Ten years ago, the world briefly stopped spinning for my husband and me on Valentine's Day. On that day, we learned that our baby, with whom I had been pregnant for the past 38 and a half weeks, no longer had a heartbeat.
What would follow were a grueling few days of grief (the kind that makes you fall to your knees), medical explanations (there were none) and labor and delivery (just like a living child, only with no baby's newborn cry). We said hello and goodbye to our beautiful daughter as we named her, admired her, bathed her and then achingly left the hospital without her.
As we stepped out of the hospital on that cold, wet February day, we didn't know that the process of loving and missing our daughter was just beginning. Ten years later, the process continues. At the time, we could barely see 10 minutes ahead of ourselves, so envisioning 10 years into the future was impossible.
If I allow myself to really remember that moment, I can be paralyzed with grief still today. I want so badly to take that desperately sad and confused version of myself, wrap her in a hug and whisper in her ear just a few words of hope. If I could, I'd throw her a lifeline and tell her what I've learned in the 10 years since that day. I consider these things to be lessons from the daughter I never met, but know innately.
1. You will survive this. I don't know how, I really don't. But you will, because simply put, there are only two options: move forward, or don't. There will be dark moments when you'll flirt with the latter. But you won't go there. At first you choose to move forward for others, then for yourself, but mostly for the legacy of your child. It is up to you to make her short life matter in whatever way that opportunity presents itself. And so you'll move forward and you will survive -- one step, one painful minute after another, at a time.
2. Your marriage will survive this. You'll learn early on that the odds are stacked against you. In fact, even 10 years later your marriage has a greater risk of ending in divorce because you suffered a stillbirth, according to "Marriage and Cohabitation Outcomes After Pregnancy Loss," published in the May 2010 issue of Pediatrics.
It's an uphill battle, but your husband and you will be devoted to your children, your happiness and your unity. You'll find your way back to what made you click as a couple prior to this event. It seems impossible to imagine now, but you'll spend time with your kids, you will travel, discuss politics, watch movies, go for a hike, spend time with friends, argue and argue some more. You'll even go out to dinner together and you will talk about things other than the shared suffering.
You'll take a trip in the months following your loss to grieve together in a relatively isolated journey northward on Route 1, through coastal towns and the giants of the Redwoods, from San Francisco to Seattle. You'll celebrate milestone marriage anniversaries in locations as varied yet equally enjoyable as Wisconsin and Paris. And at year 10 into this shitty process, you'll decide it feels right to spend some time acknowledging the fact that you're still surviving this together in lively and colorful Key West, an atmosphere very different from that of the original, soulful Pacific Northwest journey.
3. This won't always define you, but it will remain a significant part of you. Just as you as a couple will remember who you are, you as an individual will remember who you are. You'll find your way back to old interests and you will discover new interests. You will always be a mother, but you'll be more than that woman who was pregnant and had a baby who died. This is a tough one, because you don't want to ever forget or deny your child, but you also need to be the person who made her, and a version of the person who you were before you lost her.
4. You will laugh again. Really. I was recently with a friend at her young son's funeral, and upon hearing others laugh, she sighed, "I want to laugh." That one simple statement was an immediate and direct pull on my heart, because I knew what she meant. I felt what she meant. When you are in the throes of it, you so badly want to be out of it. But you can't believe you ever will be.
I'm here to tell you that you will laugh again. It will feel forced and polite at first. And then one day it'll open up and you'll catch yourself in a sincere, full-on belly laugh. That laughter will feel so good and familiar, like a long-lost friend. As it rolls over you, it will make you cry with both sadness and joy. Believe it or not, after a while you'll have to remind yourself to notice if you are laughing! But you'll forevermore recognize that laughter is a gift.
5. Your body will change a million times over, but you'll treasure those stretch marks as proof of your child's existence. You will lose weight; you will gain weight; you will run; you'll do water aerobics. You'll play tennis; you'll do Pilates; you'll gain weight; and you'll lose weight all over again. You'll carry more children and you'll nurse children. You will have mammograms and pedicures. You will feel sexy and you will feel gross. But no matter your shape, size or age, the fact remains that for the rest of your days, your body is the space that you and your child shared for the 38 and a half weeks that you had together in this lifetime.
6. You'll know that the most important thing you can offer a friend in their time of need is your quiet presence. You will know that you don't need to get caught up in being afraid to say the wrong thing. There is no right thing to say. The truth is that we are all powerless, and no words that we say or don't say can mend a broken heart. The only thing we can do is to work our hardest to surround the bereaved with peace. You will let them know that they are not alone. You will make sure that they know that they are loved. You will always let them know that their deceased loved one is not forgotten.
7. Joy and sadness not only coexist, but are reliant on one another. You'll see the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out and nod your head and cry as that revelation is made, because it is a truth you've known for years. You'll know to celebrate and cherish life's joyful highs in a way that is only possible because you have known life's devastating lows. All of life's beauty is wrapped up in the most awful and most wonderful moments.
8. Some days you have to fake it until you make it. You won't always feel happy or positive, but you'll learn that if you start acting in a pattern of happiness, soon enough you really are in a pattern of happiness.
Once you are in that pattern of happiness, you have to defend it, because the grief is a house of cards that can easily topple at any moment. It may be over something as simple as a character on TV sharing the name of your child, something as subtle as the smell of a doctor's office or something as big as a loved one forgetting your child's birthday. Either way, the grief can come flooding in and set you back, until you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and decide go back to the choice described in #1. Just like in an unfair board game, you'll be sent back to Go, return to the beginning and fake it until you make it all over again -- and again.
9. Gratitude is available to you every moment of every day, and the more you use, the more you have. Once you've been in the middle of a crisis, you learn to appreciate the mundane everyday moments of life. Piles of unfolded laundry, lunches to pack and errands to run are most certainly annoyances. But when you're dealing with major medical decisions and emotional turmoil, you long for the simplicity of everyday life. So practice gratitude for the status quo and you'll most certainly know to practice gratitude for the big stuff, too.
10. Our children teach us something new every day -- even the ones we don't get to see every day. Look for it and listen for it; let your heart feel it; let your soul know it and let your actions abide by it. The world may feel frozen at the moment, but one day it will spin again. And you guys will be so busy with three kids and a dog and school, sports and activities that it will feel like the world is actually spinning out of control at times! So make sure to stop every now and then and soak it all up. See the sunsets and sunrises. Explore with your children, discover with your children. Appreciate, acknowledge, learn and love every single maddening second of the gift that they are.
This post originally appeared on Carissa's blog, www.carissak.com. You can see more from Carissa by following her on Tumblr, carissakwriter.tumblr.com, Facebook at www.facebook.com/carissaKwriter, Twitter @CarissaK or Instagram, www.instagram.com/carissakwriter. Thanks for reading.