Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My Daughter's Death / His Other Moms



My daughter, Sarah, died when she was only 24 days old.*
While I was still recovering from childbirth, I attended a funeral with a tiny casket.  When all was said and done, I was left with milk engorged breasts, but no baby to nurse.  In the days that followed, I often sat crying on the sofa while eighteen-month-old Nathan played in the floor, Teletubbies babbling pointlessly in the background.

“People are irreplaceable," my pastor told me gently. 

It was the best thing he could have ever said. 

“People are irreplaceable; that’s why death is so hard.”

He was right.

I went on to have other babies – beautiful sweet babies.  Julia was born 15 months later.  Katherine came 18 months after that.

Our house became crowded with kids and toys and laughter as our schedule overflowed with play dates, park days and trips to the pediatrician.   Years later, we were blessed again as seven-year-old Wenxin became our son through adoption.  Julia, Katherine and Wenxin are amazing, and yet not one of them could actually replace Sarah, because the people we love are irreplaceable.

I don’t share this story very often anymore.  It’s too sad, and I don’t want to give people the impression that we have a sad life.  The truth is we have a lot of fun, and we’re hardly ever sad.  Usually, we’re laughing too hard to be sad.  Nevertheless, this is part of my story. God used Sarah's life and death to shape me into the person I am today.

After Sarah died, Mike and I attended a group for couples who’d lost infants to miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death.  The counselor there defined grief as “the realization of what you’ve lost.”  That was new for me.  I’d always equated grief with funerals and tears, the outward act of mourning, but this was a little different.

What I’ve found to be true is that grieving someone this way is a lifelong process.  It doesn’t mean you are sad every moment of every day for the rest of your life.   Honestly, I’m rarely sad about Sarah anymore.  But every now and then, grief sneaks up on me, and I'm faced again with the realization of what I’ve lost. 

I’ll give you an example.

When Nathan was entering second grade, I was driving home one day from a meeting at school with his new teacher.  Some melancholy song came on the radio and out of the blue, it hit me.  “Sarah should be entering kindergarten this year.  She should be starting school.”  Where in the world did that come from?  I hadn’t even been thinking about Sarah.  But, nonetheless, there it was.  I began to sob as I realized the loss.  “I should have two kids in school this year; instead I only have one."

My personal experience of grief and loss colors the way I think about Wenxin’s loss of two important people in his life:  his two mothers who came before me. 

I am Wenxin’s mom today, but I am not his first mom.  He grew for nine months in his Chinese mother’s womb and probably spent the first month of his life with her.  We may never know for sure why she couldn’t keep him.  Was he perhaps her second or third child in a country that allows parents only one or two? 

When he entered the orphanage system, he was sent to live with a foster mom.  Now I know it was her job to care for him, but she’s still the only mom he remembers.  She was a real mom to him.  Since he lived with her for several years, she’s the one he cried for when he was taken back to the orphanage to await international adoption.  Because she was old, more like a grandma, he wonders is she’s dead now.  He still remembers her visiting him in the orphanage and bringing him a snack.

Just like Julia and Katherine could never serve as replacements for Sarah, I am not a replacement for Wenxin’s mothers who came before me.  I don't feel threatened by Wenxin’s other moms.  It doesn't make me feel diminished to admit I'm his third mom because I'm also his mom today, and I fully intend to be his last mom. 

Wenxin is well-adjusted and happy in our family.  Maybe he will never look back, but I won't be surprised if someday in the future, grief sneaks up and hits him with the realization of what he lost.  He may grieve the loss of one or both of his other mothers.  It won’t mean that I’m a bad mom or that he doesn’t love me.  It will just be grief – a normal and healthy response to loss.  I refuse to add baggage by making him feel guilty for loving or missing them.  They play an important role in his story.  So do I.

If that day comes, I’ll say to him what my pastor said to me, “People are irreplaceable.  That's why this is hard."  I'll support him if he wants to search for his birth family or reconnect with his foster mom.  Any relationship he might re-establish with them does not negate his relationship with me.  They can't replace me, just like I can't replace them.


*Sarah died from complications from Trisomy 18 - a chromosomal disorder that is usually fatal.  Had she lived, she would celebrate her 11th birthday in July.  

Thank you so much for dropping by Death by Great Wall and taking the time to read my story. I hope you'll come back. Over on my sidebar there are three easy ways you can connect with me. Join this site through Google Friend Connect. Just click "join this site" and follow the instructions. Or "like" Death by Great Wall on Facebook. Or sign up to get new posts delivered by email. Whatever way you choose, I look forward to connecting with you!

Shared at We Are Grafted In.


39 comments:

  1. I love the transparency of your writing, Dana. This is fabulous. You are fabulous. Hugs, Polly

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    1. It was a little too transparent for my comfort zone, but I finally just closed my eyes and hit "publish" before I chickened out.

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  2. This was beautifully written, Dana. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement. I was a little scared to write something so personal.

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  3. This is beautifully expressed. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. And I will be storing away "people are irreplaceable. That's why this is so hard."

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    1. Thank you TM - reading your blog, especially your Sunday Linkage, has really influenced my thinking about adoption issues.

      It's pathetic, but I was very "star-struck" to see your comment here. It sounds like you have your hands full at your house (in a good way,) but I hope you keep blogging.

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  4. I have very close personal friends who lost a baby at 11 day until the due date the same said family lost their next baby at 5 months from SIDS. They had one more healthy baby then adopted two from Russia. I was always taken back by seeing a huge picture of the kids Russian mother on the wall next to pictures of their second baby.....Ah ha...now I see the unique connection....

    My sister is an adult adoptee from Korea. She has her doctorate in chemistry...She has no desire to return to Korea. She seems to love the "I'm different" role...She said she would be lost forever in Korea (a shoe in for anyone who has traveled to Asia, had a tour guide who suddenly created a moment of panic when they "disappeared" in a crowd) She does mention every now and then that she has eight older sisters out there, who seemingly "look like" her. I think my parents created a wonderful balance for her and our family. Adoption is different, there is a lot of different talk and chatter and actions that revolves around it. Somewhere along the line they struck a balance and it really worked for her and for us. I do know they told us and read us a book I can remember vividly which said that her birth mother gave her to us out of her sheer love for her. I think it makes a huge difference to know you are enveloped in love from before day one......

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    1. Heather - thanks for taking the time to comment. I love to hear the experiences of other families. I just responded to your comment, but wanted to add to something I said and ended up just deleting and starting over.

      I have a friend who's a Korean adoptee. Her feelings are similar to your sister's. She has no desire to search for her birth family.

      I think people tend to naturally want to lump adoptees into one homogeneous group, which of course, they aren't. As I hear the experiences of different people I keep reminding myself of that

      It sounds like your parents did a great job!

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  6. This was a beautiful post. I do wonder at times if my children feel the loss of the parent(s) who gave them up to the Russian orphanage system right after birth. I know when they arrived in our home at the age of eight years old they felt the loss of the familiar people who had cared for them. But 17 years later they don't seem too inclined to talk about that loss although their time in the orphanage works its way into our family conversation still after all these years. A few years ago my father-in-law was in Russia on business. He managed to locate the orphanage and work his way into the front door. His taxi driver explained the the suspicious workers that he wanted to know if anybody was still here who had cared for our kids. He showed pictures we had taken the summer they came home. One woman was still there who remembered them. He then showed her pictures of our kids all grown up and looking happy on a family vacation. She looked at the pictures and wept. I know it meant so much to our kids that someone in Russia wept for them.

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  7. Thanks Julie! What a gift for your children (and for the Russian orphanage worker.) I love it that your father-in-law pushed to make that happen for his grand-kids.

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  8. Dear Dana,
    What a lovely post and the transparency is an essential part of its beauty. People are beautiful and sharing yourself lets us all appreciate that more.
    Your friend,
    Andy

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    1. Thanks Andy. I value your friendship!

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  9. Thank you for sharing this, it's beautifully written. I will use your words when I speak to my children about their "first mothers" - some who were foster mothers they still love and some who were birth mothers.

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    1. Thanks Sandi. My pastor's words helped tremendously. He didn't try to "fix" it. He just affirmed that this was a huge loss. So much more helpful than attempts to fix it. It was what my heart needed.

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  10. This is so beautifully written and a great way to think about our adoptive children's losses and how we fit in, not as a replacement, but as their "last mom." :)

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  11. Dana,

    I really appreciate your post. I had a child in '95 and he passed away early '96. I later had other children. You put to words what I've known in my heart for a long time. People are irreplaceable and grieving is a life long process but I live a blessed and joyful life. I grieve over the milestones too.
    I love how God has used this experience in your life to learn how to love your son well.
    Blessings,
    Kelly

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    1. Kelly, I'm so sorry for the loss of your son. Thank you for taking time to share a little of your story. We are all part of a club we never wanted to be in, but God does use it to make us who we are today.

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  12. Dana, I am incredibly moved by your story today and so grateful that you shared it at Graceful. You are brave in opening your heart honestly, and I know it will make an impact on people, perhaps people you don't even know.

    I love what your pastor said -- People are irreplacable. I, too, think that was the perfect acknowledgement of grief. In fact, I'm going to remember that, and I hope and pray it will offer someone I know comfort some day in their time of grief.

    I am honoring Sarah today, knowing that she celebrates her 11th birthday this month and rejoicing in the thought of her celebrate in Heaven.

    Bless you, friend.

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    1. Michelle - Thanks so much for your kind words. I think that sharing this once again has helped make this summer a little easier than most.

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  13. Bless your broken-open heart. Bless your precious children, in all of the ways they came into your life and left it. I am, among other roles, a birthmom who has dealt with a very sad open-then-closed adoption situation and find my heart both aching for you and your dear daughter ... and grateful for the compassion you gained in the wake of such heartbreak. Thank you for writing this.

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  14. Before I forget, I am coming from sweet Emily's. We have two biolgical children and one through adoption. I will hold on hard to these words of yours for my son as he will undoubtedly wrestle with longing for his birthmother. Thank you for wisdom and grace here. This is lovely and I am now so overjoyed to know you through Emily. Thank you for sharing. I grieve with you your loss, but I celebrate the healing you are experiencing.

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    1. Elizabeth - Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving such a kind comment.

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  15. Thank you for posting her heart for all to see. We adopted our now 13 year old daughter when she was six weeks of age. She was born with Trisomy 11;22 now known as Emanuel Syndrome. I ache for her birthmom. She must be thinking of her, how could she not?

    I loved this piece full of wisdom, grace and beauty. Thank you for sharing it.

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    1. Hope - Thank you so much for sharing your story. I was not familiar with Emanuel Syndrome, but I just googled it and read a little about it. I hurt for your daughter's birth mom too. You're right -- she must wonder about her.

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  16. We are neighbors at Imperfect Prose today and I'm glad God led me here. I am so sorry for your loss and truly appreciate your wise words- people are not replaceable. The way joy and hope and grief all mingle together often takes my breath away. I can't imagine your pain as your buried your sweet daughter-- and I am just awed by the way God gave Wenxin a new mommy who can understand loss. Blessings to you.

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  17. Dana,

    I'm just so sorry. But thank you for opening up the story, for letting us learn from your grace and hear your story. Our adopted son, who is 15, will be here at the end of October. He lost his biological mother last year to overdose and as you mentioned, has had other mothers he will be grieving, along with a sister who was adopted without him. Your words are helping me prepare for helping him walk through the complex experience of grief when he arrives. Thank you for your words.

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  18. oh dana. i'm crying. this is so transparent and real. people are irreplaceable... yes. an incredible, moving post. sharing this. thank you.

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  19. people are irreplaceable....such raw and potent truth.
    thanks for this beautiful share
    ...sending only wordless hugs
    and a heartfull of thanks.
    -Jennifer

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  20. I am going to remember "people are irreplaceable" for a long time. One of our daughters has a lot of grief about birth mother and nanny - I will share this with her as we walk through this together.

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  21. I am not sure how I found your blog, but thank you for this beautiful and well-written post. I too lost a baby 2005. The grief does hit me every once in a while and people in my circle just do not understand. Thank you for giving validity to my feelings......

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  22. This was a beautiful truth, beautifully written. This year I've been struggling with two major sorrows - the loss of my fifth child in a late miscarriage, and my sons' biological dad wanting to come back into their lives after eleven years.
    And while I want them not to need him, I think of my lost little girl, and I know what you said is true - people really are irreplaceable. So even though my current husband (I think of him as my "real" husband) has adopted them and is a loving father to them, they still need to know their bio dad.
    It hurts like my heart is being crushed, but it's true.

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    1. Kira, Thank you so much for reading my story and for commenting. I'm so sorry for the loss of your daughter and sorry that you are having to navigate things with your former husband while your heart is so tender. Just prayed for you knowing that God's grace is sufficient to carry you through all of this.

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  23. Beautiful. My son - adopted almost one year ago from Ukraine - remembers his first Momma vividly - she brought him to the orphanage when he was 5-and-a-half years old - she died of cervical cancer a few months later. . . Like you, I do not feel threatened by her - thank you for saying what I feel so very well. Sharing this, too, with a friend whose son died just 15 months after his adoption. . .

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  24. Dana, I came across this post as a result of reading Jennifer Fulwiler's wonderful blog.

    I didn't know that you were an adoptive mother of a boy from China, but I, too, have a daughter from China. She was 16 months old at adoption and is now almost 9.

    I'm writing because a few months ago I said to her, "You know, if you ever want to talk about your Chinese mother or if you have any questions about that, you won't hurt my feelings, OK?" She paused for a moment, and then she started sobbing--real sobs that poured forth from her soul.

    "I never even got to see my Chinese mother! I never knew my Chinese brothers and sisters!" The realizations came pouring out for about 20 minutes, and then the crying stopped. We were both exhausted, but it was necessary grieving that she needed to do (and that I did with her).

    I think my just giving her permission to grieve was a great blessing for both of us. There is sure more to come, but I'm so glad we started the process at a young age when it's easier for her to access those feelings.

    God bless you and yours, Kitty

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  25. I found you from Sunday Snapshot, and have read a few of your post. This caught my eye. One of our China boys has Trisomy 8 (mosaic); it is very similar to 18, with more "symptoms", he has no corpus callosum.
    Thank you for sharing, and pointing out the link to the 1st mom.

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  26. Dana, Beautiful story, I can relate . I have lost children and adopted children . Please don't forget the loss of your sons birth father. Our children also mourn for their fathers. My daughter is seven and does ask of her birth father( china adoption) I have no answers other that we do not know.I used to talk about my girl's birth mothers a lot and one day mentioned the father. My freighter was stunned that she had a biological father too. She is so close to her Dad and really had to absorb this information. I am careful not to leave this part out now.

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  27. Wow, Dana, this is powerful. Years ago I remember Mike saying that you lost an infant child, but I didn't know the full story. You tell it beautifully. And I love how you relate your experience to Wenxin's. He is blessed (in the fullest sense of the word) for having you as his mother. What a gift to have a mom who identifies with his grief, and provides a gracious, supportive environment for him to freely process it. And knowing Mike, he is doubly blessed with grace, as are all your children. Thanks so much for taking our family photos. As we've said, they're beautiful. And they bring an element of life and grace to a family who needs lots of it.
    Brian

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