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Glory, Glory

9 Jul

It has been two+ months of a feeling of completeness that I cannot put into words.

I am reminded every day now of a sentiment that a good friend shared with me about having her son. She said that she and her husband could not remember what they used to do from day to day before their son came about. When she said this to me, it had been a few months since losing Demilade and I too, could not remember what life was like before my heart was torn into pieces.

I recently read a blog post by another grieving mother where a quote seemed to capture how I had been feeling over the last two years. The quote from the book, You are the Mother of all Mothers by Angela Miller, says that it takes invincible strength to mother a child you can no longer hold, see, touch or hear. 

I see you walking this path of life you’ve been given, where every breath and step apart from your child is a physical, emotional, and spiritual battleground. A fight for your own survival. A fight to quiet the insidious lies.

Upon reading this, I felt like someone out there truly understood what it feels like to live without one’s child. Whenever a parent speaks of their living child, I wonder if they look at me and consider that my own, although not present, is always on my mind. I read this quote and offered words of encouragement to the mother, the blogger who had just lost her newborn. I wanted to say more. Not only that it gets better and the pain is not so haunting after some time but, that eventually she would find the courage to be present in the life that keeps on going around her. I wanted to tell her that eventually she will get the courage to try again. I tried again.

At the time I was reading the blog, I was about seven months pregnant with my second child and son. While I could offer words of encouragement to someone else, I couldn’t readily share where I was in the healing process because it was very hard to be sure of what the future held. If there is one thing I have learned from Demilade’s loss, it is that nothing is promised from one day to the next. It is important to live in the present. I just had to hope for the best.

I cannot say its been easy because it is experience that has taught me this lesson. For 10 months I prayed for peace of mind and God granted me just that. It is an overwhelming task to be pregnant and aware of the many outcomes (even for someone who hasn’t walked in my shoes) and, to actively work on keeping a healthy balance between being overjoyed and being grounded in one’s reality. I can not begin to explain how important it was for me to be at peace during this time. I shut out all outside noise and tried not to let all of the knowledge I had gathered about preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome, since suffering from it, bother me. Many people experience loss, some are unfortunate parents like me who lose children. It is not a club anyone wants to be a part of.

I now understand why in many African cultures (and many others) a pregnancy is treated as though it is invisible until the baby arrives. I don’t agree but I understand. When one’s life has been transformed by this kind of loss, there are a few lessons we grasp very quickly. One prominent lesson is that very few truly understand your grief and most would rather not have to talk about/acknowledge your dead child. For most people, my still born child was just that, still born and then the next day everyone’s life moved along. People say their sorry and expect you to carry on with life the way it was before your unfortunate life event. For us, for the grieving parents, it is a pain we have to learn to live with every day of our lives. It never goes away. Except with the less than handful of people who may be in tune enough to check on our wellbeing or oblige us by speaking about our son by his name every so often, it is a lonely journey. For this reason, my husband and I decided that this pregnancy would be a personal journey for us and we embraced the custom of our motherland. The anxiety, fear and doubt we felt and then quieted away with prayer, could only be understood by ourselves.

Now here we are. Two months after the birth of my handsome warrior. We did not know what to hope for while I was pregnant. We just hoped for the baby to be healthy. I went through this pregnancy with nearly no alarms and delivered him (after over 48 hours of labor) without any incident. He is healthy and much more than I could have ever hoped for. Akinlabi is a joy to behold and a daily reminder of God’s miraculous work in our lives.

Everyday I look at him, grateful for his life and with a heart full of joy. Everyday I wonder what I was doing before he came along. His face makes my heart smile and, for the second time, I get to experience unconditional love. Whatever I was doing before heartbreak and all, I don’t miss it!

 

Loss, one year later

13 Mar

I’ve heard people say that a parent never wants to experience a child’s death.

I didn’t understand how a natural part of life could be so devastating as to cause one not to want to live anymore.

I didn’t understand it when my mother died when I was 11 years old.

I didn’t really understand when my maternal grandmother refused to eat and was overcome with depression when the 7th (as far as I know) of her 8 children died before she did.

I didn’t understand the sense of hopelessness and doubt that takes over when one has lost a child. I didn’t understand it all until I lost Demilade.

I’ve never been the type to talk about all of the things that I have been through. I am certain most people look at me and immediately think that I have been lucky in life. We all do this. We look at someone who seems like a great package and has it all figured out and we stand in awe and admiration; and sometimes we envy, not considering all the hardships they may have had to endure and the scars that are too deep for all to see.

I relatively do count myself lucky. But as lucky as I am, its been a tough life.

I know loss. My older brother died in 2004. Even though I had lost my mother at a young age, when my brother died, I experienced the finality of death. When the body of your loved one is lowered into the ground and covered with earth, there is nothing more final. That is the end. There is nothing left but memories.

Last year when we buried my boy, I can not tell you all of the thoughts that ran through my mind. Some are too disturbing for me to tap into again, but the one thought that stayed with me was that this was the end of my journey with him. I had only gotten one day to look at him. I’d never see him again. Although lifeless, I felt a sense of comfort having gazed upon his face, holding him and confirming who he looked like. Knowing that he was the spitting image of his dad. I was comforted by the fact that although the worst happened, my 33 weeks with him were not just a figment of my imagination.

All the day dreams I was having of him growing, laughing, crawling, even running were just dreams now. I’d never experience these things with him but he was indeed real. All of these things were  marked final by the earth that would cover him.

So now I would say I understand a bit what it is to lose a child. I can literally walk through the sequence of events in my mind from the moment I was told there was no heart beat in the wee hours of March 13th, 2013, to the moment he was buried on March 18th. Everything flashes before your eyes over and over again.

I still see the flashes, the only difference is that I am not as defeated, hopeless and doubtful as I was one year ago and over this last year.

Losing a child is the worst thing I’ve ever experienced and I now know why people say that a parent never wants to experience a child’s death. The emptiness and longing that results is something I have felt every single day of this past year.

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Peace which surpasses understanding

14 Oct

Philippians 4:7 (KJV) 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

7 months.

Today is my birthday. On this day last year as I awoke, I was greeted by an email from the Baby Bump alerting me to the 3rd month of my pregnancy.

Yesterday marked the 7th month since Demilade Christian left us. I can finally say and think this without feeling like the ground has been pulled from under me.

Earlier this week something profound happened to me. I was on a work trip driving from Kitwe to Lusaka (Zambia) along with two colleagues when one of them suggested that we stop and visit the site where Dag Hammerskjold’s flight crashed. Hammerskjold was the 2nd United Nations Secretary General. I had no previous knowledge  of this history and when I looked at the untarred road that led to the site, was not the least bit interested in finding out more about this wreckage site or the man who made it so significant.

We drove 4 kilometers to the site and it seemed to have taken ages. I had no idea what to expect except maybe the wreckage itself  at the original point of impact. I mean it was in the middle of bushes and hardly any community around it as far as I could tell. What we found, however, was a beautiful forest of foreign trees; firmly planted on the grounds where the plane carrying 16 individuals had crashed many years ago.

I jumped out of the car and was immediately met with a sense of calm. Perhaps because I was on grounds dedicated to the departed which, to me, are sacred. I took a huge breath in and walked toward the hill with a gazebo atop it. Apparently, this is the site where Hammerskjod’s body was found. I felt uneasy being there but, I proceeded to walk up the stairs that led to the gazebo and once I reached, sat on a bench. I wanted to cry. The image of my son had crept into my mind. and vividly so. But something told me it was alright. I called out my boy’s name under my breath and smiled. I closed my eyes. The wind blew ever so softly and I felt like a burden had been lifted off of my spirit. In that moment I felt peace.

For the short time I was there surveying the memorial site, the thought of my child did not cause anguish or pain. I just was.

During the last 7 months, I have not felt the calm, peace, and joy that I felt in those few moments. I didn’t know how to describe it or where it came from but, was reminded of the scripture above. Truly, I do not understand it and surely, it must come from only one place.

I prayed for peace daily at the beginning. I know I’m achieving it but wasn’t quite convinced. That moment gave me vigor to continue seeking peace of mind. It is possible after all.

I said a prayer for the lives lost and I left the memorial grounds praying that they are at peace. I thanked God for the life of my little boy and thanked Him for this unexpected moment.

Da Hammerskjold Memorial site - Zambia

Da Hammerskjold Memorial site – Zambia

Babies everywhere!

29 Sep

I’m not sure if I just notice it more if every woman on my friends’ list is having a baby but, everywhere I look there’s a baby born. In the last couple of days two acquaintances on one social network have had baby boys; in the last two weeks two others have just successfully completed their pregnancies with live healthy babies. One of these new babies is also named Christian. How can I possibly not wail for my boy???

I’ve kept it together over the last six months and have actively tried not to be outwardly affected at seeing others so happy with their new additions. I’ve attended baby showers and baby birthdays, hoping I can heal faster. However, deep inside, I’d rather be anywhere else! Afterward though, I feel like I have conquered something monumental.

A few days ago, I saw yet another parent flood my Facebook news feed with pictures of the newly born child. I’m sure my reaction was the same as the other friends who looked upon this little angel and oohed and ahhed at the cuteness of the little one. What always follows for me though, is what was wrong with me that I didn’t deserve these kinds of moments. What did I do wrong? And why should I be happy for anyone else (although, I am)? On this particular day, I just cried as I was filled with so much emptiness. Why did this have to happen to me? To us?

Life can be so cruel.

‘Your brain is injured, it needs time to heal’

26 Aug

God is good. All of the time…

Have you ever prayed so hard for something that seemed so elusive? I’m not talking about a better job, more money or even someone to love you. I’m talking about something that seemed like it was completely out of your control and reach, even though you prayed fervently about it. I have.

Over the last five + months, I have prayed for one thing daily: peace of mind. I have not had it since the moment the doctors told me that my child’s heart had stopped and that my 33 weeks and three days of pregnancy would end in broken hearts for me and my family.  It is one thing to mourn the loss of my child but, it is totally something else to also have to deal with post-partum anxiety at the same time. I’ve had it badly.

I was left feeling like I was on the outside looking into my own life. I didn’t recognize who I was anymore. Afraid to be alone, go outside, take the elevator, sit in my car in traffic, travel any long distance away from the apartment I call home, ride the subway, and fly among many other ‘normal’ things. Most of all, I was afraid of being afraid.  My fears kept me up at night and when I finally did fall asleep; my fears caused me to abruptly awake an hour or two into slumber. It was mentally taxing and I was physically exhausted and frustrated because I could not rest. I did not rest.

Every night I prayed the same prayer. Reminding myself that God is in charge and that He is bigger and mightier than I and that I was choosing to overcome this great obstacle no matter how long it would take. When I wasn’t praying for the hurt and pain to go away along with my panic attacks over the most normal routines, I challenged myself to face my new fears once or twice per week. I took trial runs on the subway and even went underground. I shook in distress and sweated the whole way but, it was one step to conquering one fear and getting my life back. Every single time I challenged myself the result would be a sense of accomplishment and then deep depression. I thought will I live my life this way forever? Surely, there is much more of the world I want to see. This cannot be it for me. So these exercises/challenges became worth it and instrumental to my recovery.

I continued like this for the first three months often getting frustrated and sometimes losing hope. At my lowest moments I relied on my husband and my sister for reassurance. One evening, my sister was visiting and although I tried not to alarm her, I know my husband kept her abreast of everything happening with me. I unloaded on her my emotional and mental state and beat myself up a bit about how long it was taking for me to get back to normal. She looked at me and said something that has made me look at my temporary inability to thwart off unfounded fears in a new light. She said to me, “your brain is injured” and like any other injured part of your body, it needs time to heal.

Wow.

It seems so simple but how many people overwhelmed by traumatic and tragic experiences beat themselves up and think they’ve lost their marbles when in fact, there is good reason for that state of mind. I lost a child and my body had to abruptly stop a biological and physiological process before it was able to finish. Of course I’m going to be affected, my mind and body is trying to figure it all out too.

When my sister said those words, I immediately changed my outlook on the healing process. I knew now that I didn’t have to push myself so hard. That if all I could handle was one task or challenge per day, then I was not going to allow myself to get frustrated for not being able to do more.

At five months post-partum, I am where I couldn’t even imagine one month ago. I have been on four trips and 10 planes. I did it! Flying has been my greatest new fear. The thought of sitting on a plane for several hours (I’m African, remember we have to go a long way to visit family) was debilitating and would send me into panic.

As much as my husband wanted to whisk me away to some exotic place where we could try and forget our pain for a short time, I just couldn’t bring myself to entertain flying. But God works in mysterious way, I had to two opportunities to fly locally, one for an hour and the other for two and a half hours. The one hour flight was the most nerve wrecking and agonizing. Everything that could go wrong ran across my mind and I was a mental mess. There were tears but, as the old saying goes, no pain no gain. Thanks to these two short flights I was able to fly all the way to Malawi and then Spain earlier this month. The impossible became possible.

Although, I am still not eager to jump onto the next plane or be by myself, the fact that I have flown 10+ hours at a time on several planes and to different far away and unfamiliar lands, has given me new vigor. I can do anything (through Christ)! And with my sister’s sagely advice, I know that my mind is still healing and I will have peace again.

 

Everyone has a story

5 Aug

My husband and I have been to quite a few doctors’ offices since we lost our Demilade. I couldn’t bear the thought of walking back into the same OB practice that sent me home  two days before I found myself hopeless in an OR, after not hearing my son’s heart beat; so we have been “interviewing” as many other doctors as possible to ensure that I’d have a caring and attentive pre/postnatal health care provider going forward.

The last Obstetrics physician we saw is a high risk pregnancy specialist. She sees patients like me all the time. She started the consultation by asking me what happened and what brought me to see her. She listened actively and took pages of notes. She asked about my family history and any other conditions i may have had in the past. She asked my husband too. She then reviewed my medical history files during my pregnancy with us and confirmed what We had already been told. We had lost our child due to severe preeclampsia.
Before she ended the meeting she said two things which stood out. The first was that we would have to wait one to two years to get pregnant again because although outside wound looked as though it was healed, there’s a second cut inside, on the uterus that must also heal. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought to ask about this before. Or why all the other doctors thought it was common knowledge and didn’t bother mentioning it. It was hard information to digest because you know that whole I’ve realized I’m not in control thing? Yeah, it’s a process…I had already made plans for when we would try again so, imagine my disappointment at this news.
The second thing she said was that “everyone has a story” and then proceeded to tell me about how she had lost her first child to preeclampsia as well. She had tried again and gave birth to a second healthy child but, still that pregnancy proved to be a difficult one. She later resolved to adopt instead of enduring a third or anymore pregnancies. Her story put everything in perspective for me.  Just minutes before meeting her, I sat with my husband in the waiting room and looked with a broken heart at all the pregnant women and other new moms bringing their babies in for a checkup. I started to feel hurt, envy and even hate and then quickly told myself to snap out of it. I leaned over to my husband and told him what I was thinking and then I told him, why should I be envious of anyone? I don’t know what life experiences have brought them here. I can’t compare myself to people whose life story I don’t know!
When God wants to teach you and make you understand, the message will be loud and clear. Up until this point, I would see pregnant women and babies and immediately go into a deep state of depression. In the few weeks after our loss, this depression was accompanied by anger. The message I received this day helps me to overcome the hurt I feel every time I see a mother and her baby, guesstimating how old the baby is and if Demilade would be that big as well.
I went home feeling a bit defeated by the waiting news and knew it wasn’t going to be a good rest of the day, until I picked up my Bible for some reassurance and read Jeremiah 29:11:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Doesn’t this sum it all up? Not my plans, but God’s plans. My story is not finished yet.
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