By Lorraine Ash, M.A.
After my daughter, Victoria Helen, was stillborn at full term, I received a strange message from many people, all carrying a theme: I was incomplete.
I wrote a memoir about surviving the stillbirth. I never thought I’d write a memoir, but, of all the genres, it was the most perfect and necessary for me to process the violence that had rocked my life.
The book, Life Touches Life: A Mother’s Story of Stillbirth and Healing, gained readers and touched hearts throughout the United States and in the Middle East, Australia, Europe, China, Canada, and Mexico. Later, I wrote a sequel, Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life, about how my life, years after the loss, blossomed. What wonderful communions I enjoyed with my readers.
But none of that stopped the insistent message that my life was fundamentally flawed.
One book reviewer told me my story was not one of courage, but of cowardice, because I didn’t get pregnant again.
“You stopped after failing,” she said.
“I couldn’t get pregnant after that,” I’d replied. “We tried, but it didn’t happen.” She remained immovable in her opinion.
Indeed my husband and I had made a decision that was right for us: we opted against fertility treatments. We’d just gone through hell and barely come back—literally, in my case. The Group B Strep that took my daughter’s life almost claimed mine. For a couple of weeks, I was touch and go. When I was suspended in the uncertain hell between life and death, we became very respectful of the powers of Mother Nature. We decided not to try forcing her to do our bidding.
Half an experience
Once, a well-meaning friend offered this thought: “You had half an experience—a pregnancy up to giving birth. Go and complete it. Adopt somebody else’s newborn baby.”
The piece de resistance, though, was the advice of a famed author who saw the Life Touches Life manuscript in its early stages.
“Stop writing this,” she said. “It’s not an appropriate topic.”
“Why ever not?” I asked, genuinely perplexed.
“Because stillbirth is something that didn’t happen,” she said. “Write about something that did.”
She’s the narrative expert, I thought, but apparently there are stories she doesn’t understand. Something happened, all right. Trust me.
Embracing life as it is
So now two things are true of me: I do not have progeny, and I do not live out my days insisting upon, or lamenting, a destiny that did not, for whatever reason, materialize. I know my genes will not live on. Instead, I embrace a different kind of legacy. I approach eternity not by looking to some faraway future, beyond the imagination, but by embracing the moment called Now as it resonates through my whole being—body, mind, and spirit.
My life is about helping others reach those places inside themselves, too, and encouraging them to tell the full truth of their stories as they are—not as they could have been. My message is that today is the only day any of us can affect and that today, no matter the circumstances, is full and complete.
As the great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment, you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.”
Tomorrow will be full and complete, too—but different. I can trace the change while still acknowledging the completeness. Becoming whole is a spiritual process. No matter what happens on the outside, it’s an inside job.
Do you live fully in the story of your life, as it has unfolded? Or are there still gifts in your experiences, however painful, that you have not yet opened?
Lorraine Ash, M.A., is a New Jersey author, award-winning journalist, essayist, book editor, and writing teacher. Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life, her second book, is available in a variety of formats and online stores, all presented here. Reach Lorraine at www.LorraineAsh.com, www.facebook.com/LorraineAshAuthor , or @LorraineVAsh.
I love what you said about Mother Nature: “We decided not to try forcing her to do our bidding.” Forcing her didn’t work for me either. I love Thich Nhat Hanh too and try to follow the message of being present. Thank you for a beautiful post.
I loved this post and you put so well into words my husband’s and my similar experience and decision. My one pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage but for many years afterward I would think about how old our child would have been during significant holidays and events and wishing that things had worked out differently for us. I went so far as trying IUI and clomid and a couple of surgeries but after less than a year we decided to just let nature take it’s course. I too love what you said about not forcing Mother Nature do our bidding. I didn’t have the courage to write about our experience but am so glad other talented writers have done so. Now at 65 years of age my husband and I are traveling across the United States in our RV with our motorcycles, golf clubs and each other and having a wonderful time. We are in the process of living life as fully as our health allows while at the same time giving back to society and our extended family as much as we can.
Thanks for your example. Wish you a long, happy life together!
i have started meditation 20 minutes each day and it has helped some in keeping me in the present moment, but it is still a struggle. However, it’s good to hear that message as much as possible.
A few years ago, I listened to the audio books for the Power of Now and A New Earth by Eckhardt Tolle. I teach and school was out for the holidays. I listened to the books as I fell asleep, cleaned the house, did yard work, drove, etc. I did this for about 2 weeks. Something sunk in. For several years, I had suffered from anxiety and insomnia. I would fall asleep at 2 in the morning and wake up at 5 am, with a feeling of dread and hopelessness, and was unable to sleep until hours later. Focusing on the Now takes practice, and I have not quite mastered it, but I think that it is key to contentment and peace.
Jane P UK says
I hit rock bottom 3 years ago after a 6th failed IVF – my relationship suffered with my husband, despite saying for 15 years that it will not destroy us. Will it did. Thankfully a counsellor put me onto a “mindfulness” course and it changed me and we found our way back to each other. It is about living in the moment and spending less and less time worrying about the future and going over an unchangeable past. It definitely helps towards finding contentment. I find meditation very difficult and can only really switch off my thoughts if I am exercising! This is a start – I am inspired by this to keep practising the meditation.
“Something happened, all right. Trust me.” You bet. Love how people who have never walked a mile in our shoes have all the answers. Thank you for another great post. 🙂