My daughter Gretchen was stillborn at 30 weeks and four days, on Sept. 4, 2019. Trying to navigate this new world of grief is (while parenting a preschooler), to put it mildly, a very unexpected journey.
There are several paths my grief has taken me down.
One path is wondering what the purpose of it all was. Why were we given the chance of having this beautiful daughter, why was the possibility of watching our children grow up together dangled in front of us, just to be snatched away? What was the point?
There’s the path of what happens to all the plans I’d had for Gretchen. I wanted her to love reading, and appreciate good music, and be confident and comfortable in her own skin. I can’t bring myself to delete the small registry I created on Amazon. I still have prints for Gretchen’s room (lyrics to Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers”) saved on Etsy. I wanted our girl to be a wildflower.
The path that makes me the angriest is the path of the things that we will miss. Gretchen’s first steps, first words, first tooth, first vacation as a family of four, first friend, first day of school, first job, first car, etc. We’ll never know her personality or her favorite things. We will never see our daughter smile, or hear her laugh or the sound of her voice. We never even got to see her eyes or hear the sounds of her first cries at birth, things that happen with a “normal” birth.
However, Gretchen’s room is the most tangible, in-your-face path. Gretchen’s room is mostly ready. The walls are lilac, a custom color her dad created after being dissatisfied with the paint store’s attempts at matching the flowers and fairies on the crib sheets we’d chosen. Our son’s old crib is assembled, and we put padding on the rails to cover up his teething marks. There’s a blanket with Gretchen’s full name embroidered on it draped over the railing. During the all-too-short time we had to hold our girl, she was wrapped in this blanket. Some of her blood is stained it. I will never wash it. My husband spent days refinishing an antique vanity his mother had found at Goodwill. He found some beautiful floral drawer knobs to put on it.
A couple of days before we lost our girl, I sorted through Marshall’s old baby clothes, finding what could be passed on to Gretchen and what I would pass on to my nephew, who was due in December. The hand-me-downs are still sitting in their bins. Gretchen’s new clothes are hanging in her closet, and I avoid opening that door as much as I can. On top of the vanity is the memory box from the hospital (full of precious treasures), the guestbook from Gretchen’s funeral, beautiful calligraphy pieces from a cousin and an aunt, and the candle we’d lit for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.
Gretchen’s room is simultaneously reminding us of what we’ve lost, yet somehow is still waiting for her. I’m terrified of our daughter’s room slowly being turned into a storage space. I’m terrified of what the passage of time will do to our memories of the time we had with our daughter and my memories of being pregnant with her.