Remember that time 2 years ago…I was in the middle of a chemical pregnancy loss (where the baby doesn’t implant in the uterus, but I had a positive pregnancy test), I was bleeding a lot, in Santa Fe on an already planned vacation, processing losing my job, celebrating a dear friend’s birthday and hoping to get pregnant again soon (it would happen with baby jimmie the very next month) and carrying on?
A mother’s journey to find normal after losing a child, adding to our family and living through 2020
In August of 2017, our family was the happiest we had ever been. Our four big kids were finding their way and thriving. Our two oldest boys were 13 and 11 years old. Our daughter was 9 years old and our youngest son had just turned seven. And, we were nearly halfway through what seemed to be a normal, healthy pregnancy with a baby girl, Mary-Linda, who we were expecting to arrive near the end of the year. Life was good! Until, it wasn’t.
In one moment, everything changed. It was still summertime and I left the kids at home with their dad so I could run to my 18 week appointment. I had been unable to find the baby’s heartbeat on the fetal heartbeat Doppler the night before, but I shook it off as user error and tried to put it out of my mind. At my appointment, my greatest fears were realized and I learned that our daughter’s heart had stopped beating. The next few days, months and even years have been a struggle to find a new normal for us. Our life after losing our daughter, Mary-Linda is so different from our life before.
We are still trying to figure out what normal looks like. For a year, I continued to work in the same capacity I had worked in before Mary-Linda’s death. I loved being busy and I loved my job. It seemed right at the time. We spent that entire year going to therapy, doctor appointments, and visiting with specialists. I wanted so badly to pinpoint what happened to Mary-Linda, so we could move forward with as much information as possible. And, as it turned out, there was a diagnosis and a cause of death. Mary-Linda had suffered a Fetal Maternal Hemorrhage (blood loss/severe anemia) and her heart had stopped beating. The medical professionals missed alarming red flags in my bloodwork and did not follow protocol to refer me to a specialist. I learned all of this, as I researched this condition and found the blood results from early in pregnancy. These “problems” were never discussed with me, but the specialists I met with to prepare for another pregnancy, assured me that Fetal Maternal Hemorrhage was not something that happened to the same mother twice. I worried that something was not right after I delivered Mary-Linda silently and that was making it more difficult for us to get pregnant again. For thirteen months we prayed, we waited and we kept hunting for answers.
In September of 2018, after having a chemical pregnancy the month before, we found out we were expecting again. It was exciting and terrifying. We had a fertility doctor, a primary ob-gyn and high risk doctor all working with us. After the initial visits to confirm pregnancy, we would alternate seeing the ob-gyn and high risk doctor every couple of weeks. Each visit with the high risk doctor they would check for fetal anemia. I also stopped working outside the home around the same time I became pregnant. It wasn’t my intention to make this my new normal, but it sure was a huge blessing. I was surrounded with people, family and friends who loved me and supported me. I ended up really enjoying my pregnancy and soon found out we were pregnant with a boy. My father passed early in the spring and we named our baby boy after him. In May of 2019, baby Jimmie Josiah El-Hakam joined our family earth-side.
This last year has been anything but normal. We had a baby. We moved to a different home. I started a new job, was laid off from that job because of COVID-19. Our oldest son, who is on the autism spectrum, started high school. We spent most of the last year experiencing firsts with our new baby. And, we spent another year missing our Mary-Linda.
By the time March came around, we were in a pretty good rhythm. And then, the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe and we went into strict lockdown with my mom, who is 78 years old and has some health problems. My older sister, Melinda had Down Syndrome and lived with my parents her entire life. She passed away suddenly on Valentine’s Day this year at the age of 50.
Our new normal really isn’t normal at all. My mom has lived with us for the last several months. Our kids are home- which the baby loves, by the way! My husband and I are both working from home. It’s intense.
For now, there’s no getting back to “normal.” We’ve lost so much. If we focus on that, it becomes too overwhelming. So, instead we just try to focus on finding some joy and happiness in each day. My big kids are older, so chores have become a part of our new normal. We also eat so many meals together. We enjoy that. But, honestly, I am very nervous about our potential to be successful in distance learning this Fall. Creating space for school work and work at home and space for baby to flourish is proving to be very difficult.
As a practice, we pray together and attend online church as a family each Sunday. But, even that has begun to feel difficult to engage in as a family. We talk about our Mary-Linda. And, we recently celebrated 3 years since she was with us. We mixed that celebration in with happy, socially-distanced birthday parties for myself, my husband and 2 of our other living children. She’s a part of our family. She’s just not on earth with us. In our new house, her ashes sit on a shelf in my closet. It’s actually a very pretty place. I have a Mary-Linda bear sitting nearby and I look at it every single day. Sometimes, I hold the urn and completely lose it. Because, sometimes I just miss her so much that I can’t catch my breath. Having other loved ones in heaven with her does give me peace. Her Aunt Melinda. Her grandfather. Her great-grandparents. I know she’s well cared for and she’s in heaven. It doesn’t make us miss her any less.
As I close, I want to encourage others who are feeling stressed by grief, depression and the heartaches of being lonely in this pandemic: Please, do not put too much pressure on yourselves to “get back to” anything that you are not ready for. Losing a child is a devastating, often traumatic experience. Being in a pandemic and isolated from your family and your friends is challenging on so many levels. We are not going to come out of this unscathed and unchanged. But, you are not alone. Allow yourself time. Give yourself grace to be okay doing things differently.
For me, personally, I find comfort in knowing that we will see our Mary-Linda again when we all get to heaven. I also find comfort in knowing that we will get through this moment in time. Things will get better again. We have to believe. Until then, we will keep on remembering and keep on living our (not so) normal lives.
I recently read a description of grief. It illustrated grief in the beginning as a giant ball bouncing around in a very small square. Something we can’t get away from. Every time we move or even breathe, the grief hits us. I’ve also read grief described like furniture in the middle of a dark room, where you can’t see anything, but everywhere you move, you bump into it and you can’t get around it. In both scenarios, the grief changes. In the first, the ball eventually becomes very small, but it is always in the room. It still hurts deeply when it hits you, but it isn’t a constant. In the second scenario, the furniture eventually moves to where you can see it and get around it, finally settling as a painting on the wall- always there, but not something you are constantly bumping into.
I can relate with both of these descriptions. I know they aren’t meant to be that simple. Grief is complex. But, I think it can give others imagery to relate to and understand our grief. Grief is always there. In our case, as is the case for many, we don’t get over losing a child. It’s not that simple. But, we learn to move forward, and find a way to live while being in the room with the grief. We still bump into it all the time, but it’s not all consuming everything we do. But, it’s there, like that huge painting on the wall. And, maybe it’s beautiful now. Maybe, it’s like our Mary-Linda, bringing light and hope to others in their time of grief. Maybe, just maybe?
On August 16th, 2020, we marked 3 years since our Mary-Linda was with us. It feels so surreal. These last 3 years have been brutal and beautiful. I don’t know how to explain it any other way. So much heartache. But, again, I know that God was with us and is with us. So, we will keep on keeping on.
Below are photos from our celebration of Mary-Linda’s life, 3 years in. And, photos from the day we all got to hold her. We will all forever hold her in our hearts until we can hold her in our arms again.
On Wednesday night we celebrated my older sister’s 51st birthday. It was her first birthday since she went to heaven. My momma, brother, and all of our families gathered in the front yard and had a “socially distanced” gathering with 🎈,🍕 and 🎂 as we talked about our Melinda. It’s really hard to lose a sibling. We talked about this with our families that night. Your sister/ whom you’ve known and loved your entire life. Your family. Your first best friend. Your biggest fan. Your everything. Your comedic relief. Your demanding sidekick. Your love. It’s hard. We know she’s happy and she’s with so many loved ones. I never met another soul who would tell you they wanted to go to heaven more than Melinda. She had some of her favorite people go before her. I sometimes wonder about the effects of losing my dad 11 months before she died. They were so close. And her grief was deep. It took her a long time to admit that my dad had gone to heaven. But, she finally did and I know she wanted to go and be with him. On Valentine’s Day, after having a stroke, Melinda went to heaven 💗💗 she was literally surrounded by some of the people on earth that she loved most 💗💗 And, she went to be with Jesus. It was Incredibly peaceful. We know know know that she is in a better place. BUT, it sure is hard to be without her here.
Sometimes I feel like it’s all too much. It’s all too real. It’s all so overwhelming. As I stared up at Jimmie’s first birthday banner, proudly displayed in our unfinished kitchen, my eyes began to well up with tears. Because on that banner there are images of Jimmie from each month of his life. 15 images total that give a glimpse into his amazing, big, bright personality.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since my dad, Jimmie left this world behind. On this morning, one year ago, we were standing at his bedside singing softly “Be still and know that I’m with you…Be still and know that I am here…,” as he lifted his head and closed his mouth and peacefully went to be with the Lord. I was right there. I felt the peace fill the room. I felt the presence of the Lord almighty, there to bring my dad home and there to comfort us. Just over two months later, we would welcome our baby Jimmie earth-side, as we were again filled with the peace of the Holy Spirit. Two very different, but very similar experiences, knowing the Lord was with us, in the room, moving through us, comforting us and giving us peace.
Less than three weeks ago, on Valentine’s Day, my sister, Melinda peacefully went to be with the Lord. We surrounded her bedside and as my mom spoke The Lord’s Prayer over her, she took her last breath on earth. She was so beautiful and peaceful. God is good. It may not seem as though we would believe that, as we have suffered a lot these last few years and there have been many trials. But, we have not traveled here alone. The God who is and was and is to come loves us with an unconditional, forever, agape love and is right there with us …in every heartbeat, every breath, every song, every moment. How I am thankful for the peace of the Lord.
*warning*this post does discuss loss and contains photos of birth
On the evening of May 21st, 2019, we headed to the hospital to begin the induction of labor for our 6th baby- our rainbow baby boy, Jimmie. I was 38 weeks pregnant.This is Jimmie’s birth story.
After we experienced a second trimester stillbirth with our fifth baby- our daughter, Mary-Linda less than 2 years earlier, I was considered high risk. On top of that, I was already 41 years old (which is seriously old lady time aka geriatric for a pregnant mama!). We decided with both of our doctors, that we would induce labor, if necessary and deliver Jimmie at 38 weeks. What should have been a quick labor- since I had already birthed 4 full term babies, and 2 of them without an epidural, was not a quick labor at all. But, (SPOILER ALERT) this birth story does end well!
Almost a year after Mary-Linda died, we learned that I had an antibody in my blood that was detected early in my pregnancy with her and could cause harm to a baby. Since the cause of Mary-Linda’s death was determined to be fetal maternal hemorrhage, we had something to watch for throughout our entire pregnancy with Jimmie. Every ultrasound was always completed with a check for any sign of anemia in the baby. M-L’s anemia went undetected and therefore untreated. We were going to do everything we could do to get this baby here and in our arms, alive. We started the induction shortly after arriving to the hospital on that May Tuesday evening. Our village of friends and family caring for our older Els and making sure they would be at the hospital the next day.