Grief can be a heavy burden that leadens every movement, every thought and every decision. However, grief is also a lens. It clarifies what is most important in life, magnifies the beauty of someone now lost and sharpens our sense of what has been found.
When people ask about my daughter, my responses most often confuse them. They are horrified by the story but perplexed by how calmly I tell the details, how I could cherish such moments.
On May 18 at 11:07 p.m. my first child was born, a daughter named Isabel. I held her, kissed her, dressed her and told her I loved her. At 1:05 a.m. she died in the cradle of my arms. I was 34 weeks into my pregnancy, but I learned that my baby was going to die at my 17-week appointment, when she was diagnosed with a congenital kidney condition that was "incompatible with life."
Some said that I wasn't given a choice. However, I did make a choice. I made it over and over for 15 weeks. There was never a doubt that I would carry Isabel for as long as I could. She was safe within me; life outside was dangerous. She was still our dream come true, for we had struggled to conceive her. The choice I could make was how I was going to carry her.
Supported by the counselors of the Caring Hearts Perinatal Hospice program, we made the choice to carry her without dread in our hearts. We chose to open ourselves to loving her completely and cherishing every squirm, not knowing which one would be her last. We chose to live as fully as we could and leave most of the hard work of grief for later.
There was a kernel of hope that the doctors were wrong, but we prepared ourselves for losing her at the same time.
We created a birth plan detailing our wishes for the day of her delivery, and the hospital was notified in advance. Plans were made with the funeral director. Decisions were made regarding further testing.
At the same time, we continued to work, meet with friends, pay the bills, grocery shop -- all the ordinary tasks of life during an extraordinary time. We were keenly aware that this was the only time we would have with our daughter. We counted each moment, not as winding down to a terrible ending, but as a memory to hold onto forever.
The night of her birth was the most joyful moment of our lives for we finally had a chance to hold our daughter and share her with our families. Two hours seemed an eternity, a luxury of time we did not dare hope for.
The curtain of grief was drawn when we were told she had passed. At the same time, we clearly saw how much we had lost and how much we had gained in the past few months.
To talk about Isabel is to tell a story of seeming paradoxes. Our experience strengthened and humbled us. Our lives were shattered and yet made whole. There is a peaceful center in the eye of grief. It is only by going through the most turbulent part of the storm that one can find that place, though.
On Oct. 12 I will join others inA Walk to Remember in honor of the 850,000 babies who die each year in miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death. We walk in grief, but we are not broken by it. We walk, transformed by our losses, but all is not lost.