A little over 8 years ago I stood outside the cracked open door of an emergency department exam room, Justin beside me. I was 4 months pregnant with my first baby at the time, but I wasn’t there for myself.
We stood there, still as stone, listening to the soft baritone voice of a doctor telling my friend she was miscarrying. Her guttural sobs still resound painfully in my head when I think about it.
As the doctor left the room, I quietly stepped inside the door. She was hunched forward, cheeks raw from wiping tears, eyes staring across the room at nothing in particular. I didn’t know how to talk about what she was going through, I didn’t want to overstep, smother, or center myself if I said anything before she was ready.
She looked over at me and my name left her mouth, more like a wail than a word. I sat behind her on the hospital gurney and pulled her into my arms. Her body shook with a physical and emotional pain I hadn’t ever seen first hand. It felt like there wasn’t enough space in the room to contain the enormity of her hurt.
Eventually, she straightened up and asked for tissue. Her husband now at her side, I slid out the door and collapsed into a chair in the waiting room, numb.
A couple days later, I walked beside a nurse as my friend was wheeled to the car, fresh from a surgery that stripped her womb of the baby she’d so wanted. Her IV bruised hand in mine, she looked up at the nurse and sweetly said “She’s having a boy!” and her hand moved from mine, onto my small, round tummy.
The joy in her voice confused me. How could this woman, who was in the throws of experiencing the unimaginable, still be happy for me as my own baby remained very much alive in my stomach? We were supposed to be pregnant together, and yet, she would be finding out her baby’s gender from a pathology report. It wasn’t just unfair, it was brutal. But her loss never kept her from celebrating with or for others who would experience the joy that was stolen from her.
She told me once that the reason she still felt it was important to cheer for the pregnancies and births of others, was because witnessing them have the something she couldn’t was much better than if she were witnessing them go through what she had.
When she discussed her own baby’s death, outwardly acknowledging the depth of her grieving did not seem to be a difficult undertaking for her. It was very clearly a necessity in her bereavement. Her hurt was just as palpable as her love for her baby.
Ashley’s loss was my introduction to the agony of pregnancy and infant loss. Witnessing her lived experience profoundly impacted the way I viewed and acknowledged grief. It is because of Ashley, that I recognized grief is not just about the darkness and pain, but also the new joys in life that will forever coexist and intertwine with it.
I will forever think of Brinley when I think of my Sloan, because I now so deeply and personally, understand Ashley’s love, expression, and longing, for her baby gone. Because years before I lost my own child, Ashley had shown me another form of motherhood, the mothering of grief where there once was a being. That will always be one of the most important observations to have happened in my life.