I met and said goodbye to my first-born children on the very same day. After five months of carrying my identical twin daughters, Lucy and Polly, I unexpectedly lost them to a rare disease of the placenta.
I was 37, about to celebrate my one-year wedding anniversary, and experiencing the greatest heartbreak of my life. The grief could have easily broken me -- and my marriage -- but, that is not how my life story unfolded.
After my daughters died, I was thankful for the viciously cold upstate New York winter where I could hibernate away from the world and people. I escaped, at first, through glass after glass of wine. I indulged in comfort eating. I zoned out for hours in front of the TV. Isolation was my survival mechanism and the only way I knew how to get through the darkness. In those first weeks, I had to give the grief what it needed. I was well aware that my grief didn't need a bottle of Malbec, but it helped -- at least momentarily -- until the sadness returned with an even greater vengeance. But it was all part of my journey and I continue to try to be gentle with both my grief and myself.
My therapist taught me that grief, like a wound, must be tended to. If we don't feel it, it will be prolonged. If we ignore it, it will show up. If we don't clean it, it won't heal. If it isn't opened and released, it will fester and manifest. After a couple of months, I took her advice and found I was able to tend to my grief in a more constructive way. I stopped self-medicating as much; I unrolled my yoga mat; I returned to work. I still cry daily but I find myself letting go more and being okay with the fact that I am vulnerable and hurting and that it is all part of the process. As a result, the grief has gradually become less raw and intense.
The loss of our children could have easily put my marriage with my husband in jeopardy. But, as my husband often says, this will only make us, and our relationship, stronger. This viewpoint has saved our marriage and has often saved me. I can share my pain with him, and he with me. With occasional, out-of-the-blue texts like, "you are handling this with grace and strength. I am so proud of you," I begin to feel less consumed by my grief. I often tell my mother-in-law that she raised a saint. I have misdirected my anger at my husband and pushed him away countless times and he has been patient and kind and quick to forgive. By experiencing the loss together, I feel that he's the only person who does -- or even can -- understand me.
On our daughters' due date, my husband and I stood over the memory garden we created for them. We read "A Common Destiny" by David Hilliard Eaton, and sprinkled their ashes over the identical viburnum shrubs we planted. I sometimes sit on the floor of their empty nursery and, through tear-filled eyes, look at the pictures of their tiny curled up bodies lying in the crib. Writing was (and still is) cathartic. I tried to capture all of the details of the day I delivered my daughters, including the moment when I held them in my arms. I have kept a journal in the months that have followed. Some days I write about triggers (seeing identical twins in the grocery store) and other days I write about things I am looking forward to like mini-trips that we planned. This all slowly nudges the healing process and brings me comfort, as I consider them to be a forever part of our family.
"It is okay to be sad," my friend told me 30 years after the birth of her own stillborn daughter, "but not forever." It has been eight months and I have slowly begun to reinvent my life narrative -- a life that doesn't include my dream of a complete family at 37 but a life just the same; a life that still includes occasional bouts of pain and anger, but one that I once again love.