At 34 weeks gestation, in February 2013, I gave birth to my stillborn daughter, Everlee Rose. My first and only child, having struggled with infertility, she was everything I ever wanted, and everything I had to lose.
For the last two and a half years I have been navigating my journey of grief, infertility, a high-risk pregnancy and learning to be a mother to a dead child, and her rainbow baby brother who just turned a year old. I've died and was born again.
Before Everlee, I had always known I wanted to be a mom. I was born to be a mother. But we don't manifest our own destiny without a lot of hard work. Shortly after I was married in 2010 I discovered I was part of a large but seemingly silent group of women who suffered from infertility. Although doctors have never been able to give me a reason for this, in my quest to become a mother I became more in tune with my body, especially in the most womanly of ways, than I had ever been in my life. I got to know intimate parts of my own life that I had never dared explore before. I knew more about cycles, and ovulation and implantation than most OBGYN students. I learned that sometimes in a quest to fulfill oneself, you have to learn to check your dignity at the door. I got to know myself better than I could have ever imagined possible. It took a long two years and a lot of emotional turmoil, but in July of 2012, to my surprise, I found myself pregnant with my first child.
Fast forward 34 weeks. four shots of morphine, four doses of Ativan, an epidural, 16 hours of labor and four minutes of pushing. At 1:16 p.m. on February 13th, 2013 I heard the words, now tainted and sour, that I had waited almost nine months to hear -- it's a girl. My beautiful Everlee Rose was born sleeping, much too perfect for this cruel world.
I see the vast expanse of my life without her and wonder how I have found the resilience to live on. I lay down at the end of each day and mindlessly hum the lullaby I sang while I carried her. I wake the next morning and brace for another day without her. And as slow as the days seem to crawl, two and a half years has passed in the blink of an eye.
I feel the agony. I shout and I scream because I miss my daughter so much. I wail, I cry. I feel the pain until it subsides. Once it does I am able to revel in how incredible she was. I am able to remember how wonderful it was to carry her inside of me for nine months. None of us are guaranteed or owed a long life. Knowing that makes me appreciate my own life to a degree I never could before I lost her. Every single moment with her was special. Her entire life she was inside of me, being nurtured and loved. She was conceived, lived and died within my body, I was her world, I was with her every second of her existence and I am endlessly honored. I see the beauty in it. But god damn it, I miss her and it's so unfair and tragic.
So many people have told me they admire my strength. I brushed that off for a long time, saying I'm not strong, merely that I was forced to cope and survive. I see things differently now. I look back on my blogs from over a year ago. I see a broken sad, rumpled little girl who was unsure how she would ever stand on her own again. I see someone who could only measure the success of a day in whether she had thrown herself from a bridge, or not.
But, at age 29, I am strong. I am stronger than I ever thought possible. Not because I wanted to be, of course. But because I had to be. Many people attribute their strength to God. I do not. I attribute my strength to me and my love and adoration for my daughter. It comes from my ability to endure. It's heightened by my capacity to accept what is, despite my lack of understanding of why. I'm no longer ashamed to take credit for it. There are certainly outside sources as well. I gain strength from my husband. I gain it from my friends and family who are still standing by me, holding my hand, showing they care. I gain strength in the love I have found in the most unexpected of places (more than anything). I gain it from fellow bereaved parents who continually inspire and encourage me. I gain it through appreciating and participating in life, one she never got to have. And that's how I honor her little life and I keep her memory alive. My strength is her legacy. I want to be someone she would be proud to call mommy.