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Counting Blessings

September 1, 2009

My baby girl has had a rough go of it lately. Between teething, baby fevers, and milestones, no one in our house is sleeping much these days.

Our kids’ rooms are upstairs while our bedroom is downstairs. So soothing a crying child to go back to sleep requires Mommy or Daddy trudging up the stairs and waking up fully. I counted ten trips on our stairs one night. Five trips up, and five trips down. I know exactly where to put my feet on each step to avoid the creaks that might stir the light sleepers. And I can assure you that, no matter how overtired you are, it’s tough to fall back to sleep after ten trips up and down the stairs in the middle of the night. I found myself snapping at my kids and losing my patience over the little things the next day. Sleep deprivation and three needy little buggers can push any mother over the edge.

So when I sat down at the computer to check facebook and email, I wasn’t prepared for the news that awaited me. One of my friends suffered the tragic loss of her baby girl, the day before she was scheduled for her c-section. Two days prior to her loss, she had an OB appointment where everything checked out fine and healthy. She carried her daughter to full term, 39 weeks, only to have her heart ripped from her chest with the discovery that her baby’s heart was no longer beating. I sat before my computer screen and just let the tears roll down my cheeks. I called my husband over to read the news for himself. Then I found each of my healthy kids and kissed and hugged them in turn. I simply could not imagine that kind of loss.

Ask any mother about her greatest fear in life and she is sure to respond with “the loss of a child.” I know that’s how I feel. Yet, this does happen, all too often. I have friends and relatives who have suffered loss like this at every stage. From the early miscarriages that every pregnant women fears, to heartbreaking mid-term losses at 20 weeks when the parents already know if it’s a boy or girl and are picking out names, to the utterly unthinkable tragedy of losing a baby when she’s not just a fetus, but already a real person who is loved and counted as part of the family.

I don’t know if I hear more of these stories because this is the time of life when all of my friends are going through pregnancy and motherhood, or if people just talk about it more now, or if there are truly more instances of loss now. All I know is that I find myself stupefied and speechless with the news each time. All I can offer are words of love and support, but they feel trite and commonplace and not nearly enough to portray the sorrow I feel for the suffering parents.

I am the only one of my four sisters and sisters-in-law who has never suffered a miscarriage. I have more friends who have suffered multiple miscarriages than I can count. And I wish I didn’t know personally those mothers who have suffered the tragedy of these late-term losses. I wish I could still hear those stories at arms’ length and not have them haunt my dreams because they hit too close to home.

While I’m so very grateful to have these women in my life and count them as friends, it would just be easier if these were random stories on the news. That way, we could just discount them as happening to “other” people and not recognize just how frequently these losses do happen.

I hate to admit it, but I’m almost embarrassed at my own luck and good fortune. I’m not as religious or charitable as some of the women I know who have suffered these losses. I can be lazy and gluttonous and selfish. Yet I’ve been blessed with three healthy pregnancies and three beautiful, lively children.

I sometimes take for granted all that I have. Then I hear a story of this kind of loss and am simply bowled over with shock, grief and questions. How can this happen? How is it possible in this day and age of medical knowledge and technology? Why did this happen to these parents? Why did God take their very first child? Will they ever make it past this? How can they get through this? Why am I so blessed?

I have no answers. I have no understanding when it comes to this level of tragedy. All I can do is just continue to be there for my loved ones and friends when they are suffering and support them in the only way I know how. My words sound empty, but they are full of love.

The only thing I can offer is that hearing of their loss makes me even more grateful for all of the joy in my life. It sounds mean to say it to my friends while they are suffering.

I think I’d hate happy families if I had to live through that loss. I’d be spiteful and bitter. But my friends are gracious. They don’t begrudge anyone else their happiness. They’re just struggling to make it through this tragedy one day at a time, the best they can. So I guess that’s what I have to do, too. I have to go on thinking of them each and every day. I have to read her posts everyday, even though they tear me up inside. I have to continue to lose sleep because I can’t stop thinking about the loss of one of my children.

And I have to remember, when I am at the end of my sleep-deprived rope, that I have it good. Because I have the luxury of losing my temper with my healthy children. I have the gift of never-ending loads of laundry and sticky messes to clean up. I have the great fortune of a house of light-sleepers who might wake up if they hear the creaky stair. I get to count my blessings every night that I have my big family of five.

And even though I may have to trudge up and down that flight of stairs ten times a night to get my baby to go back to sleep, I’ll do it gladly. Because I’ll take a million sleepless nights with Allie over a lifetime without her.

To all the moms of healthy children out there, please, hug your babies extra hard tonight and, if you pray, say a prayer for all of the mothers who are suffering the loss of a child.

(First published in “Because I Said So” for TheAlternativePress.)

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