen and many brave women out there to share her photos other than just the sake of sharing.
First, her photos and her platform widely impacted the public’s perception of pregnancy loss and what it looks like to lose a baby. Behind losing a baby, it is more than just a painful experience. It is an emotional toll for the rest of our lives; it is a mental hit of guilt, shame, and what-ifs. Maybe one of the cruelest aspects is the physical aftermath of loss, and our bodies still have to heal from giving birth; our breasts fill with milk meant to nourish, and our arms are empty.
The photos, whether intended to or not, broke stigmas and forced education to the public. After losing my baby, I wish I had a platform to show people my immense grief. Not to make them uncomfortable but to show them there was an actual baby that I was not just “pregnant.” We lost a family member and many memories. I had people make crude comments, maybe in an attempt to be well-intentioned but cruel.
People close to me and family members commented on how long and how I should be mourning my loss. A lady that kept her horse at the same facility as mine told me how sorry she was, but it probably “best” because the baby must have had issues or problems, so the stillbirth probably “did me a favor.” My baby Brooklyn was probably sick, and I would have a lifetime of “grief.” This is a harsh example in the world of infant and pregnancy loss ignorance. Education is needed even if it is learned through social media. Sharing this grief is challenging the current social norm of quietly losing their babies and moving through life as nothing happened; it is honoring their babies.
Second, her photos, I believe, are exactly what did I in my time of mourning, desperately grasping any connection you can with your baby, even if it’s painful, heartbreaking, and sad. Her photos of her clasping her hands as if she were praying and the pictures of the anesthesiologist administering pain blockers if only she could block the emotional pain, are all ways of making a connection with our lost one. We have the need as women to fill our empty arms with anything and everything in memory of our babies because this is the last time to do so. This is it. This is our only opportunity. There will be no baby giggles, bath times, milestones. Photos and small mementos of our loss are all we have.
When Brooklyn came into the world, I have photos of my then-husband, and I was holding her, our faces struck in shock and grief. If at the time, I had a platform to share, I would have. I have her foot and handprints still displayed in my home. She was laid to rest, and I picked a beautiful tiny white coffin. I have photos of her, photos of her in her coffin. After the funeral, I had a lady get the flowers lain on her coffin and dried to keep them forever. I display this still in my home, and if it makes someone uncomfortable or finds it not appropriate, it’s my home. It is my child.
I have a memory box full of albums I put together, little outfits that she would never wear, a little bag full of pamphlets, and books on how to deal with pregnancy loss. My favorite flower is now baby pink Gerber daisies because she was buried with some. I have a DVD of her last 3D ultrasound two days before she died, I have it in her little box and in 16 years I have not been able to watch it.
Following our time losing the baby, we followed up with traditions that honor that baby that some people or the public might find “wrong.” These small traditions whether it be going through that box inside the closet every mom has for their baby on their birthday or visiting a grave or getting a tattoo. These are traditions once again can be questioned and confusing to those who have never experienced or been close to this kind of pain.
Very recently, I was on the phone with my mom who was going to my baby’s grave to decorate it for Valentine’s Day. My mom always has honored her grandbaby and always goes to the grave on my behalf and for herself to pay remembrance several times a year.
We buried Brooklyn among other babies in the “Garden of Angels.” It is a specific area in the cemetery where only babies and children are laid to rest. It’s beautiful, and it’s heartbreaking yet very comforting. It is a place so peaceful but full of lives lost way too soon.
I explained to this person I was very close to decorating the grave and her headstone every holiday; a mini-decorated Christmas tree for Christmas, eggs, flowers for Easter, and beautiful flower arrangements and balloons for her birthday every single year. Not a year in 16 years have these traditions swayed. It’s what my family and I do to honor and grieve. Many families have picnics out there; they bring toys, brothers and sisters bring little mementos to their lost siblings. This person at the time quipped that these traditions and honoring of my baby were “weird.” That he would never do such a thing.
I asked him, “Have you ever lost a child or baby.”
Unless you have been in these shoes, do not judge others on how they show, do not show, or honor their grief. Do not make comments unless you have been through it. Learn first why people do the things they do before concerning yourself how they grieve. Why do they do it? What is the meaning and how is it significant to that person or family? For me, that is where my baby is. That is where my children’s sister is buried. We decorate her headstone to honor her and, painfully, that is how we celebrate holidays with her.
And lastly, Support. When we lose a child, we seek support; we seek anything positive or that will make us feel better, even for a second. Sharing this on social media or with family and friends is in search of comfort and support. Knowing we are not alone, and millions of families and women have been through this, there is a level of comfort.
When I first started receiving condolences and stories of other’s losses, I lashed out, I did not care what they went through, I was angry. I had gotten so close to having my baby, so so close. I did not want to hear about anyone else. When I came to, I sought out those women. Asked how they felt six months, a year, five years down the road. I knew I could seek support when I needed it, that I did not have to suffer alone and silently.
My heart hurts when someone feels the need to disapprove of someone’s choices in their darkest moment. A lesson needs to be learned in understanding and empathy. If someone chose to share in their time of grief, they are looking for support, love, and honor their loss. If they want to have memories or traditions, they have every right to do so in their own way, on their own time. It is not up to anyone how one grieves and expresses their painful loss.
There are many resources out there but honoring your baby and memorializing them how you see fit is the best. Do not let others tell you how you should or should not grieve.