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The valve on my grief

A lot of things have kept me from writing out the birth story of my second child. This post will be published on mothers day, which is fitting. Its a day of joy for many, and a day of immense grief for others. It's both for me. I have not shared enough about this story yet. I wanted to write it in full, in length, in detail. That task has proven nearly impossible. It's heavy, and full, and deserves to be written in full.

But I also decided today to give myself permission to write about just part of it. Bits and pieces. Write when I need to. When a memory is strong or a feeling turns into a wisdom. I am not at a point where I can write it in full publicly yet (my journal has plenty to say about that) but that won't keep me from writing about it all together.

Today I shared some stats and info about PMADS (perinatal mood and anxiety disorders) in my stories on instagram- inspired by a post from one of my favorite artists. They had spoken up about experiencing postpartum depression, and it touched me and relit a fire under me. It's the entire reason I got into birthwork.

So all morning I have been reflecting on deep heavy emotions.

There is a lot of shame around mental health, and around grief, and around loss even in birth work (especially in birth work) Part of my passion is to dismantle stereotypes and just speak up. Awareness and education are more than half the battle.

A mother in a group today posted that they were loosing their child. 15 weeks pregnant, going in for an anatomy scan- and there was no heartbeat. I opened this valve in my heart, to let a few words pour out into their comment section. I tried to offer a few words of comfort, wisdom, grace. Knowing well that while it won't fix anything for them- kindness and perspective were anchors I held onto desperately when I experienced my own loss.

I talk to a lot of moms about loss. I read a lot of their stories, I scroll tenderly through other birth photographers work when they graciously capture these stories. I know that when it crosses my path, I will also be photographing loss stories and holding other mothers through this space. This space, it's kind of a comfortable place for me to be, because I have gone through it personally. When I did, it was just as beautiful as it was heartbreaking. I have so much space in my soul for the beautiful grief that is loosing a child. Typically, when I open that valve in my heart, to hear a story, or pull out some wisdom from my own story- I do so and then I carefully close it back up again. I shut the valve like I am turning a vial on my chest. So I can stand up and make lunch, or take my son to the park, or do a chore. So I can go rest, or laugh at a movie with my husband, or drive to meet a client. This valve is a privilege.

When you first experience loss, you have no valve. No way to turn it off. You are a raw mess of a machine, and your triggers are haywire. There is no timeline on grief, and no way of knowing if you'll be there wide open and raw forever, or if someday you'll start to heal. There are so many variables. Typically, as time passes, you pick up gears- parts and pieces that you try to glue onto yourself. Trying to make this machine work again. Sometimes the pieces take, and make the next step forward a tiny bit easier. More often, they fall off, because there is no blueprint of how to build yourself from here. You do the best you can, you keep trying. Sometimes, you give up for a while, and just let your broken parts lay broken.

Somewhere along the way, some of the parts start to work together. Allowing you to go a whole day without crying. And then a week. Then you can get through a movie, a meal, a day out with your family.

Things start to work. And you learn how to work that valve. The one that shuts everything off. Shuts off the pain that will always lay so tenderly inside you.

Sometimes, a word or a photo or the wrong situation will make you slip, and that valve opens up on its own, it leaks. That can be scary, having no control after you feel like you have just gained it back.

But eventually, you just learn how to live with it. This valve. Some people try to never open it. I like to live a little more open, a little more messy. It's part of who I am, and part of why I feel like I have navigated in a heartbreaking but healthy way though my grief.

Sometimes, I open that valve on purpose, to pour into others like I did today, or to hold space for someones story. It always stings a little. But in a good way sometimes. Like how sometimes chocolate can taste like sadness, familiar and bittersweet. Today was different for me. It's been a while. Like I said, I usually open that valve and I let a little leak out, and then close it up so I can keep going through my day.

Today, I didn't close that valve when I closed to Facebook comments, the app, set the phone down. I let it stay open. It's open right now. Sometimes, I have to just let it open and air out the space that holds my greif. Let myself feel those tears, that heavy weight. Pause everything, and put everything aside, so I can remember. I just have to. And I think its healthy to do this. It makes me feel close to her. It helps me stay in touch and not become closed off or hardened. It helps me find grace for myself. Perspective. Kindness. My anchors.

The mother who's post I commented on said "I just keep praying that Jesus would breathe his life back into my baby." They had just found out there was no heartbeat, so the baby was still in her womb. When I read those words, I drifted back. I was no longer in my desk chair reading the words. I was in a shower, desperatly holding my belly, my face turned up into the stream of water- speaking them. The water ran down my cheeks with tears of an endless source. I begged God. Don't let it be real. Please. Heal her. Heal her. Save my baby. Please don't let the doctors be right. Change this. Please God. Make a miracle out of me. Out of her. Out of us. Please don't let this be real.

Remembering that prayer, that moment, shatters me all over again. It brings me back further to a moment where my first child, my son- was in the NICU. We didn't know how well he was doing, and though that he was dying. (poor communication on the drs side) I lay in the bed in a Ronald McDonald house near the hospital, and I held onto my husband. We lay still, in this abyss of grief and waiting, completely numb. "what if he dies?" I thought. I think I spoke it. My husband and I had no answers. No clue what was going to happen, and we were faced with this huge scary looming shadow of death. We had no idea how it was even possible that we would survive if it crossed us. We were sure we wouldn't.

I still don't have a lot of answers. I do know, that while its not at all possible to survive such moments- I did. A lot of people do. You survive. And, even more impossibly, one day again- you live. You thrive. You find new joy. Life is so messy. I could end on a lesson point, something I learned. How God is with us in these moments (He is) and how he doesn't cause them (He doesn't) and how He doesn't "take" our babies. But those words and lessons and wisdoms... while beautiful and moving sometimes, are also sometimes too much to bear.

A mother who has lost a baby, is a new person. An infant of her own form. She is going to have to learn to walk, talk, and live all over again. Its going to be uncomfortable. She is going to scream sometimes all night long. You can't remove the grief period any more then you can stop a newborn from waking in the night. Comfort her. Hold her. Cherish her. Know that you can't change her, or fix her. She will find her way again, but there is no timeline for grief. I guarantee she already feels like she's on one, so don't add to that. While every lesson and wisdom is valuable in its own light... in the light of grief- she must find her own path and her own way. What triggers one, will be healing to another. My anchors, were kindness and perspective. And bread. I baked a lot of bread.

Sometimes, this valve just has to stay open a while. Sometimes, we just have to find comfort in the mess, the pain, the low. I used to think life was about being positive, staying joyful, and seeking happiness. I now believe that there is deep, immeasurable value in sitting in the darkness, the hurt, the sadness and grief. Let the valve open sometimes, and don't be afraid of the silence, the dark. It too has its teachings. It too, shapes us. It too, is a valuable part of our life.

Being human, means having vast capabilities of emotion, and being able to feel so many things all at once. So while I am a seeker of beauty, a kind and easygoing friend, a strong and passionate birth worker. I am also a mother of children on this earth and apart from it, a carrier of grief, a survivor of trauma, PMADS, and loss. I am strong, and so very weak. I am sure, and still searching. I am a listener, a holder of space, a holder of wisdom. I am also lost, living, learning and making my own mistakes. I am a christian, I believe in God. I have also had plenty of moments where I was so angry at him (don't worry, He can take it) and angry at the christian faith. Life is full of contradictions. We can be so many things at once, feel so many things at once.

I am excited about this year, and tired from the things I have been through. I am professional and personal. I am energetic, and wise, and naive, and breathless all in the same breath. Complex. Alive. Beautiful. Here.

Holding space for my own grief, in its time.

Holding space for others when they call.

Holding space for you.

For everyone who falls through the cracks. For everyone who has lost a child. For everyone who has suffered through PMADS.

And in my heart I know there are a hundred million opportunities for grief in this broken world- experiences I will never know, things I have never gone through. I don't relate with them all. But I hold space for it all because I understand the value of individual grief. This is mine. I more than anything else, believe in the power of sharing stories. This is just one little part of mine. I share because her life, my grief, and this story is meaningful and powerful in its grief, its beauty, its pain, and its telling. I share because I ask others to trust me with their stories every day, and I could not do that without being absolutely open with my own. I share in hope, that someone will relate, or take comfort and solidarity. I share in hopes that my story, inspires another.

Awkward pauses. Stories. Heartfelt words. Tears from the true source of emotion. These are a few of my favorite things. <3

-Your Birthkeeper and Elsie's mother.

Leann Allen

p.s. reach out, lets talk and grab a cup of tea. Ill hold space for you and hear your story. Ill share mine if you ask. This life is meant to be survived together, until we're thriving together.

Photo by Tiffany Trivette Photography, Taken during my pregnancy. This photo is of me and my son, wrapped in the blanket I made for his baby sister we’d never hold together. His grief is as big as mine. Grief is really just our love stretching really really far. All the way to heaven.

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