3 “F” WORDS I — USED WHEN MY SON WAS STILLBORN
My son, Mac Bryson, was 37 weeks old when he was stillborn. He lived his entire life inside of me. I was with him the moment his little heart started beating and I was there the moment his little heart beat for the last time.
There were no warning signs, no reason to fear stillbirth~ nothing to prepare us for something like this. I was heartbroken and paralyzed by my grief. There was a big part of me that died with him. I could barely smile without feeling incredibly guilty. When I smiled or laughed my thoughts went right to Mac. The guilt was screaming in my ear, ‘He isn’t here. How can you be happy?’ I can’t tell you how hard it was just to get myself ready for the day. All I wanted to do was cry and curl up in a ball. I wanted the world to just go away. I just couldn’t understand why everything around me didn’t stop with my baby boy’s heart. I couldn’t understand why or how everything kept going on day after day without Mac. I missed him so much I felt an ache down to my bones. My body, a physical reminder that he was once here, bitter reminder of Mac’s absence. It screamed “Where is your baby!” overtime I looked at it. The weight I gained during my healthy pregnancy still lingered and wouldn’t disappear no matter how much I wished it would. My belly still swollen as proof my son lived and grew inside of me. My body, ready to nourish my newborn, would prepare itself without warning if I heard anything resembling a babies cry. There were times I would just stare at my body in the mirror and cry, placing my hands over my belly in a desperate attempt to feel closer to Mac.
The overwhelming pain from his loss would have been enough for me to be depressed, angry, unhappy and broken for the rest of my life. I knew how lost I was. I could feel how detached I was allowing myself to be and I knew moving forward was going to be difficult at best but it was the only choice I had.
I remember the exact moment I realized I had to face the world again and try to live my life not just allow it to pass by. You see, I was full of pain but I was also full of love. Mac’s loss brought to light all the blessings and love that surrounded me. My two beautiful children, the two I am able to hold and watch grow up..they are gifts I wanted to cherish. I knew if I was to be their mother and honor all three of my children as the blessings they EACH are, I had to push myself forward. This was more than just something I wished for, it was a necessity.
I felt in my heart I had to do two things to move forward.
First, I found a church and put God back in the driver’s seat again. I knew without Him front and center, the hard task of moving forward would not be possible. I leaned on Him. I prayed everyday that He would help me through this for my children and my husband. It gave me a sense of hope because with God, I knew even at my loneliest moments, I was never alone.
Second, I started a regular exercise routine. I had extra weight from pregnant but no weight loss goals. Did you catch that? I had absolutely no physically driven goal. I had no motivation to get back to my pre-baby body. So, why on earth start an exercise program if I was barely able to get myself ready for the day? What I wanted from my workout went beyond simply physical results. (I (Thank the good Lord) knew benefits of exercise were deeper than physical results alone.) It was my mental and emotional health that I wanted to improve. The physical rewards are a bonus. Crazy, right?! Who works out to help depression or to be a better wife and mother? This girl does. I knew the impact physical exercise has on the mind, body and soul. Now, just because I knew how beneficial it would be for me doesn’t mean it was easy. Honestly, getting started was one of the most difficult things I have even done. BUT, I did it.
And so it began….
I had no idea how difficult taking the first steps in starting a regular exercise routine would be. Taking this on opened my eyes to the many layers of my grief and among them lived fear. Let me put it to you this way: If church was the easier of the two and it took one of my best friends to walk through those church doors with me… I can’t even begin to tell you how overwhelming and almost paralyzing the fear was as I walked into the gym the first time. It took me by surprise. I loved the gym and I loved socializing, but this fear felt like a wall constantly trying to push me back into a detached, secluded world. I could almost hear it whispering, “You can’t do this. Don’t even try.” For such a powerful and overwhelming fear it was so hard to explain because it didn’t come from something obvious. I wasn’t afraid of the gym, just like I wasn’t afraid of church. The fear, for me, came from the questions I might be asked. What if I ran into someone who asks me about my baby, not knowing he died? What if someone asks me what brings me to the gym. OR worse… what if someone asks how I am? I’m not ok. I don’t know how to answer these questions. I can’t make small talk when all I can think about is “How doesn’t the entire world know my baby isn’t here like he should be?” I feared the vulnerability I would feel if (WHEN) I suddenly broke down and cried in front of strangers. This grief was all new, fresh and I was hurting deeply. I knew deep down I had to overcome these irrational fears and take a chance. I had to push myself to an uncomfortable place in order to start to heal. I needed to allow myself to be vulnerable, get comfortable with being uncomfortable and just let the moment be what it will be. If I cry; I cry. If I breakdown (when I breakdown) in front of a stranger… well then, I do. Why add shame into the mix when I am legitimately broken hearted? Why try to be anything other than what I am… hurt.
At first, I thought I could workout at home. I was wrong, very wrong. I could barely get my workout clothes on before I wanted to just sit and think about how my arms physically ached for my baby as I wiped the effortless stream of tears from my cheeks. I couldn’t sit in these moments long before one of my two beautiful blessings would snap me out of it and let me know they needed me. I needed to get out of the house for me and my children.
I wasn’t always as patient and kind to them as I should have been be, you know? I knew that. I could feel myself getting upset over stupid little things and loosing my patients. It wasn’t acceptable behavior, and I was worried I was hurting them because I was so emotional. This also created even more fear in me. What if I can’t be the mom I once was again? I’ve never been THIS mom… the mom who isn’t patient, tolerant and loving. What if I fail at the raising the two children God gave me? And Mac… How would Mac feel if he could see me right now? I was depressed, but I was also determined to get better. I realized at that moment I needed to rely on more than me to do this. That was when I talked to Brian, my wonderful husband, and he agreed maybe going to the local gym was a better option. It would get me out of the house and put the kids around other children in their kids room. Besides, he knew how much I enjoyed exercise. He wanted me better too.
The first few times I would walk into the gym I went in without the kids. I needed to know I could do this before subjecting the kids to more questionable reactions from mommy. I was so afraid of walking into those doors. Like I said, maybe it was fear of questions. God knows if someone asked me how many children I had I may not be capable of a response anyone would understand.
Visit after visit I would walk in, smile, scan my membership card and head straight for the elliptical. That is where I would get about one minute into my “workout” and my thoughts would go right to Mac. I could feel the tears build and build as I was fighting them back. At three minutes I would stop the elliptical, collect my things and walk out the door. I was lucky if I was able to say goodbye to the front desk person. Finally, after a couple weeks of trying to suck it up I realized it wasn’t working. Those 3 minutes on the elliptical, fighting back tears was in no way beneficial to me, or my family. Brian, my amazingly supportive rock of a husband, knew something needed to be done and decided to take advantage of the personal training special running. He bought me a training package. Did I mention how amazing my husband is? This was all new territory for us. We didn’t have anyone walking us through or coaching us on how to pick ourselves up after our son died. We had to figure it out. We wanted to move forward. He wanted me better too. He knew if this was going to work I had to be able to take the thinking out of it. I had to be distracted in the beginning. I needed help.
I had my first appointment with a personal trainer where I was able to explain my motivation and talk about my loss behind closed doors. My second appointment was all training and I loved it! My focus was fully on following my trainer’s instructions and because of that I didn’t get a chance to think. I sweat, felt great and even smiled a genuine smile. Before I knew it the fear was disappearing and I was looking forward to going into the gym. I enjoyed the feeling I got from my workouts. And then one day, when I wasn’t paying any attention, I was in the gym all on my own working out and laughing and smiling with another member. No more fear, no more anxiety. My confidence was returning. I was starting to feel like me again.
Fast-forward to today and I can easily look back to see how faith, fitness and tackling fear has changed my life. (The 3 “F” words I used after loss…. )Look at me now and you’ll notice I smile when I talk about Mac. I take every chance to celebrate the privilege of running and playing with my children. I laugh loudly at their jokes as often as I can. I have more patience than I used to~ just ask Hagen (my very observant and honest oldest son). I feel physically, mentally and emotionally (most days) strong. I give a lot of the credit to exercise, not all the credit, but a lot. I would be a fool to think I did this without God. The strength I had to push myself forward, overcoming fear, came from Him and Him alone.
If you are grieving, I encourage you to take that step. Know yourself and push forward if you can. It will be difficult. You will have fear as I did. That I am sure of, but I know you can do this. Start an exercise routine even if it is walking 3 minutes a day at first. You can and WILL benefit from any form of exercise. Think about what is stopping you from living your life as well as you can. Be mindful of your fears. Are they irrational and stem from your grief as mine did? Slowly chip away at them and let them know you are stronger.
I know you can do this. I believe in you.