People change over time. Their interests change, what’s important to them changes, their body changes, & sometimes even their whole outlook on life changes.
When you lose someone you love suddenly, you also change suddenly. My son, River, died during childbirth. I’ll forever be the “after” Anndrea. The “before” Anndrea died with her son.
When I was pregnant with River and watching my body change, I made peace with it. I loved it for what it was doing and how hard it was working to grow a human. I appreciated how strong I was, carrying a human inside a human. River and I went on walks, did yoga daily, & even took weekly belly dancing classes, but I was still gaining weight. It told myself it was all going to be worth it-- whatever my body ended up looking like… they made stretch pants for that.
I survived a traumatic labor and birth at 41 weeks. I was taken to the emergency room in an ambulance. But, it was way too late and my son could not be saved. I gave birth to death.
After River’s death, my body is a constant reminder of carrying him for 41 weeks. I have a physical reminder of the death of my child every day. I can see it. And, I carry it with me…the extra 25 pounds, cellulite, and stretch marks. My poor breasts made it through engorgement when my milk came in because my body thought my baby was still alive. I ended up pumping to relieve the pain, but continued to pump to donate my milk. Now, my breasts are forever changed as they nurtured a child…just not my own.
I am now someone living with traumatic grief, PTSD, & anxiety. I have flashbacks of my labor and birth, have gone through a million “what if” situations, have read 6 grief books, gone to grief therapy at the hospital, met loss moms virtually all over the world, and researched home birth protocols until my eyes blur. Grief is a very isolating world. Especially when people don’t acknowledge my son or what I went through. I didn’t “lose” a baby, he died. I didn’t experience a “pregnancy loss”, I gave birth. I know I am not the only mother who has a dead child, but I often wonder why it feels so lonely & isolating to be a dead baby momma? Motherhood is a sacred “club”, but it doesn’t accept dead baby mommas. And, society is not comfortable with us either.
1 in 4 pregnant women will experience a miscarriage (before 20 weeks). 1 in 160 pregnant women will experience a stillbirth (20 weeks +). There isn’t a real statistic for women who experience a baby die during a full-term labor/delivery (me). Why are we so discouraged to talk about it if these deaths occur so often? Why are we shunned? Why do people feel the need to make grief comparisons and give platitudes? After one year, I still feel like I’ve been silenced.
I will always be River’s mother. I am very proud of him. He was perfect and so very cute with long brown hair, just like his dad. I grieve the loss of River every single day. But, I live knowing that you can’t grieve if you didn’t love. I will always love and grieve my son.
But, I don’t want to grieve my body anymore. I want to love & appreciate my body again, just as it is & for what it has done & gone through. When I saw the submission call for RAW photography, I wondered if it would help me heal the way I looked at my body? If seeing myself RAW would change my mindset? Would it help me be a better Anndrea so I can show up in the world again? Would it give me my voice back? Would people SEE AND HEAR me again? My RAW session experience was beautiful. Emily gave me a gift of sight & allowed me this space to use my voice. I see that my body carried me even in the heaviest of times-both physically and mentally. My body pulled me out of the darkest depths of grief. What a beautiful gift to see yourself grieving through an artist’s eyes.
And now, just as my body carried River, my body is carrying River’s sibling too. I grieve and feel joy. I have hope-hope for the world to accept me for who I am, the “after” Anndrea.
Image by Emily Comnick for Becoming Our Bodies. Link to blog on photo.