Grief surprised me in so many ways. Of course I was surprised by the death of our baby girl Ginny at 34+ weeks, and grief hit me like a tsunami. At first it felt like shock and numbness. Then it quickly turned to an extremely sharp pain. Although I know it was an emotional pain, in the moment it was indistinguishable from physical pain. It hurt in the same way.
In the days after our loss, the grief morphed into what C.S. Lewis describes in his book A Grief Observed. He said grief feels like fear, a panic anticipation type fear. A fear that you are forgetting something extremely important. He describes that this happens because so much of your life is focused on this person so when they are gone, you feel like you are not doing everything that needs to get done. There is a big empty hole – that makes you panic. Even when I wasn’t thinking about it, that fear would be present, coming out of my subconscious.
Then it slightly morphed into the kind of pain where it feels like a knife is churning your heart and stomach. This pain felt similar to a teenage heartache amplified a thousand times. It constantly nags you. It is tinged with a feeling of regret, then a strong feeling of wanting to go back to when things were good. I just wanted to be pregnant with a living baby again; I wanted Ginny. I thought angrily at the potential of there being multiple dimensions or universes. Is there a universe out there where Ginny was still alive – where Aimee and Daniel keep living their blessed lives free this grief? Why can’t we be them?!
During this time, the worst moments were just after I first woke up in the morning. It was like waking up to a nightmare every day. Somehow it is as if your mind forgets in the night. I would wake up and feel the heaviest emptiness in my belly. The shock would come back for a moment then sorrow would flow over my body and heart. That began each day. As the weeks pass, my mind stopped forgetting in the night. I woke up already knowing. I still had to face it, but it didn’t crash into me.
Distraction wouldn’t help the pain, but it was necessary to prevent a constant state of crying. You physically can’t weep all day long. Even when I was distracted by a funny show or a conversation, my heart would be pulled. It felt as if gravity was stronger for my heart than the rest of my body. It was all I could do to stand up and walk around. It was much more physical than I imagined it would be.
After a while of distraction, I would feel a dark, heavy cloud around me. The sorrow felt like suffering. I read somewhere that there is a difference between grieving and mourning. Grieving is the emotion, while mourning is an outward expression of the grief. You need to relieve the built-up grief through mourning. If I took the time to cry, talk, write, or read about what I was feeling, the dark cloud would lift for a few hours. I would feel a slight lightness in my heart and could think of Ginny with so much love instead of love mixed with pain. I had to start a rhythm of grieving, mourning, grieving, mourning – just to survive. After a while, the cycle was not out of survival. I realized mourning is an expression of love for Ginny. I never wanted to forget her. I never wanted to stop grieving. I want to nurture the grief as if it is my baby to care for.
Grief is so much richer and deeper than I once thought. Before this experience, I thought grief was something to get through, stages you have to successfully walk through to be a healthy and “normal” person again. Through this experience, I now know that grief is not something to get through. It is something to carry with you in your heart always. It isn’t a bad aspect of life; it is an extra fullness of life. Like ocean waves hitting the shore, the gravity of my heart weighs and lightens continuously as I mourn forever. I never knew grief was a type of love. It is a wild love. Although I no longer carry Ginny in my womb, I will always carry her in my heart through the rich, full, loving grief.
Deathday before birthday. The loss of an unborn child is extremely confusing. All our plans and dreams for the future are thrown out the window and replaced with seemingly endless contradictions. It is hard to find your emotional footing. When I feel such intense grief and breakdown, I tell my husband or my mom that I’m feeling sad. But that’s not true – I’m not sad. I’m feeling more than I can describe. I’m feeling more than I can comprehend.
My mind tricks me. My body tricks me. My emotions trick me. I feel like I’m living in a topsy turvy world full of paradoxes.
Physically giving birth to a stillborn baby messes with your mind. Your body releases happy hormones: oxytocin, endorphins, adrenaline. Hormones that tell you this is the best day of your life. Hormones that cause you to fall in love with your newborn baby and tell you to forget the pain and have more children. How can I feel strong, happy, and proud while also feeling sorrow, sadness, and despair? These hormones tell you that your arms should be full, but your arms are empty.
That’s the beginning of your body’s consistent reminder of your empty arms. Next your milk comes in causing your boobs to swell. They start to hurt, yelling at you, “FEED YOUR BABY! FEED YOUR BABY!” You just want to yell back, “I CAN’T! I HAVE NO BABY! SHUT UP!” I want nothing more than to feed my baby with this milk meant for her. The pain becomes cathartic. Something feels good about having some physical pain to go with your emotional pain. Then the pain slowly leaves, and you are sad to feel it go. Is my body forgetting? Am I forgetting her already? My boobs are empty and my arms are empty.
I dread the day when I meet someone new and they ask me, “Do you have any kids?” or “Are you a mom?” Am I a mom? Yes or no. There is no obvious answer. In my heart I am, but there is no proof on earth. I treasure the one fading milk stain on my robe. Even though I’m the only one who sees it, it is one small piece of evidence that I am a mom. I guess I will answer that I had a stillborn baby or I have a daughter in heaven. It may make people feel awkward, but I never want to minimize or deny her life or my motherhood.
One of the most unexpected feelings I have is the happiness I feel when I think of her – happiness when I think of being pregnant, of the cute nursery, of the plans we made. I love her so much. I loved every minute with her. I feel happiness when I think of her. It is the unknown future that makes me sad – the future that was planned and is now blurry. At first I thought, “Why did this happen now?! I was so far along!! Everything was ready! We were ready for her! Why not earlier when we had no nursery?” But then I realized those were the times with her. I now wish that it had happened later so I had more time with her. How do I have such happy memories while at the same time my heart is torn apart? My heart is happy that she is in heaven and is so so loved. My heart is broken for the future we won’t have together on Earth. We will be together as a complete family one day and for forever.
The ultimate paradox is the love, strength, and faith that comes out of the woodwork in these hard times, from family and friends but more surprisingly from myself.
“But he said to me, ’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
When we started trying to have a baby, I told Daniel and myself not to get our hopes up. It usually takes a few months to get pregnant and often longer than that. That first month of trying I took a pregnancy test without telling Daniel. Before the results were in, I sat on the couch and asked Daniel to check the test in 3 minutes. He was caught off guard. I told him I didn’t think I was pregnant, but I wanted to take the test just in case. After 3 minutes, he cautiously walked to the bathroom. He was silent. I called out, “Well what does it say?!” He showed me the test with wide eyes. It was positive! We hugged and teared up! It was a very happy and exciting but scary moment. We knew there was no going back. We were both very surprised and blessed at how quickly it happened. That was July 26, 2018.
Our families were shocked and ecstatic when we told them the news over FaceTime. No one expected us to have children. They were all thrilled! The due date was April 3, 2019. A spring baby! I always loved spring. I loved that it represented new life!
Because work was so stressful, I had a lot of anxiety in the first trimester. Daniel encouraged me to quit my job. I was planning on being a stay-at-home mom anyway. There was no point in enduring that stress. I quit my job at the 12 week mark. It was a relief. For the rest of 2018 I was busy finding a new house and preparing for the holidays. Daniel’s parents were able to come for the anatomy scan on November 20 when they were in town for Thanksgiving. We found out we were having a little girl! We were all so happy! We named her Virginia Hope Jones after Daniel’s great grandmother, a very special person in our family. We would call her Ginny.
Without fail we excitedly attended every prenatal appointment. Everything looked perfect and went smoothly. She always had a strong heartbeat and was growing each week. Because I was low-risk and everything looked good, there was no third-trimester ultrasound planned. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see her again before she was born, but I was happy everything was going well.
We moved into our new house in Cary, NC in January, and I started nesting in our new place. We prepared the nursery with a garden theme. My mom came to help decorate. We had sweet sunflowers lining her crib, a cute green rug that looked like grass, and a sign in the shape of birdhouses that said “ginny” above her crib. It was perfect.
Daniel and I attended classes on breastfeeding and child birth. Daniel even went to “Daddy Bootcamp.” I spent days trying to prepare as much as I could. I watched video after video of how to take care of newborns, birth vlogs, baby item essentials. We were nearly ready. We had all the clothes and supplies we needed. I had packed the hospital bag. All we had to do was wait. I loved spending time feeling and watching my belly. I loved to feel her hiccup and move. She would move a lot anytime there was a loud noise or music. I was obsessed with trying to figure out what position she was in. Daniel would laugh at me as I guessed everyday, “I think she is head down now…or maybe she is sideways!” I’d put his hand on my belly anytime I’d feel her move. He was so excited to hold her. Only a little over a month left!
On Thursday February 21 we had our normal prenatal appointment. We heard her heart beating at a strong 147 bpm. The midwife brought out a small ultrasound machine to determine her position. She was head down! That was a relief to me. The midwife measured my belly. I was supposed to be 34 cm but was 31 cm. She ordered a growth scan for Monday to ensure Ginny was growing properly. She said that most likely everything is fine and she is growing, but we want to just make sure since my belly was small. This made me a little nervous but also excited. I was glad we would get another chance to see her before she was born.
I looked forward to the ultrasound on Monday afternoon. I tried not to get my hopes up that we would get a good face picture. I knew she was pretty squished in there so it might be hard to get one. I was so eager to see her.
Daniel met me at the hospital. As we waited in the waiting room he asked if I was nervous, and I said, “yes a little but mostly excited.” I thought the worst case scenario would be that Ginny was small and that they would decide to take her early and she would spend time in the NICU. I thought that wasn’t likely, but I still tried to prepare for what I thought was the worst possible outcome.
I was wrong. That wasn’t the worst possible outcome. What truly happened was worse than I could’ve imagined.
The ultrasound technician moved fast. Instead of starting with the heartbeat as usual, she seemed to be quickly and hap hazardously taking measurements. This was so unlike the previous ultrasounds we had. I asked to see the heartbeat and she abruptly said that she was measuring some things now. She was moving so quickly. I couldn’t make sense of what she was doing. It made me very nervous. I finally asked again, “Can I please see her heartbeat?!” She said she was having trouble finding it. I started breathing really heavy, hyperventilating. She rubbed my arm and said to breathe. She went to get the doctor.
Daniel and I started praying. I prayed harder than I’ve ever prayed before. We BEGGED God for a miracle. We pleaded and pleaded that when the doctor comes there will be a heartbeat. We prayed that Ginny would be born alive and grow up. We held hands and prayed. My heart was beating so hard. Daniel said he could see it through my sweater.
The doctor came in with the technician. She put the wand to my belly again…nothing. The doctor said, “I’m so sorry. I have to give you the worst news.” Everything fell still. I became calm. Daniel was crying behind me. I sat up and started asking questions, “Is there anyway to know what happened? What are the next steps?” I realized it was weird that I was so calm. I told the doctor, “I don’t know why I’m not crying.” He said I was probably in shock. I know the Holy Spirit was filling me with peace to get through that moment.
We were sent home to wait for instruction from my doctors. That was the longest car ride home followed my the longest evening ever. Time seemed to creep by. Daniel and I hugged and cried on the couch. I read the dreaded baby loss chapter of my “What to Expect” book. The doctors called to schedule the induction. I was to be induced at 9am tomorrow morning. I had no idea how I could possibly bear going through labor and delivery with no living baby as a reward! Our young adult pastor visited us and prayed with us. Our mothers decided to fly in, and I’m so grateful they did. We waited until around 2:30am for our moms’ flight to arrive. We picked them up from the airport in quiet tears. I was so tired.
The next morning we prayed together before leaving. I felt peace. It was incredible how quickly and smoothly everything went. We all felt the presence of God. The doctors and nurses were wonderful, caring, and sympathetic. Less than 12 hours after arriving at the hospital, I gave birth to Ginny’s body. It was Tuesday, February 26, 2019 at 8:47 pm. She was 3 lbs 5 oz and 16 inches long. Daniel was amazing. He was there for me in exactly the right ways. I couldn’t have done it without him. He held my hand through the whole thing. Our moms were just the support we needed. We all got to hold and kiss Ginny’s body. She was beautiful and had dark curly hair like her daddy. A day I was expecting to be filled with pain and fear was actually filled with love and healing.
Our moms and my sister spent the week taking care of us. They shopped, cooked, and cleaned for us. We received 9 flower deliveries and several care packages. Our friends covered us in love and prayers. We spent the week watching Planet Earth, crying, and coloring. Everything seemed in a bit of a haze. We went out to Target and the botanical garden. They were not effective distractions but gave us something to do. The day before our moms left, we took down the nursery. I used a knife to pry the letters off of the cute birdhouse sign – maybe someone could use to the sign for something else. We took down each baby girl outfit from the hangers one by one. This one goes to a friend… this one to be donated…this one save for a keepsake. My future dismantled piece by piece. Maybe something could be salvaged, maybe not.
Our family left. Daniel and I were alone in silence again. We got through day after day. The pain came like waves pounding against us. We still felt God with us though. It is such a bizarre feeling to have so much pain yet be full of peace and love. Grief is like that… it isn’t simple. It is complex and deep and full. It is not all bad. It is love and ache and sorrow and happiness. At first I wanted to skip it and fast-forward through time. After a while I wanted to nurture the grief; I wanted to saver it. I will always carry my grief, and I will always carry Ginny.
The doctors haven’t been able to determine definitively what caused Ginny’s death. They say things like, “Sometimes things like this just happen and no one knows why.” We had many tests done on me, Ginny’s body, and the placenta. Everything came back healthy, but she was small for her gestational age. We suspect that it might have been the umbilical cord tight around her neck or perhaps a blood clot in the cord. We may never know for sure.
This loss has given me a new perspective on life. I see myself in terms of eternity now. I look forward to the day I will be with Ginny in heaven. Death doesn’t scare me as much as it used to. At the same time, life is more precious. I want to enjoy and celebrate every moment because it is not guaranteed. I love deeper and am so extremely grateful for Daniel and our family and friends.
I have hope for what is to come although it is unclear to me now. I know I don’t want to go back to my old life of stressful work that now seems meaningless to me. I know I want to help others going through difficult times. I don’t know what that looks like, but I think God will make my paths clear when I am ready. Now I am focused on healing and grieving.
This space was created to share my journey as a grieving mother. My daughter Virginia Hope Jones was born still on February 26, 2019. We call her Ginny. My husband Daniel and I are full of love for her and miss her with all our hearts. We do live in hope that she is happy in the arms of Jesus and we will see her again. For me, one of the most helpful grieving outlets has been writing. I decided to post some of these writings for others to see. I’ve grown so much in love, compassion, and faith through our loss. I hope to share some of what I’m experiencing and learning.