During those intensely painful days after my daughter Laura was stillborn five years ago, I remember feeling that I was at a crossroads in my life-that two separate paths lay before me: I could either let this tragedy destroy my life and break my spirit or I could find a way to make something positive come out of my daughter’s death.Fortunately for me, I inherited the stubborn gene from my parents, so giving up on life really wasn’t a viable option for me. So, by default, I gravitated toward the second alternative: finding a way to make something good come out of this most searing of losses.
While I would never have wished this on myself-the death of a baby is too big a price to pay for any personal growth experience-I have been forever changed by the experience of losing Laura. In many ways, I’m a better person than I was before that fateful day five years ago when a tiny piece of my heart was forever broken.
For one thing, I’m more compassionate. I feel an immediate bond with any parent who has experienced the death of a baby as well as anyone else who is grieving the death of someone significant in their life, be it a spouse, a parent, or a close friend.
My volunteer work with grieving parents and the articles and books I’ve written on miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death have allowed me to make a difference in the lives of other parents who’ve experienced the tragedy of losing a much-wanted baby. That means a lot to me.
In terms of other ways I’ve been affected by the death of my daughter, I’d say I’m more aware of what it feels like to be really connected to someone-heart-to-heart and soul-to-soul. I have a very special friend whose baby died shortly after mine did. The two of us spent a lot of time together in the weeks that followed, sharing our grief about the babies who would never come home. We don’t see each other as often these days-we’re both insanely busy with work and family-but each time we meet for lunch, it’s like we’ve never been apart. That speaks to the powerful bond that we developed during the most nightmarish time of our lives.
Another perk: I’m less of a control freak. After all, I’ve learned the hard way that some things are out of your control-and some things can’t be fixed, no matter how desperately you want to put the pieces back together again. As a card-carrying Type A, it’s been healthy for me to learn to let go of things-well, at least a little!
Along the same vein, I’ve come to terms with my fear of death. Being forced to deal with the death of my child has forced me to confront my own mortality. As a result, I’m more at peace with the knowledge that life doesn’t last forever-and more inclined to make the most of today.
I’ve also learned how to put things in perspective. A leaky ceiling, a missed deadline, a squabble with my husband, or a minor fender bender no longer qualify as a crisis for me. I now save the “crisis” label for the real life-and-death situations.
Finally, I’m better able to celebrate the wonder in everyday life. Rather than looking forward to that magical day when my mortgage is paid off, I reach my goal weight, and I have a book or two on the bestseller list (hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?), I’m more inclined to delight in what’s happening in the here and now: to savour the joy I feel when my youngest child, Ian, hugs my leg and says, “I really love you, Mom” and to enjoy the way my heart lifts when the telephone rings and there’s a special friend on the other end of the line.
There are just a few of the gifts that Laura gave to me during her brief journey through my life. These gifts are her legacy to me.
Ann Douglas is the author of 21 books, including The Mother of All Pregnancy Books: The Ultimate Guide to Conception, Birth and Everything in Between, The Mother of All Baby Books: The Ultimate Guide to Your Baby’s First Year, The Unofficial Guide to Having a Baby, Baby Science and Trying Again: A Guide to Pregnancy After Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss. She is a regular contributor to ePregnancy and WebMD, and has been featured in Parenting, Working Mother, and Good Housekeeping. She is the mother of four children, ages 5 through 14, and can be contacted via her web site www.having-a-baby.com.