Closing a Chapter

JD and I moved away recently from our people in Austin, away from our church, away from the place that we twirled around in joy over babies that we subsequently lost. I struggled with how I was supposed to leave a place that felt connected to the short lives I had held, how I was supposed to “move on”, whatever that means.

As a culture, we are not very good with ritual. We don’t mourn well. We are often uncomfortable with grief, shifting from side to side, waiting for tears to stop and sniffles to cease. Because of this, there’s not really a way to mourn the loss of a baby in utero. Part of this is because there’s debate over when life begins. Part of it is because women experience the loss differently. Part of it is because we are a culture that is shiny and perfect, and things like miscarriage mess with that image. It doesn’t fit into the cultural narrative that dictates much of our life.

But that doesn’t stop us from desiring meaning in our losses, for needing a way to mark a loss. It just means we’re not good at it.

I wanted to share what I’ve done to mark the losses because I know (personally and based on statistics) that many women experience miscarriages. As I’ve shared about mine on the blog, I’ve been astounded by the amount of people who have said, “Me, too.” For some reason, I feel compelled to write about my miscarriages on a public blog, but not everyone shares it with their Facebook world, so to get this response is humbling, heartbreaking, and unifying. These little lives have changed our lives, whether we talk about them or not. I have chosen to talk about them, and I wanted to share the ways I’ve marked their presence in my life.

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The first memorializing thing I did was a write a letter to my babies. I did it one Saturday morning before JD woke up, and it took me ten minutes to write the word goodbye. I sobbed about as hard as that first night that I lost them. In the letter, I shared memories of telling JD I was pregnant. I told them that we had planned to raise them American-Hungarian, so they would have been weirdos in both countries. I told them how much I missed them, how much I loved them.

For a few days after I finished, I didn’t feel much better. I thought it was going to be some magical spell that made me feel ready to move on with my life, but that’s not what happened. I just felt like I had a hangover.

But it was an important marker because I had acknowledged in writing, in something I could hold onto, that they existed and mattered to me. That they still matter. That they are a part of our family story, and I will not forget them.

This opened the door for further exploration of marking these losses, so I eventually decided to get a tattoo. I struggled with whether this was impulsive, but after discussing at length with JD and my therapist, I felt like it was what I wanted to do to carry them with me. I realize not everyone is up for ink, but I had already had a tattoo, so this was not much of a stretch for me. I bounced around a couple of ideas, but I finally settled on a wild poppy flower.

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When JD and I were in Greece, we visited a place of ancient magic, Delphi. It was a sports arena, a temple to the gods, a place of freedom for slaves, and a stop for the wanderers with questions People went there to ask oracles their most important questions, and instead of getting an answer or advice or a fortune, they received a riddle. Their answer was open for interpretation and ambiguity, just like poetry. This response to deep, dark questions was what I was seeking, too, more than a pat answer or Bible verse.

We ran our fingers over the stone walls that held contracts assigning slaves over to be slaves to the gods. The idea was that if you freed a slave, people could just enslave them again. But if you gave a slave over to the gods, they could not be enslaved by someone else, and lucky for the slaves, the gods were not known for calling up their slaves for duty. Essentially, these slaves were free women and men.

On our trek up Delphi’s hill, the lush green surrounded us and we gazed up at the fog-obscured mountaintops, trying to envision the gods looking down on us. As we walked, we found a lone, red poppy flower. I snapped pictures of it, I wrote a poem about it, I stared at its black eye, begging for a riddle. It was thin, papery, delicate. This little wildflower was juxtaposed with the mighty ruins of Greece, and with these images, this place burrowed itself into our hearts.

Thus, the poppy tattoo. I put it on my arm, so that when I do finally carry a baby of my own, I will be carrying my other babies, too.

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This was the second marker.

Finally, I knew that a few days before we moved, I had to pass through my first due date. With my first pregnancy, my due date was June 26. With my second, October 11. JD and I brainstormed one evening a few days before the first date what we should do to remember them. What was “us”? What was something that we could find meaningful and intimate in our remembrance of these lost would-be lives?

We settled on lighting a single candle (wild poppy scent) and playing the few songs I had listened to over and over right after the miscarriage. We cried together in the darkness, and mourned what would have been on that day.

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After these three things, I don’t feel like I am suddenly ready to move on with my life. I don’t feel much stronger when I see pregnancy announcements, or big baby bellies, or little, wiggly bodies with their little toes and little fingers.

But I feel like I have marked my babies’ presence in my life. I have said, “You were here. You changed me. I am different because you existed. I will not forget you.” It was important for me to be able to say those things in some form or another.

This is probably the last post I will dedicate to talking about my miscarriages, but I felt like it was an important one on which to end.  Not everyone grieves a miscarriage or a loss like I have, and not everyone will mark theirs in the same way, but this is what I’ve found to be comforting and meaningful. Just like a memorial service marks the passing of a great life, so these small things have marked the passing of these small, yet significant would-be lives.

If you have a lost a baby, what have you done to mark their passing? How have you remembered them?

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5 thoughts on “Closing a Chapter

  1. Probably the most significant thing I did was keep my lost baby’s “song” precious and only for her. And her name, which I had decided would be Esther. There is a sweet, regular nursery song that I hear regularly that I will never sing for my other babies – I keep it sacred in my heart for my lost baby, and I sing it when I’m thinking of her. There’s a long, sad story for why that’s “her song”… I’ll tell you tonight 🙂

  2. Mrs.Dargai,
    You are a strong and beautiful women. I am so honored to have been blessed with you in my life. Your words are inspiring and meaningful. Thank you for you showing your courage.

  3. Earlier this year, my wife & I lost a baby at 11.5 weeks–too early to determine the sex of the fetus. But my wife was convinced it was a girl, and she referred to the developing life as “Poppy.” I burst into tears when I read about your tattoo and saw the image. What a beautiful tribute to your beloved children. I am glad you have found comfort and meaning in the midst of your loss.

    To your question: My wife retrieved our baby’s body when she miscarried. We cried over her and buried her in the backyard. I planted a papaya tree to mark the spot. Every day, when I tend our garden, I linger at that tree & ask myself if I’ve lived my life that day in a way that honors the life and love represented by that tree.

    We have a son who just turned three last month. When people inevitably ask “Just one?” or “When are you going to have another?” I tell them that I am the father of *two* children. Both are loved, both have blessed and changed my life. One is here with us; the other is waiting for us, and we’ll meet, in time. Or perhaps out of time?

    I am blessed by your writing; thank you. May the God of peace continue to heal and comfort you and yours.

  4. You already know most of my story, but I wanted to share our “markers” as I’ve found them to be a few of the most healing thing’s we’ve done.

    We knew we wanted to build some kind of memorial but just couldn’t decide what was right. We’ve found healing in the symbol of butterflies and my husband suggested we build a butterfly garden in our backyard. We decided we’d do a memorial service with his family (the family in town) just weeks after the passing of the twins and dedicate our garden. We worked day and night to plan the perfect layout (symbolized by 2 separate gardens, laid out similarly to the way the girls were positioned in my belly), find the perfect flowers for native butterflies and caterpillars, and finally built the garden. It took months to grow into what it is today but we see butterflies everyday, a garden full of caterpillars just last week, hummingbirds, bees and more. It’s a social haven! We had each family member sign a stone with a message to our girls which we can look at anytime in the garden. Each time is like the first and brings tears to my eyes reading their sweet messages.

    My husband built 2 caskets and I knitted 2 small blankets, one of each would be used to cremate them.We wrote letters to our girls just days after their passing and included them in the casket when they were cremated. We decided to take the twins and spread their ashes at a beautiful dive site in the Cayman Islands called Bonnie’s Arch surrounded by my family who’s favorite pastime is scuba. We have pictures (given by my sweet sister, Shannon) of the dive site that we received in the mail on my due date, July 23rd.

    My husband I got tattoos in May – the coordinates of where we spread the girls’ ashes. My first tattoo and the first one of the family which is a huge deal! We both put them on our left sides nearest to our hearts. The place where the twins will always live.

    Thank you for sharing what you’ve done to honor your babies. Everyone handles loss differently but as you said, it’s so important to memorialize our babies!

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