Story telling is so important. Whether the story is written or spoken, sharing our stories shares a piece of ourselves with other. In the world of psychotherapy, we know that story telling helps to re-wire the brain as it helps a person process and integrate their experience in a way that is not possible if the story stays hidden, unspoken, and unwritten. I’ve thought about sharing my personal experience with the birth and death of my firstborn daughter here, but there have been my usual doubts and questions. First and foremost is do I share my story because I am a “professional” – I’m a psychotherapist in private practice and a client could read my story. Is that okay? Would I be sharing too much? Getting too real? Exposing too much of myself and my family in a way that wouldn’t be therapeutic? Well… what I love about the world of therapy today is that it keeps changing. And for many therapists, we know the value of sharing our personal experience with our clients in appropriate ways. When someone comes to therapy, they are often looking for connection. They want to know they are okay, that you can help them, and that you understand them. And that is why I do the specific work that I do. I work with women and couples because I can personally relate to something a client is going through. More specifically, I work with babyloss and parenting, because again, I have personal experience and am passionate about being there with and for others on their own journey.
So that’s the long-winded introduction to, here is my story of first-born daughter, Acacia. She changed my life, as all children do. I encourage you to also share your story. The New York Times is running a story about stillbirth and you can share your story there. Here’s a link to the article called “Stillbirth: Share Your Story.” Feel free to leave a note in the comment section here if you would like. Or get out your journal, talk to your partner, call a friend, talk to your therapist and/or someone else you know and trust. Tell your story. Here’s a part of mine (with a quick disclaimer. When I wrote this, my daughter was still alive. I had yet to deal with “real life” after the death of my baby. It got a lot harder than I thought it would. So read this with a grain of salt.)
Big Love, Big Acceptance, Big Teacher… in a tiny package
Written by Shelly King
Inspired and made possible by Acacia Sierra King
September 28, 2009, 12:30 a.m., Written about 15 hours before my daughter died, and I read this at her memorial service.
What can I say about my daughter… my daughter! Acacia Sierra King. She leaves me speechless, yet I have so many words, experiences, and thoughts to share… all that really happened in only a few days. Who knew a person could squeeze so much life into a few days, and squeeze so much out of life. I think Acacia knew. That’s how I understand and explain her presence in my life. How lucky am I?
Acacia has taught me about BIG LOVE. I told my husband, I never knew there was so much love in the world before I met and spent time with our daughter. For example, I knew I loved my husband before we had our daughter, but I didn’t know I could love him even more. Becoming a parent breaks your heart wide open and the love fills every crack and crevice, in places you didn’t know existed. And when you feel and experience the loss of a child, the love of family and friends pours in and fills you like you never knew possible. Acacia has a great family. While I am deeply saddened at the loss of my daughter and my first-born, I have grown closer to my family and friends in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. What a gift my daughter has given me… so selflessly, so readily. She is amazing.
Acacia has taught me about BIG ACCEPTANCE. After I gave birth, Acacia was whisked away from my body before I could see her. I didn’t hear her cry right away…something was wrong. Then they briefly held her to my face so I could meet my daughter and give her a kiss. I looked at her sweet little face and knew something was different. I became very afraid, very detached. I didn’t know if my daughter would live, and if she did, I didn’t know what kind of life she would have and how it would affect mine. I wondered if I could be a mom to a special needs child. I didn’t think I could and I am so sad to admit, I hoped she would die if that were the case. I didn’t believe I was strong enough or big enough to meet such a challenge. That night I withdrew. Partially because I just gone through a traumatic birth experience and partially because I was afraid of what lie ahead. I was in shock. It was a great buffer.
And then… and then I met her. And I didn’t want to see her again. She looked so tiny, so sick, so frail. She was having trouble breathing and it hurt me to see her. I wasn’t thinking too much about how she was feeling. I was stuck in my own sad situation. Nine months of carrying my baby, going through a pitocin induced labor without pain meds… only to end up here. It was not fair. I felt like the worst mom ever. What kind of mother would let her newborn, special needs child lie under a warmer light all night long without so much as peeking in on her? Only a really bad. Only a mother that had failed her child… only me. I felt awful.
And then… and then I had the courage to go in and see her one more time, with my own mother. And my heart melted, and Acacia taught me about BIG ACCEPTANCE. Acceptance of myself, of my daughter, of my situation. No, it’s not fair to lose your child. It’s not fair that I brought her into this world and that I witnessed her leave. But it’s not about being fair. We all know life isn’t fair. It’s about accepting what is… about understanding and accepting our attachments in life. I had so many attachments to what it meant to be pregnant, and attachments to what life would be like after our baby came. Yet all along Acacia was trying to teach me about acceptance. We had many twists and turns during the pregnancy… the suspicion of trisomy 18 at week 21, which was later ruled out at week 25. The concern I might develop gestational diabetes, which didn’t happen. Then week 34 came and our homebirth midwife was concerned that she felt so small. So on to the doctor… which confirmed a small baby and concern about intrauterine growth restriction. Back to the dr. again… and baby looked healthy, but small, so weekly monitoring was set up. Due to baby’s small size, a hospital birth was in order, and the hopes, dreams, and plans for a home birth were taken away. I had trouble accepting all of these changes, all of these concerns. All of these things that I couldn’t let be, because I had other plans in place.
And then… and then I held her. And my melted heart began to break wide open, to feel the BIG LOVE. I began to accept Acacia for who she was, and her presence in my life. She taught me you can’t judge a book by its cover – which I’ve known for years, but now I know. Because BIG ACCEPTANCE doesn’t care what you look like or who you are… it only cares about you, all of you, every part of you. Acacia loves me unconditionally and purely. I realized I had already put so many conditions on her life and how that was supposed to be a part of mine. Acacia made me a better mom, a better person.
And it seems she fought to teach me about these things… to be my BIG TEACHER. There are many reasons why she shouldn’t have lived to teach me these things. The majority of trisomy 18 babies die in-utero during the second or third trimester. Acacia didn’t. She escaped the diagnosis of trisomy 18 by multiple ultrasounds and by two doctors. If we had known ahead of time that she had trisomy 18, we would have planned a homebirth and allowed her to die at home, at whatever rate she needed to. But we didn’t know, and we had a hospital birth. No one knew. And she was rushed off to be put on machines to sustain her life. My husband and I didn’t want that. We would have chosen not to put her on a ventilator, but we weren’t allowed that choice because the hospital did not have the capability to diagnosis trisomy 18 at 10:30 on a Friday evening. Due to the fact that tests couldn’t be run, the doctors were ethically obligated to save her life. We fought the staff on this, and nothing changed. We were forced to accept their actions to intervene to keep our daughter alive. If this hadn’t happened, she probably would have died that night. Instead, she lived. She lived a few precious days to teach me so much. She is such a fighter. Even when I wasn’t sure I could love her, when I wasn’t sure I could accept her, she stayed in my life. She stayed long enough to teach me about BIG LOVE and BIG ACCEPTANCE. What a girl!
She’s a tiny little package, yet she affected everyone she met. Our family came to know and love her – flying out a moment’s notice to support us as her parents, and to meet her. If everyone else could have met her, we know you would have loved her too. My husband commented that if we could have passed a sign up sheet around, she would have been held constantly. I know we could have filled the 2 am shift so she wouldn’t have to lie by herself in her warming bed. On Sunday she was held constantly from about 11 a.m. in the morning until 1 a.m. the next morning. And still not every family member got to hold her.
Oh Acacia. My love. My daughter. My first-born. You have taught me so much and I am still learning from you. You will be my teacher for the rest of my life. THANK YOU for being my daughter, for coming into my life and blessing me with your big presence… in such a tiny package. I love you. I love you so much, so so much. I wish I didn’t have to let you go. I wanted to stay in the cocoon of the hospital for days on end. And yet, as I slowly slowly wade through my grief and attachments, I know life goes on. I wonder how your life will continue to affect mine? I wonder what decisions I’ll make differently? Time will tell… and I know you’ll be with me every step of the way. Part of me feels excited about life – my new life. And part of me feels so scared and sad. How do I live without you, my love?
What are the stories of your baby that you’ve shared? Who have you told? Who would you like to tell?