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My first baby died. After a perfect full-term pregnancy, she was stillborn. That was 10 years ago. Ten years I’ve spent wondering who she would have been. Ten years I’ve spent missing someone I hoped to know but never got the chance to. In those ten years, I’ve learned so much about grief, love, and life. 

Grief is love. When they laid my stillborn daughter’s cold and lifeless body in my arms, my world was broken into before this nightmare began and after, where I was forever cursed to live with it. I thought I would never be the same again. And 10 years later, my newly mourning self was right. I am not the same as I was before she died. In the after, I’m more truly me. I’m more loving (because I know how quickly it can be lost), I’m more compassionate (because I can see others’ pain more clearly), and I’m more accepting of grief (because I know it as love). 

Let regrets go. I still have regrets. I regret not going in when her movements became muted. I regret not holding her longer. I regret not taking photos of her with her grandparents. I regret not saving locks of her hair. I regret not imprinting every inch of her in my memory as I was too afraid to look. I regret not seeing her one last time when they asked me if I wanted to at the funeral home before her body was burned back into the building blocks we are born from. But I do not hold myself guilty for these remorses. Young and broken me did the best I could with the blow that life bestowed upon her. And I’ve forgiven myself because I know there is nothing to forgive.  

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Let grief grow. In the early days of mourning, I could feel her. She consumed my every waking second, and when I slept, I searched for her in my dreams. She was everywhere and nowhere all at once. She was gone from my arms but there in the breeze that kissed my face. Ten years later, I have whole days that pass without a thought of her, and I no longer feel her whispers in the wind. This does not bother me because she is still everywhere and nowhere all at once. She’s in the curves of my living children’s features, particles of her are etched into the bird tattoo on my skin, and my love for her that longed for a place to go, spread like wildfire in the legacy that was built in her absence, making a difference in so many other bereaved parents’ lives. But mostly, she has made a difference in mine. Grief will do that. Because grief is love. And I let that love grow.

A mother’s love never dies. I still cry. Bawl actually. But not when you would expect, like on the anniversary of her stillbirth or when she should have started kindergarten. My cries catch me off guard because they are no longer only moments or minutes between each burst like they were in the days and months after she died. I cry now when I envision her embracing our recently deceased family dog on the other side of the rainbow bridge. I cry when I sneak a peek of our living daughter, now eight, snuggling a stuffed elephant named after her dead sister in between her arms at night. Those are the momentsoften not circled and far away from each other on the calendarwhen I cry for her because 10 years later, I haven’t forgotten her as I feared. Because I still love her. And a mother’s love never dies.

Grief isn’t gone. The heavy weight of sorrow I carried in the moments, minutes, and months after she died is lighter. Where I once bore a grief backpack full of boulders, it is now filled with feathers. Grief is still present, but somehow my muscles have grown stronger in learning how to hold it. And holding it as love has made it lighter over the years.

One love does not replace the other. Months after she died, I fearfully and wonderfully made life again in my womb but was terrified to love another who wasn’t her. Pregnant after her death, I feared loving my next baby, knowing how much it hurt once that love was lost and how easily it could be taken away. Nine months later, her sister, who was born in the wide wake of my dead daughter’s little spark of life, taught me you can and will love again. But, one love does not replace the other, it can, however, lead to a depth of love that feels wider than it did before. Because love, not time, is the elixir to grief’s wounds. 

Our family will forever feel incomplete. There will always be someone missing from our family photos and dinners. But for me, my dead daughter is not fully lost. She lives on in the beams of light born after her, the beings that could not be without her not being. When I witness her siblings light candles for her during the holidays and draw family portraits for preschool of a baby sister in their scribbled scene, I see my daughter has not left me completely as I feared she might. For she is here not only in my memory but in her siblings too, who love her without ever having met her. 

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Everything happens for no reason at all. I know how she died. I will never know why she died or better yet, briefly came. I don’t believe her death was on purpose or had a purpose, but at the same time, it gave me purpose or else I found the purpose I was to make from it. This does not mean that it was God’s plan or that it happened for some greater reason. It just means that as humans, we are meaning-making creatures, and we find the meaning we need to make in order to go on. Ultimately, we find meaning not in our loss but in our love.

We’re all connected. Even to the ones who never lived. Our last child, a son, was never meant to be. His story starts with her ending. He could not be without her not being. We only planned on having two children. Not the three that panned out to be. Again, this does not mean that it all happened for a reason. It just means that our babies, even in their death, have a wide ripple effect on our lives and the lives of others. And it’s love that connects us to those here on earth and those who never took a breath of its air.   

I would live it again. The truth is, 10 years on, even knowing how my beautifully broken life unfolded, I would choose to do it all over again, even if I couldn’t change a thing, just to be with her once more. My missing daughter’s story is our story, and like love, it lives on.

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Lindsey Henke

Lindsey Henke is the founder and Executive Director of Pregnancy After Loss Support, writer, clinical social worker, wife, and most importantly a mother to two beautiful daughters (one too beautiful for earth) and one sweet-cheeked baby boy. 

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