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Grieving who I was before loss

Grieving who I was before loss

After my newborn son died, I grieved more than his passing. Of course, the grief I felt over losing Ethan was the loudest, the most painful, and demanded the most attention, but there were other losses I experienced in the wake of his death. I grieved the girl I was before being forced to say goodbye.

I missed the optimist who assumed that a positive pregnancy test promised a healthy baby in nine months. I missed the joy I once felt attending baby showers. I missed being able to walk past the baby section at Target without my eyes filling with tears.

I grieved for the extrovert who enjoyed smalltalk and crowded social gatherings. I grieved for the girl who didn’t struggle with anxiety and didn’t feel everything so deeply.

I missed the girl who had incredible focus and could keep track of deadlines, assignments, birthdays, and daily tasks with ease. I missed the girl who didn’t feel so foggy headed and forgetful.

I grieved for the girl who smiled far more than she cried. I grieved for the girl who was once so innocent.

Part of me died along with my son and I yearned for all I had lost. Though most of my tears were shed over the loss of my son, I cried over the loss of the pieces of myself. Pre-loss Kristin was gone and I missed her.

It took some time for me to become acquainted with my post-loss self. As time passed, I began to see that I was still the same girl at the core. Yes, parts of me had changed–some for the worse and some for the better. Despite the intense pain that had come with this transformation, I slowly began to embrace the stronger, better version of myself.

I liked the realist who understood that life is full of both joy and grief. I liked the girl who could truly empathize with fellow broken hearts and who truly treasured each day. I liked the girl who felt everything so deeply.

I celebrated the girl who craved deep, meaningful connection with others. I celebrated her ability to establish genuine connections with like-minded people, despite the many awkward social interactions along the way.

I liked the girl who didn’t simply check things off a list, but was propelled by passion and emotion. I liked the girl who wasn’t afraid to cry, laugh, or embrace a combination of both. I welcomed my newfound ability to embrace my emotions without shame and to celebrate the ways these feelings had made me more compassionate, more patient, and more wise than I had been before.

The more I embraced this new broken yet beautiful version of myself, the more I grew to like her. I choose to embrace this girl. The one whose broken heart has expanded to make way for more love. The one who doesn’t sweat the small stuff as much, who isn’t afraid to question and seek answers, and who is comfortable in her own skin. This girl has been given the incredible gift of experiencing a love for a child that is stronger than death, and though I had hoped a thousand times that my circumstances had been different, I am grateful for the new me that has come with being Ethan’s mom.

Kristin HernandezKristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their Queensland Heeler mix, Dakota. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family.  Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.

Top photo by Artem Kovalev on Unsplash.

Finding (and accepting) support after loss

Finding (and accepting) support after loss

It was difficult for me to ask for help after our newborn son died. The struggle partially stemmed from my pride and my desire to continue to be the friend who provided support to others, not the other way around. Even more so, I barely had the ability to articulate or even identify what I needed in the first place. At times, it seemed easier to go it alone. Surely I could do this.

Deep down I knew I couldn’t. I couldn’t do any of this on my own. My heart, mind, and body were weary from months of high risk doctor appointments, processing bad news on bad news, saying goodbye to our firstborn child, and trying to recover from the physical and emotional impacts of childbirth mixed with grief. My husband and I needed community. Sure, we did our very best to support one another–yet it was difficult to fully support the other when each of us felt so weak. As daunting as it sounded, we both knew we needed support.

We took the initially terrifying step of tearing down our walls and saying yes to others–yes to support in the form of warm meals, yard work, funeral assistance, and company. Day by day, we began to see that we were never meant to do life alone. We were never meant to have it all together. We were meant to enter into each other’s messes and support one another. This beautifully messy community is one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given.

We found support within the pregnancy and infant loss community. I immediately found myself connected with a support group, where I met women who have now become some of my closest friends. That first October, just two months after our son died, my husband and I were invited to attend Forever Footprint’s Annual Walk to Remember. As we stood beside hundreds of parents who had walked similar journeys as us, we felt surrounded by love and support. We didn’t have to explain. We didn’t have to pretend. Within the pregnancy and infant loss community I found my people–ones that simply knew what I needed, always remembered important milestone dates, and I could always count on to talk me through the multiple baby aisle meltdowns I had at Target.

We also found support outside of the pregnancy and infant loss community. At first, it was difficult for me to tear down the walls around my heart to people that I assumed wouldn’t understand. With time, I realized that I was missing out by shutting others out. Within our families, our friend groups, our jobs, and our church were many people who simply wanted to support us. They didn’t fully understand (and we would never want them to), yet they were willing to step into the mess of deep grief and simply be there for us. Within this community I found gentle-hearted people who did their best to understand and meet me wherever I was at, while offering a fresh perspective.

In my experience, the hardest thing about finding and accepting support after baby loss was the initial step. It can be scary to bare your heart to someone, knowing they may not understand or unintentionally say the wrong thing. Vulnerability may have felt terrifying at first, but once I took that first step I quickly realized that it was the road that led to community and true support. I am incredibly grateful to the people who have loved me at my weakest and have encouraged me when I felt so alone. I am thankful for the deeper friendships, comfort, and family that have come from two-way support and community. Needing one another doesn’t make us weak–it’s a natural part of who we are as people. We were never meant to do this life alone. We were always meant to lift one another up in our times of need. If we must walk down this difficult road, let’s do it together.

If you are feeling alone right now, please accept this virtual hug and know that we are in this together. I encourage you to find and connect with someone who “gets it”. I encourage you to speak your child’s name to a friend. I encourage you to join one of Forever Footprints’ support groups and/or attend a Forever Footprints event, such as the Walk to Remember. It’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay reach out. You are not alone.

*Photo by Lexi Behrndt


Kristin HernandezKristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their Queensland Heeler mix, Dakota. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family.  Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast. 

For better or for worse: Love after loss

For better or for worse: Love after loss

For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.

As I spoke those words back in 2011, I truly meant them from the bottom of my heart. Sure, I knew marriage wouldn’t always be easy and I knew there would be hard days, but this wide-eyed, innocent 20-something had no idea of the depth of what those words would truly mean until years later when stood beside a tiny cemetery plot and buried our infant son.

For worse, for poorer, and in the wake of devastating sickness, our innocence was stripped away and things were suddenly so much harder.

On the evening our son died, a kind nurse took my hand and warned us that things were about to get hard. She encouraged us to dig our heels down deep, to remember the vows we had meant so fervently those years before, and to fight for one another when things would become difficult–and difficult they did.

Loss has a way of changing you. In some ways it made me better, and it other ways it brought all of my imperfections to the surface. It challenged my thinking, shifted my perspectives, and altered pieces of my identity. I grieved the person I was before losing our son and I struggled to figure out who I was. I quickly learned that when two people are simultaneously being shaped through the pain of suffering and loss, things become even more complicated. We were both grieving, changing and growing. I was still trying to get to know this whole new me, all while trying to get to know my husband as we grieved and grew in different ways.

So how can we fight for our marriages and our relationships when we’ve changed so much? How do we pick up the pieces and fight for one another, rather than with one another?

Communicate

In those first few months when my grief was especially intense, I craved closeness. I just wanted someone to sit with me and let me cry on their shoulder. My husband, however, craved space. On the days when he was in the most pain, he needed time to process–alone. This was especially difficult in the beginning and it was so important to communicate our needs with one another–not only that, but to try to understand where the other person was coming from. Neither of us was grieving better or worse than the other. Our needs were simply different. It was helpful to understand what the other needed and to create a safe space to share our needs without fear of judgement.

Seek Support

There is an unnecessary stigma associated with counseling and I believe that needs to change. Before I experienced it for myself, it seemed intimidating and almost like a last resort. I haven’t heard many people speak openly about their experiences with counseling, but I will because I think it’s important. My husband and I attended counseling both together and alone after the death of our son and it played a significant role in our ability to communicate and in own growth, both as individuals and as a couple. Forever Footprints is another great resource and offers three monthly support groups. We’ve also found support by joining hundreds of other parents at Forever Footprints annual IE Walk to Remember.

Make time for one another

In the midst of the struggle, don’t forget to take some time to unwind. Go on a date. Watch your favorite TV show together. Don’t be afraid to laugh, even when it feels foreign.

Hold on tight

After our son died, my husband and I looked each other in the eye and reaffirmed our commitment to one another. We decided right then and there that we wouldn’t allow our son’s death to drive us apart. We resolved to fight for our marriage no matter what it took. The journey hasn’t been easy, but I am thankful for all of the tears, the late night conversations, the frustrations, and the growth that has taken place between now and then. I am thankful for the ways conflict and pain have ultimately drawn us closer as a couple. I am thankful to be able to walk alongside the only person who truly understands everything we’ve been through. I am thankful to be able to look upon the face that so closely resembles that of our little boy each day.

I am thankful for someone who has seen me at my best and worst, in seasons that felt rich and seasons that felt poor, and in seasons of sickness and in health.

Kristin HernandezKristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their Queensland Heeler mix, Dakota. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family.  Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.