I have this friend.
When I met her at my daughter’s dance class last year, I immediately classified her as “The One Who Has It All Together.” As if her trendy haircut, perfectly procured outfits, and sleek black sedan weren’t already screaming Nailing It, she also had three adorable, well-behaved children, and was a genuine pleasure to be around.
Girlfriend had it goin’ on.
And before I even recognized what was happening, I found myself slowly descending into a pit of awe-induced intimidation. Suddenly my clothes weren’t cute enough, my conversation wasn’t interesting enough, and my existence in general just wasn’t quite good enough.
I viewed her life from my seat as a spectator and decided that it was pretty much perfect. But when she gave me a glimpse behind the scenes, into the stuff of the nitty-gritty, backstage variety, I was stunned.
“What are the age gaps between your kids?” I asked one afternoon as we waited on our tiny dancers.
She ran down the list of their ages, then quietly added, “We also had a baby girl four years ago… but she didn’t make it.”
I quickly murmured, “I’m so sorry,” and changed the topic, but my mind was reeling.
How could I have done this? I thought in shame. How could I have envied her life without ever stopping to consider her invisible wounds?
We all have them, you know. The invisible wounds.
The battle scars that accumulate over the course of life. Because this life is a battle, and to have breath in your lungs is to know the reality of tragedy and pain and despair and suffocating grief.
But the grief of losing a child?
Oh Lord, have mercy.
I’ve never suffered a miscarriage. I’ve never built my hopes and dreams on the miracle growing in my belly, only to watch them come crashing down when the heartbeat can’t be found.
I’ve never lost an infant. I’ve never tried desperately to transmit my fierce love through the cold, hard plastic of a NICU incubator, never held a terminal newborn in my arms and whispered “Hello” and “Goodbye” in the same breath.
I’ve never experienced the searing, conflicting emotions of picking out a tiny casket while kicks and flutters still tickle my insides. I’ve never had to explain to my family and friends and even complete strangers why I entered the hospital with a burgeoning belly and left it with empty arms.
I’ve never known the greatest grief a woman can possibly face, but I am surrounded by those who have.
And they are my heroes.
They are the walking wounded, the unsung warriors who cross our paths each day. They are our mothers and sisters and daughters and friends, our fellow soldiers who have endured unspeakable pain. They are the battered and the bruised, the unwilling participants in the sacred dance of joy and grief, of hope and despair, of life and death.
And you know the common thread that unites them all?
They just. keep. going.
They keep holding on to hope, keep praying for a miracle, keep believing that the crib in the spare bedroom will someday be occupied.
They keep on being nurturers, keep caring so tenderly for those children already in their arms, keep moving forward one day at a time.
They keep on planning for the future, keep pursuing their goals, keep refusing to be hardened by pain and loss.
They just keep on keeping on, with strength in their bones and holes in their hearts, with memories of pink lines and happy hugs, of announcements and congratulations, of blurry first photos and faint heartbeats, of tiny faces they will never forget.
They are warriors in every sense of the word. Because sometimes, when your world is falling apart, the bravest thing you can do is just get out of bed in the morning.
Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is just keep going.
Your Story Matters
My friend recently shared her story on her personal blog, and I sat and sobbed as I read her words. They were painful and they were raw, and when I felt that my heart could handle no more, I just kept going. Because in some small way, I felt that reading her story and sharing her pain and admiring the beautiful baby girl who didn’t make it were all a way of saying, I see her. And she matters.
So to all the walking wounded out there, to all the mamas who are wading through the mighty currents of pregnancy and infant loss, I just want to say:
I may never know your pain.
But I see you.
Your story matters.
And you’re my hero.