Understanding Respect

I’ve had some friends and family reach out to me this past week after the airing of Return to Zero. “I didn’t realize,” they said. “We didn’t know,” they explained. They told me that watching this movie gave them a better understanding of what we experienced. They went on to say how they admired our strength and courage to stay together, carry on and try again, and our willingness to be a voice. I was floored. Not only did they take the time to watch a painful movie, but they stopped to reflect on it, and reach out to Double A and me to share their thoughts.

It’s no secret that miscarriage, stillbirth and baby loss are hard, to say the least. Of course they’re devastating to the parents, but family and friends are affected in different ways too. We watched our parents’ devastation not only in the losses of their Grand-babies, but also in having to see their children go through so much pain and suffering (I’ll be sharing some posts from the Grandparents’ perspective soon). We saw some family and friends go above and beyond, and others who disappeared. And we have made some of the best friends we wish we never knew through support groups, while losing others along the way.

Our relationships have changed over the past six years. To this day, there are still some family members who have never acknowledged our losses, even when they resulted in the burying of our children. In some instances, I’ve confronted them with a “you need to know what happened, and what we went through” conversation. Other times, I’ve looked the other way and buried the hurt feelings.

The thing is, Double A and I realize that this is hard on others because people don’t know what to say or do. In talking with a friend of mine about the challenges of friendships after loss, I had mentioned something to the effect of, “If they don’t understand…” and she jumped in to say, “Erin, none of us understand. We didn’t live through it.” That’s when it hit me: Understanding often comes from experience, and if you haven’t lived this horror, you probably don’t know what it is like. I realized then, that what it really comes down to is respect. As baby loss parents, we can’t expect people to understand what we have gone, or are going through. But what we can expect though, is respect.

Respect of our needs. Respect of our thoughts. And respect for our grieving in a way that works for each of us. I’ve talked before about being selfish in going through the grief process. I’m a firm believer in doing what you need to do to get through (as long as you’re not doing harm to yourself or others, of course). This selfishness has nothing to do with others. It isn’t personal, and it isn’t something being done to spite them. We do what we need to do to survive in the moment. Sometimes understanding means respecting something you don’t actually understand because it’s for someone you love. Over time, I have found that I need to surround myself with those who understand my need for that respect. It’s been painful. It’s been eye-opening. And it’s been a lesson in letting go.

How have your relationships changed after loss? What advice would you give to family and friends on ways to support someone who has experienced loss?

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Hard to Watch. Important to See.

Recently, there’s been a lot of press and social media talk surrounding the upcoming film, Return to Zero which is airing this Saturday, May 17 on Lifetime. It is based on the lives of Sean and Kiley Hanish, and the birth of their stillborn son. Yes, a mainstream movie about a family who loses their child, and the struggles they go through to survive personally, and together. It’s the first movie of its kind.

Photo Credit: Return to Zero Official Trailer

Photo Credit: Return to Zero Official Trailer

Watching this trailer brought me to tears, so I can only imagine what the whole film will be like. I have our DVR set to record it because I’m not sure I’m going to be able to watch it the whole way through in one sitting. I’m imagining there will be plenty of pausing, crying, starting, stopping, sobbing, and watching again. And there had better be plenty of tissues. The truth is, I don’t want to watch the movie as much as I want to see it. I’ve lived a version of this story. I’ve lived too many versions of this story. But I realize the importance of telling this story because it represents countless others that have gone unheard. I’m grateful to the Hanish family, and everyone involved in the making and airing this film, and to the resources and discussions surrounding it.

My hope is that people will watch, and not just those who have experienced loss(es), but their family, friends and beyond. I hope people will learn, and that maybe, just maybe, they’ll start to understand what so many of us have gone through. I hope that the conversation continues, and that the press coverage surrounding the topics of stillbirths, miscarriage and baby loss doesn’t end with the closing credits. And I hope that those who have had similar experiences, but haven’t felt like that can talk about their babies, find their voices.

It may take me a long time to see it the whole way through, but I will see it, and I hope you will too.

The Truth About Mother’s Day

I have a confession to make. There was a time that I wasn’t very nice to my sister about Mother’s Day. A long time. You see, my sister placed a son for adoption in March 1994. I was away at college at the time, and in my own world. So I was really separated from her pregnancy, delivery and adoption process. I returned home from school in May, and for that, and several years to come, I didn’t get why she was so upset on Mother’s Day. “She’s not really a Mom.” I remember saying to a friend. “Sure, she had a baby, but he isn’t here. She’s not raising him.” I’m embarrassed to admit this, and cringe every time I think of this.

The truth is, I didn’t understand what she was going through until our first loss back in 2008. As the losses continued, my eyes started opening, and my heart sank. How could I have been so insensitive? It wasn’t until we started the adoption process, and met our son’s birth parents that I truly understood my sister’s experience. And even then, it was still my view of her experience through our adoption experience. What I recognized was that of course she is a Mom. In fact, she’s a pretty great Mom. It took amazing strength, courage and love to create a plan that ensured that her son had the life she wanted for him. And I’m so proud of her. We’ve since talked about this. A lot. But I can’t go back and take those hurt feelings away.

I’ve experienced those hurt feelings too. There were/are plenty of people who didn’t consider me a Mom (or Double A a Dad) until we brought Baby Boy home last year. That is a hurt that doesn’t come lightly, and one that stays with you. There are also those who feel as though now that BB is here, my Mother’s Day should be strictly a happy experience. Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful to be able to participate in Mother’s Day on this level. It just doesn’t take away all of the pain of Mother’s Day past. Or the fact that I don’t have all of my children here with me.

There have been many great posts recently about Mother’s Day. There’s Lori’s. And Mel’s. And Mary Tyler Mom’s. And Talia’s. And many others that highlight the challenges of this day—not to mention the time and promotions leading up to it—after loss, adoption and infertility. I wish more people were talking about it when my sister needed me. I wish more people were talking about it now.

In the end, Mother’s Day has different meanings to different people. I’m not trying to take anything away from anyone. I’m just trying to build an understanding and awareness outside of our own.

You Be You

In going through the loss, adoption or infertility journey, did you ever feel like you needed to do or say something you weren’t quite comfortable with in the hopes that it would get you closer to the baby you wanted? We did. One time that stands out is in 2008, after our second loss, with our initial RE. After working with him to carefully craft a mindful and thorough step-by-step plan, I lost my job and he told us that we needed to do IVF because it was covered up to four tries on my outgoing insurance. Now, I didn’t know then what I know now (4 tries!?!), and at that point, we had gotten pregnant easily and we weren’t ready to make that jump. The doctor was not so kind in discussing that option, so we left him for a better fit. Do I look back at that time now and wonder if we should have tried it? Sure, but we weren’t ready at the time and stood our ground.

Going through the adoption process, there were many points that we asked ourselves if we should change or hide information about ourselves to make us more appealing to a potential woman or couple looking at creating an adoption plan for their child. I’m not talking about anything major here: Should we leave off our ages? Should we not mention we’re Cubs fans or that we like Notre Dame? And then the big one: Should we not mention that we’re Jewish? But we are. We are all of these things. We’d go back and forth on the religion factor, but in the end realized that we needed to be true to us, and just hope that it would mesh with someone out there. As time went on, we’d question that decision, and waiver, but stuck with it anyway.

Fast forward to when we met Baby Boy’s birth parents. While I won’t share details here because it isn’t my story to tell, I will share that they asked us about being Jewish. We took a deep breath, glancing at one another and said yes. But the shoe didn’t drop. Rather, just the curiosity of what it meant in relation to Christmas. We talked about Hanukkah, and explained the traditions of the religion and our families. Of how Double A and I collect menorahs and how we’ve long looked forward to lighting them with our children. Of how we gather with family and friends to celebrate and spend time together. Of the foods we eat and the eight nights of presents. And it became clear why they were asking, and what was important: Family. Tradition. Presents. Shared experiences that they could relate to, and wanted for their child.

The night before BB was born, the social worker told us that his birth parents had something for us that they wanted to give us at the hospital. Of course in our minds, we thought, a baby, right? But when we saw them, they presented us with a box, and in that box, was a beautiful menorah. We were floored. We’re still floored. I choke up each time I think of this, or share this story. In all likelihood, they didn’t know from Hanukkah, and yet they wanted to be a part of that tradition. They wanted to share in that experience with their child, and create memories. We are beyond grateful for this incredible physical and spiritual gift, and lit BB’s menorah every night this past Hanukkah with such pride and joy. Hiding who we are would have taken something away from BB.

The challenges of loss often make it so that you can’t see straight. At least I found it to be. What can I do/say/give to get me to have a living baby? The more losses we experienced, and the longer our adoption wait went on, it was easy to get caught up in the “maybe I should…” or “what if I…” rather than stick to our well-thought out plans. I questioned everything. And then I questioned it again. Some of those questions still linger. The thing is, questions are good when they force you to look at all sides of a situation, ensuring you’re being your best advocate. It’s when they come from a place of panic and uncertainty that can cause the most harm.

When I really think about it, I realize that Double A and I made the best decisions we could at the time. And as we are about to celebrate Baby Boy’s first birthday this week, I’m grateful we made the decision to stay true to ourselves.

How do you handle staying true to yourself in your journey?