This is a season of new life. Spring is my favorite season of the year with freshly bloomed flowers spotting the green earth. Bees and butterflies dance and flutter in the breeze. I love the sound and smell of light showers falling from full clouds. Near my town, there are hills painted with bright poppies with the roadside littered with parked cars where people snap pictures of the beautiful scenery. I love this season because it reminds me of hope and a new beginning.
Over the past year, I have been slowly adapting to my new life as a bereaved mother. I’m getting used to the unfamiliar colors, sounds, and smells. Each day I embrace unique experiences. All the while, with my daughter in my heart and mind, a greater purpose for this season has risen. I never thought I could be like this. I thought my life was forever doomed for a bleak, lifeless existence.
You see, another valuable lesson has erupted from the ashes. There is a time to mourn, but there is also a time to rejoice. “But, Kaitlin, how can you rejoice after losing your daughter?!” Seems crazy, I know, but I do rejoice in my new life. I belong to a close community, yet at the same time Wendy gave me a perspective of life like I’ve never known. I have started to think for myself and take care of myself more deliberately. I have gained a better appreciation for my friends, family, and especially my husband. Yes, I see the world in different colors, and they are more vibrant than I could have imagined.
All because of Wendy. I rejoice in that.
I rejoice in new experiences every day, because I believe that suffering such incredible loss has developed me into a better version of myself. I have grown in many ways I wouldn’t have otherwise. However, rejoicing doesn’t take away the deep yearning I feel for my daughter every day. I wish she lived. I wish I could watch her grow up. I wish I knew the true color of her eyes.
It has taken me over a year to get to this place. The ability to stand amidst the charm of lovely, flowering elegance cost me crawling desperately through the dark, mournful mud. I know how hard life can be after losing a child. I know that you may feel like life will never be happy again. I know the feeling of immense loss, but it will not last forever. I promise you. It is a season, and a new season awaits. Spring will come.
Kaitlin McLaughlin is currently a grad student at Grand Canyon University, obtaining her Master’s in Education in hopes of becoming a single subject high school teacher. She’s also an Intake Specialist at a local non-profit which specializes in helping at-risk youth finish their high school education and get connected with paid work experience. After Kaitlin and her husband Ryan experienced their daughter being still born due to a neural tube defect, Kaitlin has developed a passion to help her new community of bereaved parents. They reside in Southern California with their one your old Golden Retriever. Also, they spend their time going to the beach, hanging out with friends, and exploring new eateries around their neighborhood.
I had no idea what to do. I was a first-time mom and a first-time grieving mom at the same time. I was confused, overwhelmed, and devastated. Honestly, the list can go on about everything I was feeling, but this blog would go on forever like my last one, lol. I knew every emotion possible and felt so incredibly numb at the same time, like I was separated from my being and experienced everything from a distance. Every day seemed like an eternity. The energy it took to wake up, eat, work, and make dinner was thoroughly exhausting. For the longest time I was depleted, empty, and drug myself through the motions of life.
My grieving didn’t stop there. Everything I experienced was affected by my situation. Being pregnant with a terminally diagnosed baby compelled me to avoid countless things. I didn’t look at new moms holding their babies because it made me extremely jealous. I didn’t laugh as much. I didn’t smile like I used to. I couldn’t go to family events, but when I forced myself to go, I broke down weeping in the car.
Why am I telling you this? I let myself feel it all. I didn’t push my grief aside, avoid it, or deny it. I was present and faced my reality and embraced it. As painful as it was, I’m glad I was present in my circumstance. I’m glad I shed tears, wept, and mourned. It has helped me live with my pain, rather than just pushing through it and “getting over it,” because I know a measure of my grief will never end.
I am learning to live with pain. I am adjusting myself to my new life and the new me. But this takes time. Grief is not linear. There is no “start” or “stop.” Grieving for my child is an experience that changed every fiber in my body, soul, and mind. Some things became less important and other things became more important. I gained perspective, and from there, hope was born. It took a while, but now I am excited about the future. Whatever it may be. Even if there aren’t baby’s in my future…yes even then, I am content with where this journey took me. I regret nothing.
I hope that you feel your grief, that you allow those bottled up tears to flow. It’s painful, overwhelming, lonely, and frightening. But it’s where you are right now. Take care of your grief; take care of yourself first. Because from your grief, you will gain a perspective and a hope like never before.
Kaitlin McLaughlin lives in Southern California with her husband Ryan. They welcomed their daughter Wendy into the world on November 12, 2017 but was born still due to her fatal condition. When Kaitlin was 15 weeks pregnant, doctors diagnosed Wendy with Anencephaly, a rare neural tube defect. From then on, they lived with the grief, pain, and joy of becoming parents to an angel. Since then, Kaitlin grew a passion for reaching out to others who have experienced newborn loss. She is the creator and writer for www.wendyforever.com hoping to provide support to other bereaved parents. She also works at a non-profit that provides an education and job training program for young adults. Ryan and Kaitlin love doing everything together, including spending time with their one year old Golden Retriever Leona.
As the holidays have passed, I feel like I can finally breathe again. A fresh new year, wondering where it will take me this time. However, after losing my first baby girl I reflect on my journey and where it has brought me. Who I have become and where it will take me now. I am honored to share my story with you this coming year. I want to share about the baby that changed my life. I’m going to be real with you, reveal the nightmare I had to live through, the dreams I was forced to let go, and the daily hardships I have to overcome. But, also, the grace that saved me, the love that held me, and the wisdom that grew me.
My name is Kaitlin, and I am a bereaved mother. My daughter was stillborn November 12, 2017. Deep down in my soul I know that my daughter’s story will touch countless people, far beyond the number of her days. This blog is about my experience as a bereaved parent, what I went through, the realities I was forced to adapt to, the pain through it all, and the joys of being a parent. Possibly, reading about my family’s experiences will bring hope or a measure of healing to your heart. Allow me to share with you the story of our sweet baby girl named, Wendy.
My husband and I received the news that we were expecting on February 19, 2017. We were so incredibly excited. Immediately, we started dreaming about how our lives would change forever. We dreamed of seeing our child learn to walk, talk, and grow in front of our very eyes. I was so excited to experience the feeling of holding our newborn in my arms, the sweet smell and softness of her skin, and the warmth of her presence. I started to plan the baby’s room and dream of how I would decorate it. I even bought this awesome diaper bag from Amazon, anticipating the day when I would use it. Yet, that diaper bag still has the tags, never used.
In May of 2017, we had our routine 15-week ultrasound. However, our blissful and dream-like reality quickly went up in flames. We heard our doctor’s crushing words, “Your baby does not have a skull.” How could this be? How is that possible? What does that mean? Our dreams – gone. Our baby’s future – gone. Everything – gone. Our hopeful world burned to the ground and collapsed into dust. I felt so helpless, powerless, hopeless, hurt, and so incredibly broken and defeated. Our baby wasn’t going to make it. Being informed that our baby was “not compatible with life” was a living nightmare from which we would not wake up from.
Our baby girl was diagnosed with a rare, neural tube defeat called Anencephaly. Her diagnosis prohibited her skull and brain to fully form. Thus, she would not survive outside the womb. We sat in an office, eyes swollen, chins quivering, and hearts completely broken. We were given two pieces of paper. One was information about termination. The other was about Forever Footprints. We got home and sat in silence, staring at those two pieces of paper knowing our baby’s life would be determined by either one. Forced to make a choice, I couldn’t help but focus on our precious baby. I thought, “I am her mother, and my husband, her father. Just because she isn’t what we expected, doesn’t mean we can give up on her. How could we? How can I give up on my baby now when she needs me the most? We need to love her now more than ever.”
Today, here I am, a member of Forever Footprints, the organization that supported my daughter’s life without fail. We chose to continue our pregnancy to 41 weeks and 4 days and delivered our beautiful Wendy. She was so perfect, so pure, so beautiful. She had silky, dark hair, creamy white, alabaster skin, and long beautiful eyelashes. Wendy was perfect in every way. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her. She is constantly on my mind, and my heart yearns for her.
I am incredibly thankful for the time we had with Wendy. We purposed to create many, beautiful memories with her while she was tucked away in my womb. We took Wendy to the beach, a baseball game, read many books to her, and watched our favorite shows together. I miss those days, but my daughter changed my life forever. I am not who I used to be, as my old self has passed away. The new Kaitlin developed a passion to reach out to other hurting parents. My Wendy opened my eyes to a need. And, I want to tell you that I love you, understand you, and your baby is precious in every way. I hope as the year goes on, our story will give you hope and healing and reveal to you my understanding heart. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog about my Wendy. Stay tuned for February’s reflections, as well.
Kaitlin McLaughlin lives in Southern California with her husband Ryan. They welcomed their daughter Wendy into the world on November 12, 2017 but was born still due to her fatal condition. When Kaitlin was 15 weeks pregnant, doctors diagnosed Wendy with Anencephaly, a rare neural tube defect. From then on, they lived with the grief, pain, and joy of becoming parents to an angel. Since then, Kaitlin grew a passion for reaching out to others who have experienced newborn loss. She is the creator and writer for www.wendyforever.com hoping to provide support to other bereaved parents. She also works at a non-profit that provides an education and job training program for young adults. Ryan and Kaitlin love doing everything together including spending time with their one year old Golden Retriever Leona.
From the moment I first held that pregnancy test in my hand, my heart was filled with dreams for my son’s childhood–one that I hoped would be filled with love, laughter, and plenty of family traditions. I envisioned the milestones to come: his first birthday, his first day of school, his high school graduation. My dreams were shattered into a million pieces when our precious firstborn baby was born prematurely and succumbed to a fatal genetic condition at just 93-minutes old. The milestones that I once looked forward to with such joy and excitement were now anticipated with such deep sorrow. Three years later and my heart aches each time kindergarten enrollment begins, and I often find myself blinking back tears as I count down the years until Ethan’s class will start school.
The loss of a baby has a way of changing a simple date on the calendar into a point in time that feels so significant and so heavy with a wide spectrum of emotions. How can we face the due dates, the birthdays, and the milestones that now feel so bittersweet?
As we approached Ethan’s first birthday, I reached out to my friends within the loss community for ideas of ways to spend the day and received plenty of great ideas for celebrating and surviving milestones.
Throw a bash
One of my loss mama friends throws a birthday party for her son each year. Through the years, this tradition has been a great way to celebrate her son’s life with friends both new and old. Some party ideas include a butterfly release, cake and icecream, showing a slideshow, and/or selecting a theme that reminds you of your baby.
Several of my sisters-in-loss commemorate special dates each year by lending a helping hand in their baby’s honor. There are plenty of ways to do this, such as volunteering at a local charity, hosting a Random Act of Kindness day, donating memory boxes through Forever Footprints, or making a contribution to an organization that has had a positive impact in their life (at Forever Footprints, you can personalize a fundraising page with your families story to make it more personal). Here are some suggestions for ways to give back.
Take time to reflect
Whether you prefer to have a quiet day or one filled with plenty of activity, don’t forget to carve out some time for yourself. Go to the cemetery, look through photos and special mementos, take a walk, and/or listen to songs that remind you of your baby. Turn off your phone if you need to. Give yourself the freedom to feel whatever emotions you are met with–whether the day makes you smile, cry, or both.
In my experience, there is no one-size-fits all approach to celebrating and surviving milestones. Free yourself of any pressure to face the day in a particular way. In the first year after Ethan died, I felt pressure to celebrate milestones with grand gestures–I wanted to show the world just how much I loved him. Yet at the same time, I craved a day to myself. It took me some time to accept the fact that, while there is absolutely nothing wrong with grand gestures, Ethan didn’t need that from me. My love for him was undeniable and he was at perfect peace regardless of whether I threw a big party or spent the day alone. That first year, my husband and I each took the day off work, visited the cemetery, ate dinner at Del Taco (I couldn’t get enough Del Taco during my pregnancy with Ethan), and shared a small smash cake at home. We needed a quiet day together that year. However, by the time Ethan’s second birthday arrived we wanted to get out and be around lots of people. What we have needed has changed year to year, and even day to day, and it may be the same for you. Give yourself permission to celebrate each milestone in the way that is best for your family.
And remember, no matter how you choose to spend the day, your baby knows nothing but love.
Kristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their rainbow baby. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to one baby on earth and five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family. Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.
Main photo by David Ananda on Unsplash
Last year, my husband told me that he didn’t feel the need to be celebrated on Father’s Day since he didn’t have a living child. His announcement didn’t come from a place of anger or even apathy–he was simply stating a fact. He truly did not see any reason to be recognized and was okay with that. While I knew he was satisfied with this arrangement, I couldn’t help but think of just how worthy he was to be recognized for the incredible dad he is–despite how different his day-to-day life may appear when compared with other parents. Bereaved dads are top-notch fathers, often giving their all with little to no recognition from the outside world.
But we see you, dads. As partners, we see you and we celebrate you even when the world forgets.
We saw the way your heart overflowed with love and pride the first time you heard your baby’s heartbeat. We saw the way you supported us through morning sickness, discomforts, and a wide spectrum of emotions. We saw the way you faithfully stood by our side, as friends, family, doctors, nurses, and even strangers showered endless attention on the mom-to-be.
We saw the way your heart broke when that precious heartbeat stopped. We saw the way you asked the doctors questions and selfishly advocated for our needs, as our world stopped spinning and we crumbled beneath the weight of grief. We saw the way you strongly held us up when we felt so weak–and we know you were hurting just as deeply.
As friends, family, doctors and nurses continued to shower us with endless support and attention, it was you who remained our biggest cheerleader. For months, you selflessly responded as buddies and coworkers continued to ask “How’s your wife?” Though you were equally affected, even if in different ways, you never made it about you.
We see the way you protect and provide for us each day. We see the way you move through your day, often unrecognized as the incredible partner and father that you are. There are few men more admirable nor more selfless than you. While you may not crave the recognition, we cannot imagine anyone else more deserving than you. To all of the bereaved dads parenting babies they can no longer hold, we celebrate you not just today but every day. Happy Father’s Day–we appreciate you more than words can say.
Forever Footprints invites you to attend the annual OC Golf to Remember Tournament, July 12, 2018 at 11am at Oak Creek Golf Course in Irvine. To register or receive more information visit https://foreverfootprints.org/remembrance/events/oc-golf-to-remember/.
Kristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their Queensland Heeler mix, Dakota. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family. Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.
*Header photo by Benedicto de Jesus on Unsplash