I am honored to introduce you to my first writer to open her heart and display her skin for this series. Beth has experienced grief I am unable to imagine, yet her BRAVERY and warring spirit leave me breathless. I love her heart, her transparency and her willingness to bare her soul and story here, with us.- Bethany
When Words Heal Body & Soul
I didn’t expect life’s next betrayal to come from the inside. A trusted shelter, the most sacred space, its curtain rent by death and rife with treachery.
Thirty one weeks we had walked in the world as parents, ripening with expectation. Eleven weeks since we saw her via ultrasound, ten since I felt her move within me.
And then –
No kicks, none of the rolling in my belly that filled my blood and skin and synapses with joy. A midnight drive to the hospital, calmly checking in at the labor and delivery desk when all I want to do was scream something’s wrong, help us, help her instead of smiling thinly and filling out the form the receptionist slid toward me, scribbling my signature with fingers weighted with fear.
And finally, in a gown and in a bed, a nurse tracing gel over my abdomen, listening to the whoosh of the guts and fluid within, but no heartbeat, no heartbeat. She might be hiding, as babies do, the nurse says, and I nod and hop, but my doctor steps into the room gray-faced and the smile that fluttered up my face as she entered falters.
Somehow an ultrasound machine materializes at my bedside, and my husband stands silent on the other side and we can see, I can see on the screen before the words are spoken that she’s gone, oh God, she’s gone.
My doctor flicks the screen off, settles her weight on my bed, takes my hand in hers and her face feels too close to mine, too large, and I want to laugh, because how can she be telling me that my baby, my daughter, our first, is dead, dead before she breathed, dead inside my body and please, can I die, too?
And then the doctor tells me, as if her death is not enough, that I have to birth this baby, that they will not knock me out or knock me dead and just take her, take all this pain away (if only it were so easy), but I have to birth her, labor her limp body out of mine.
I want to want to but don’t.
And of course I do birth her, because I have to. All these months of anticipation, and the only sound in the birthing room at my daughter’s arrival is that of my own sobs, my soul screaming at her silence.
I cannot shake it, this sense of betrayal, of my body turning against me, of my soft uterus grown teeth that devoured my daughter. We gave her over to be cut up, autopsied, before they burned her to ash, but they never found a reason. Two years later and I still can’t decide which I’d prefer, to know or not.
But I did know, that snow-bright day my husband and I drove away from the hospital, my belly sagging empty and my mother heart howling at the sky’s garish beauty and the people and the world around us going on and on and didn’t they know that our baby was dead – as we drove home to our new grief-kissed lives, I knew that I had lost more than a child.
I had lost my self, my sense of belonging. I felt suddenly other. Alien, a stranger in a strange land. There were so many questions. Who was I now that my body had failed to successfully complete one of its most basic functions, one that so, so many women and couples seem to be able to do effortlessly? Was I a mother? Was I still a woman, now that my uterus had produced death? Was I even still human?
My body, it had failed, and someone had died as a result.
I felt like a monster.
My body healed from lifeless birth and my period returned, a cramping and bloody reminder of the daughter we had and didn’t have, and I still did not know the answers to these questions of identity. I did not know as we tried to conceive once more, did not know when we succeeded.
I hated the not-knowing, the wondering of if I was worth anything anymore.
I knew what others might say, though, the ones that loved me and would take the grief and pain of loss from me if they could. They would say that her death was no one’s fault, that my body was not a condemned zone, that my body was not broken, not a turncoat, that I was still a mother and a woman and a person.
I let them believe these things for me.
And then, two months and ten days after our daughter’s stillbirth, I started to practice owning those words myself. One morning, the empty crib still standing sentinel in the spare bedroom, I peeled the clothes from my shy skin and tip toed to the bathroom. And –
the mirror showed me the padded abdomen that had been my daughter’s one and only home on this earth, the arms I had used to rock her to sleep, the skin through which I pressed my fingers against her extended sole. The mirror showed me the line running down from my belly button, evidence that I had held life. The mirror showed me the breasts that had faithfully produced sustenance for our girl, the breasts that had ached with confusion when there was no baby to drink from them. The mirror showed me the sacred depth of sorrow in my eyes, showed me the truth that I was a mother, I am a mother, that my body is just as stricken at the loss as my soul, that it was a safe home for her and might be a safe home again.
My heart ached but I decided. I decided to believe what the mirror showed me.
I plucked the eyeliner pencil from my medicine cabinet and wrote the birth of this belief into my skin, trailing truth across the belly I had so scorned and hated.
This did not take away the pain. It did not undo her death (if only).
But – the writing of my faith on my flesh, it was powerful. It was healing. Not fully healing, but the next step. A vital step. One that I was so grateful to be able to take, just as I am now grateful for the body that carried our daughter, and then our son who was born ten months after her.
My body is my children’s temple, a safe home to grow in. I trail my fingertips over my belly and love it, for all its failures, its holy imperfections. And when I forget who I am or what I am or any of this excruciating and beautiful truth, I write again across my skin.
Bio: Beth Morey has stopped running from the questions, and all the old adjectives don’t quite seem to fit anymore. You can find her throwing her soul into the mess of not-knowing and Divine-seeking at her blog. behind Epiphany Art Studio, and the rather dubious creator of the Made ecourse. Beth lives in Montana with the Best Husband Ever, their rainbow son, and their three delightfully naughty dogs.
*all photography by Beth Morey