From Persephone Magazine: Living with Nevers (2011)

I have a silver necklace that I never wear. It’s a double-layered cylinder on a thin silver chain. Embedded in the center are two simple, tiny footprints surrounded by the names “Isaac” and “John.” My necklace is a reminder of my sons: beautiful identical twin boys who I never saw, never kissed, and never even held. Boys I never knew in this life.

My sons were born at 4:50 a.m. on June 29, 2010. Both were stillborn. Both were so deformed that the doctors could not distinguish their gender without an autopsy. Both were my sons ““ my precious, beautiful babies.

I miss them both. I think about them every single day.

As a mother to stillborn children, I live with a lot of “nevers.” Never felt them kick. Never heard them cry. Never kissed a scraped knee. Never heard a first word. Never walked them to school. Never grounded them for staying out late. Never. Never. Never. My life with these children is full of nevers. But there is one never that I am finding more difficulty with as of late: I never talk about them.

This never is not as uncommon as I thought, even though, statistically speaking, 1 out of every 150-200 pregnancies ends as a stillbirth. This is a startlingly high statistic, especially considering how little I hear about stillbirths and the women who survive them.

How many, do you think, live with the same nevers that I do? How many never speak of their babies, afraid that they will seem ungrateful for those who lived? How can we remove the stigma from stillbirths, opening the door for women to grieve publicly, to acknowledge the precious lives that were replaced with never-ending nevers?

For me, this process began by replacing at least one never with an always.

3 months after my sons were born, I crawled in my bed, hoping to escape the real world for an hour or two. Hogwarts seemed to be an acceptable venture, so I slowly began to reread the last book in the Harry Potter series. This series is one that I have always wanted to read to my children. In fact, for years I dreamed of the nights that my kids would take baths, put on their jammies, brush their teeth, and jump on my bed for a bedtime story. Even now, I can almost see us taking a year or two to make our way through the whole series, and I plan on reading it slowly and carefully, accentuating every syllable and every wand-wave.

That night as I read, I got the strangest feeling. It was as if I was piled under covers, sitting between two blonde little boys who wanted me to read Harry Potter with the voices. And strangely enough, I did. Quietly and to myself, I began to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows out loud to my sons. It was like they were there, with me, hearing the story of bravery and family, of love and war, of hope, of death, of resurrection. And for a moment, I got a chance to do something that I never thought I would do: I got to read a story to my boys.

That moment brought me hope.  It reminded me, and reminds me still, that my sons lived, that their lives were precious, that they are worth remembering.

And so I write this remembrance to honor my boys. But I also do it to remind you. October is a month dedicated to more than breast cancer awareness. It is also focused on remembering those who have suffered a miscarriage and/or a stillbirth. So this month, I will wear my necklace. And in doing so, I will remember my sons.  And I will remember the thousands of women who never speak of their children.  I hear your nevers and I wish you a lifetime filled with more than one always.

Names and Faces: We Must Remember

7 months ago, at exactly this time, I gave birth to our fourth child: a sweet, silent baby boy who we named Malcolm. 7 months ago, at exactly this time, I was holding his perfect little self to my chest, barely catching my breath as I thought of the thousand reasons I would never hand him to the nurse.

Malcolm Ajani Kraus: we chose his name so intentionally, and we hoped, prophetically. “Malcolm” means “Dedicated Servant,” and “Ajani” means “Overcomer, Victorious in the Struggle.”  His name embodied everything we hoped and prayed for him: that he would serve people and the fight for justice single-mindedly, that he would be victorious, that he would overcome. But that night, 7 months ago, as I held his perfect body in my hands, as I memorized the features of his beautiful face, I didn’t find victory. Instead, I relived the nightmare I endured on that long 2010 night when I delivered his twin brothers, Isaac and John.

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Isaac and John were names we chose intentionally as well. Told I might not be able to get pregnant at all, we took our first pregnancy as a complete and utter miracle. In losing them, we still counted their conception as the light at the end of a dark tunnel, and so we chose names that we thought symbolized the miraculousness of their existence. In Scripture, 2 women struggled to conceive and only did so miraculously. These women, Sarah and Elizabeth, gave birth to two strong boys: the first to Isaac and the second to John (the Baptist). Their boys were miracles, and I so hoped that mine could be as well.

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It turns out that my prophetic notion was oddly misplaced — or so I initially thought.

2 stillbirths almost killed me.

Isaac and John didn’t live to symbolize God’s redemptive plan or restorative processes. Malcolm didn’t win his battle. And we didn’t win ours. In fact, more often than not, we wonder what kind of meaning can be found in the loss of such perfect babies. In many ways, I have tried to take up the mantle that their names represented: the twins cannot prepare the way of the Lord, and so I desperately want to. Malcolm couldn’t overcome, so I must find a way.

A noble thought, I’m sure. And in my case, it is one that has been far more theoretical than it has been practical.

You see, there’s nothing hopeful in the process of losing a child: everything about the experience is excruciating and haunting. Birth is long. Birth is painful. Recovering from birth is like pouring salt into an open wound: milk takes days to deplete, bleeding lasts for weeks, tummies never return to their initial form or function. Birth and death shouldn’t work together, and yet for women like me, the two are strangely synonymous: birth didn’t start a new life. Birth ended one.

But losing my sons has not — and will not — result in losing myself.

I am one of millions who survived. Even today, there exists a great cloud of women who have birthed and lost all at the same time. We cry. We ache. We think, dream, and remember our children. And yet, few of us speak of our babies because, to put it bluntly, we don’t know how.

We don’t know how to answer the question of how many children we have. We don’t know how to explain the ache we feel during holidays and would-be-birthdays. We try not to speak of them for fear of making our listener squirm. Because honestly, we can’t stand the awkwardness that we pass to others when we attempt to remember out loud — when we try to explain where our babies are, what happened to them, and why we lost them in the first place.

But this month, October, is all about eliminating that awkwardness. It’s all about creating the space and the freedom to remember — not just in our hearts, but to remember out loud. To remember publicly.

October 15th commemorates children lost to miscarriage or stillbirth. The entire month is dedicated, not just to breast cancer awareness, but to families who survived the death of a child, inside the womb or outside of it. Whether you fit into that category or not, yours is a voice that survivors need. We need you to remember our babies. We need you to remember them out loud and in public. We need you to remember with us.

This month, will you do something — will you say something — in honor of the multitude lost seemingly to chance? Will you remember the lives not meant for this world? And will you reach your hand to silently aching mothers and fathers who so want to know that their babies mattered, not just in the life beyond, but in the life that we have now?

For all those who remember and grieve tonight, I want you to know: I remember you. I remember your babies. They are not phantoms or ghosts. They are not figments of your imaginations or images on a wall. They are your children. They lived. They are worth remembering.

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