I “met” Hannah in a mom’s group on Facebook. We were both really early along in our pregnancies, though Hannah was a week further along than I. I had one child already, who was almost 2. Hannah had a miscarriage before that.
Throughout our pregnancies, Hannah and I were “pregnancy twins.” We saw our midwives around the same time. Had our aches and pains around the same time. Were “overdue” at the same time. Hannah was always updating the group on the baby. How she knew her baby, how she felt about her baby, and felt so connected. And even with every ache and pain, Hannah was still joyful and hopeful to have her baby – to have Senna.
Then Hannah posted on our mom’s group one day (when she was 41 weeks pregnant, the day after my due date) that Senna’s heart had stopped in utero. I was in shock. Was I reading that right? Senna… died? I was in denial. I kept reading the post over hoping I misread something. “They can save her, right?” I thought. She can’t be gone.
Hannah was still getting on to update us as she could. Being induced. Feeling at peace. At peace?! MY heart was in a panic. And SHE was at peace?! Hannah posted pictures and videos of Senna, her and Scott. Her perfect little hands. Her perfect lips. Her perfect… everything. Except she wasn’t alive. Hannah had lost a second baby.
Over the next week, I sobbed to my husband about it. I held my little boy closer. I whispered to my unborn baby how I loved her (my second was a her). And I prayed so hard that it didn’t happen to me. My baby came earth side at 41 weeks, 6 days after Senna was born.
Through Hannah’s candor, and being SO transparent about her emotions, and her sharing her blog about her loss, I learned much about her grief. Big the biggest thing I learned – even though I already knew – was how much I had NO idea what she was going through. When Hannah got pregnant with Cyan, my heart was overjoyed for her and Scott. But I was so acutely aware – mostly because Hannah talked about her grief in such specificity and so openly – of how much fear the entire pregnancy carried too.
And along came Cyan. Sweet baby Cyan whom Hannah loves FIERCELY… but also, with some reservations and guilt.
I had withdrawn from the mom’s group for my own personal reasons. At the same time, I didn’t contact Hannah as much, didn’t respond to her posts as much. I still did… just not as much. In looking back, I think that I carried a bit of guilt, since I had my two babies and Hannah had lost two of hers. I didn’t know what to say most of the time. Even as she was pregnant with Cyan, I felt like I didn’t know how to BE with Hannah. It was Hannah who reached out to me, to check on me.
All these miles apart and for very different reasons, each of us was diagnosed with PPD and began seeing a counselor. In some ways, this made it feel like it was OK to talk to Hannah more. But make no mistake. PPD is not what brought us together. Senna did. This little girl I never met. This little girl who would have been my daughter’s age. This baby whose mother loves her so much, that she feels guilty for loving her living child. This baby. Senna.
And the only reason I know of Senna is not only because Hannah and I were pregnancy twins, but also because Hannah won’t let others forget Senna. Hannah refuses to let Senna be just a statistic. She insists on using her name, and saying it aloud every single chance she gets. And Hannah is a rare woman. She is rare to let her grief speak for her some days. She is rare to share her darkest hours with a group of women she “met” online. She is rare to reach out to a mother whom she never met in person, despite her own grief and tough days, to check in on her. And Hannah would not be as we know her without Senna.
I see so much love in all of Hannah’s posts and in every photo she posts of her little family and her zoo. I see it. I feel it. But I also know Hannah has some bad days, some downright shitty days, and some days where it’s all she can do to be a mom to little Cyan.
When Hannah was pregnant with Cyan, I offered to photograph her birth. I wanted to be able to document that moment for Hannah. We didn’t end up doing that, but Hannah and I recently started talking about having me visit her in Montreal, to meet and also do a photo session together, as a woman finally meeting a friend in person. But then Hannah had the idea to document not just her, but also the other moms in her loss group. “I just want to see the faces behind the bravery it takes to be a loss mom,” Hannah said. “And I want those babies to have a voice, even if it’s a small one. You have given Senna a strong voice. I know some people tried to get you to stop talking about her as much as you were. Maybe they didn’t ASK that of you, but they were certainly uncomfortable with how you were handling Senna’s absence. And that’s enough to silence some people.”
“There is no silence
than the silence from your absence.”
– theravenwine poetry
As an “outsider,” it’s hard for me to know how to act around a mother who has had such a devastating loss. My sister-in-law lost one of her twins in utero at 27 weeks, but rarely speaks of her. And I don’t speak of her. Should I? What would I say? Does she not speak of her because she doesn’t want to, because the hurt is so great? Or is it because other people don’t speak of her, and she doesn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable. I have largely followed her and the rest of the family’s cues, and have fallen all but silent about Sarah.
I share all of this as a prelude to this proposed photography project, because I want to underline that the ONLY reason I have any of these insights into what a late term loss (which is in itself a wretched term) looks and feels like is because Hannah chose to share those parts of herself. Grief very likely looks different for you than it does for Hannah. But it is YOUR grief, and it is YOUR baby’s story. I can’t document your baby’s birth and life, though I wish I could. But – through photographs – I can still help carry on your baby’s story. I hesitate to exactly label this project, and tell you what I want it to look like or include. I hesitate because I don’t know what you will want to share – and I don’t want to tell you what to share. Instead, I want to invite you to share as much as your heart is willing. I want you to share what you want to about your baby’s life. To share what you want to about your life since your baby left it. To share what you want others to know about you, and your loss.
“For me, my general goal of this project is to capture the courage and bravery of loss parents all while normalizing some of the realities of living your life without children that we all experience. There is a great deal of variety in how loss parents grieve their dead children, honor their attachment to them, and manage their families. We all cope in different ways and need different things from our support groups and I would hope that this project can give you, and anyone else, the courage to speak out about your experiences. It would also be beautiful to be able to capture the comradery and hope we can derive from one another in a world that can often make us feel alienated or out of place. We are parents, just like anyone else, even if it might look a little different to parents who have never heard a doctor mutter the phrases that broke us. We might be haunted people who face some of the most insidious sides of grief, but we are still people. Beautiful, brave, worthy people who are parents in ways very few people understand.”
Montréal | Québec, Canada
***DETAILS HAVE BEEN DETERMINED!! CLICK HERE FOR INFORMATION.***
I plan to go to Montréal in October, 2018, to meet Hannah and document parts of her day with Cyan – and without Senna. Hannah and I would like to invite any other parents who have experienced perinatal loss under any circumstances including but not limited to miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth, or termination of pregnancy to join us. Our goal would be to take steps towards de-stigmatizing loss late in pregnancy and in early infancy, by allowing you to have a voice that is all your own when it comes to your loss. The setting would be a gathering of sorts – perhaps a picnic – where everyone could mingle. I will be available to take portraits of you – the moms – and/or your families (including partners), at no charge. I imagine having a story (which you would write, however short or long), to accompany those photos. After I edit the images, you would each get copies of your own and your family’s images (again, at no charge, though prints, albums, etc. would be available for purchase if desired). And, if you would be willing to share, I imagine sharing those photos and those stories on my website, blog and on social media. There is a chance I would someday try to publish some of the images and stories, or perhaps I would submit them to a gallery. But in the end, these are your stories, and yours alone to share… or not. Even if it were just for you and your family, I would love to play a small part in keeping your baby’s memory alive.