After I lost my daughter, I unfortunately learned how terrible our culture is with grief.
I hope you haven’t had to experience this yourself, that you haven’t endured a loss like ours — but unfortunately you may have, or you may know someone who has. The loss of a child is far more common than I previously knew before losing my own. Sadly, it’s taken this enormous loss for me to see how misguided our culture is with grief, and how the general lack of understanding of the grief journey, and what those on it want and need, leads to more pain than healing. This is part of why I’m here writing this today.
I want to invite you into our family, for as open and honest a look I can offer into our life. I want to provide a transparent view of what life is like after losing Maddie, in hopes that it may provide some form of relief or support to someone else. If my honesty in the form of writing helps someone to support a friend or family member on their grief journey, or to console someone undergoing this hell themselves, it’s a success in my opinion.
Whether you’re curious about what grief and loss look like or you’re going through a similar loss yourself — welcome. I’m not glad you’re here, but I’m glad you’re here — I think you know what I mean by that.
With that said, let’s dive in. Let me tell you a little bit about Maddie.
I always thought I’d have all boys. After a very scary and difficult birth with our now 5 year old, Greyson, it took us another 5 years to come around to the idea of having another baby. Finally, we were in the right place emotionally to grow our family and I quickly became pregnant. Because I thought I was destined to be a #boymom for life, I couldn’t believe when the OB/GYN office told me it was a girl. I felt so lucky. I would have a boy and a girl — we’d be the perfect family of 4.
Originally, I had planned to have the doctor’s office write the gender on a piece of paper that we would then take to a nice dinner and open together, but I was so excited I had them tell me over the phone while on a business trip, as soon as the genetic test results came back. I called my husband, Tyler, immediately and we were literally over the moon. I spent the following months buying all the bows, clothes and shoes for my sweet girl. I could barely contain my excitement about finally being able to shop on the girls’ side of the store — every boy mom knows how the boys’ side never seems to measure up!
After a relatively uncomplicated pregnancy and planned Caesarean delivery, we had our baby girl — born March 28 at 7 lbs, 4 oz. She spent a few short hours in the NICU after swallowing some fluid and low blood sugar, but she was able to come to our room that morning and she was absolutely perfect.
Photograph courtesy of the McDaniel Family
We had 5 weeks, 38 days, with our sweet Maddie, and they were the best and most full 5 weeks of my life. I was finally getting the swing of life with two kids, we were very close to establishing breastfeeding and dropping all formula supplementation, and I was so looking forward to her growing up and building a relationship with her older brother. I couldn’t wait to take her to her first pedicure, to watch her dance or cheer or even wrestle like her brother — whatever she would want to do. I couldn’t wait to give her my American Girl dolls and my Nancy Drew books, to read to her and brush her hair when it grew longer. But these plans came to a screeching halt when after 5 weeks, Maddie stopped breathing in her sleep.
Now, instead of holding her in my arms, her ashes lie across from me in a beautiful urn with the words “forever loved” engraved. Instead of breastfeeding her in the hours after she died, I sobbed while I expressed milk and tried to dry up my supply with a variety of creams and OTC remedies. Instead of decorating her nursery at our new home, her things are all carefully boxed in our basement. Instead of enjoying the rest of my maternity leave with my baby, I am now on bereavement leave. These are the ugly parts, but they are also very real. This is my family’s reality. There is no way around it. There is no solution or quick fix. There is nothing that will replace our child in our lives. What I am finding is that many people are very uncomfortable with this. People are very uncomfortable with the details, with the unknown, with loss, and sometimes avoid speaking about it altogether — as if it could be contagious. I do have to say that we are generally very fortunate with our rock solid support system. We have so many wonderful friends and relatives who have been by our side in the darkest days, who actually carried us through, and who have sat with us in the most uncomfortable moments. However, not everyone has the support system we do.
A few days after Maddie died, we asked the police officers that were helping us if they could connect us with the first responders –– those brave men and women that were at our house in what seemed like seconds when we found our daughter not breathing and called 911. The first responders came over to my parent’s house, where we were staying, and brought us a meal and a care package. We hugged each of them and cried together. It was so amazing to be connected to these individuals who did all they could do –– who cared for our baby in those moments as if she were their own. One of the first responders let us know that he, also, had lost a child shortly after birth. He gifted us a Molly Bear and let us know about the NILMDTS Remembrance Walk. He shared his story with us and. I remember feeling even just the tiniest bit less alone, even in those first few days –– not at all glad that another parent had experienced this type of devastating loss, but that I had at least one person that understood. A few months later, we found ourselves organizing Team #MaddieStrong for the Colorado Remembrance Walk, and so thankful to be connected to such a wonderful organization that helps so many.
Photographs courtesy of McDaniel family
I recently found a quote that said,
“When a baby is born, it’s a mother’s instinct to protect the baby. When a baby dies, it’s the mother’s instinct to protect their memory.”
At Maddie’s celebration of life, I told our friends and family to continue to say her name. To not be afraid to talk about her or ask us open and honest questions about her life and death. Talking about her keeps her spirit alive for us, and keeping her spirit alive is my job, as Maddie’s mom.
I have to move forward with life, and be the best wife and mom I can be — because my boys still need me. I have to be present in my moments of grief, and I have to experience this loss rather than avoid it. I have to live, and be strong and courageous for Maddie, even when I don’t feel like it. I have to protect her memory, because she mattered so much — and I feel a burning necessity deep in my soul to do so.