I remember as a kid in school we had to take career aptitude tests. None of those tests ever prepared me for the hardest job, parenting my children who have died. The only career I ever truly wanted was to be a mom. I never imagined that dream would be so hard to come by.
I did all the socially “normal” things I thought I was supposed to do: had a fine childhood, grew up, went to nursing school, fell in love with a good man, got married, bought a home. We were so excited to create a family.
My first miscarriage was early, but I was devastated.
I sat in an empty room of our house that was supposed to be the nursery, wondering if I would ever bring home a baby to that room. The first night home after my daughter was born, I rocked her in that room with such relief and complete joy. She was every dream I ever had come true, the greatest gift I could have ever imagined.
I love being her mother. I thrived on caring for her, teaching her, playing with her, taking her everywhere as my little mini me. When it came time to give her a sibling and have another child, we thought nothing could possibly go wrong.
I was 36 weeks pregnant with my second daughter when I had this horrible gut feeling.
We went to the hospital hoping we were just being cautious, but I knew she was dead. Most babies that are born with umbilical cords wrapped around their necks are perfectly fine. My baby died. We were shocked and blindsided. We thought stillbirth was something that happened in the olden days, something that couldn’t possibly happen to me.
Trying to make sense and grieve the loss of our daughter while parenting our then-toddler was overwhelming. We found a local support group, Metro Detroit Share, that had monthly meetings. It was immensely helpful finding parents like us who understood our pain, held us, and walked with us through our darkest days. We had so much love and support from family and friends, but our lives were forever changed.
Eventually our desire to have more children outweighed our fears.
After an extremely stressful pregnancy, I gave birth to my third daughter. I thought having another living baby would somehow heal our broken hearts, but nothing can take that hurt away. Having a child after a loss is forever a mix of joy and grief. Seeing the sister relationship between my daughters was so special, it gave me confidence to think maybe we could add one more to our family.
I had another early miscarriage, on my birthday, but soon after we were expecting again. We laughed that this child must really want to be born into our family. We thought after this our family would feel complete and she would be our final “rainbow.” We knew the possibilities, that the worst could happen, but still held on to hope that all would be well and that we would have three living children. Unfortunately our fourth daughter was stillborn at 28 weeks.
I know how lucky I am that I have two living children.
My daughters are amazing, beautiful, healthy, smart, caring, wonderful human beings. I am grateful beyond words they survived my womb to walk through life with me. But I’m supposed to have four daughters here.
My babies died. That really happened. Every minute of every day my children are dead. That’s my reality. I can’t forget even if I wanted to. All the beautiful moments in life are clouded by the fact that my babies are gone from this world. There are empty seats at our table. Personalized baby items and outfits that will never be worn. Babies that never came home to our decorated nursery. My heart forever holds an emptiness that only they can fill.
Any semblance of comfort we have found is knowing we are not alone.
After my first stillbirth, I took my toddler to a music class. I knew I would see pregnant moms and babies, yet it was still a punch to the gut. I saw another mom from support group there with her son. She sat next to me, that knowing look in her eyes. I was so grateful she was with me. I realized then that everywhere I went, there were other parents around me that had lost their children, too. Every room you walk into, someone has had a miscarriage, stillbirth, infant loss. We are not alone in this heartbreak.
Those career aptitude tests could have never prepared me for this reality.
My “career” looks much different than the dreams I envisioned as a child. My motherhood is complicated: I parent my living children, and I parent my children who have died by activism and involvement. I put that energy into my fellow parents in loss as we navigate life without our children here. I have learned that I can connect with other parents who have experienced this and walk this journey together.
We can join our voices, push for progress, research, prevention, awareness, education. We can reach into our communities to comfort and pave the way for future families like us. Our children mattered. Their short lives impacted our entire lifetime. My daughters changed who I am as a person. I will shout their names from every rooftop to tell the world that Stella and Ivy Johnson existed. My children died, and that breaks my heart every day, but they are mine. I will make sure that their little lives leave a mark on this world.
–Guest submission from Emily Johnson