It’s been six years since the hardest day of my life — the day I learned, towards the end of my second pregnancy, that my daughter would not survive — and yet I can still feel the way the ultrasound gel felt on my stomach as each defect was confirmed. The cool of the air conditioner with its quiet hum, the way my husband and mother sniffled interchangeably as they blinked back tears in an attempt to protect me, somehow, from the inevitable.
With each push of the wand onto my stomach, each drop of warm ultrasound gel spreading across my skin, a piece of my future was erased. Each time the cardiologist spoke, another piece of her was gone. Each time he kindly and gently described the intricacies of each defect, I thought of what was lost: first haircut, first time writing her name, first Christmas. The losses added up too quickly, bringing me back down to reality with a phrase that I will never forget even if I wanted to: incompatible with life.
I existed in a haze, a stupor, as everyone around me made plans and I could not even remember to eat or drink, could not bring myself to speak coherently enough to call my friends and let them know the severity of this situation. Saying the words would mean acknowledging it, understanding that the pitter-patter of kicks and punches rolling around inside my body were somehow synonymous with death; that the pristine nursery and closet filled with Roxy Girl would sit untouched as a harrowing reminder of a life that never would be.
I laid on my mother’s couch, watching the spin of the ceiling fan and willing my own heart to stop, willing death to take me before I was expected to survive giving birth to the kind of death that ultrasound photos already showed shared her father’s facial features and curly hair. I practiced this — willing myself to die — while my mother alternated between force-feeding me noodles with butter and reminding me to use the restroom from time to time.
I remember listening as my mother made her way down my list of friends to call, the way she calmly said, “Lindsay just wants you to know…” and the way that she would cry each time, delivering a message that began to clink against my armor and bounce off onto the floor.
I was numb. Numb and frozen, overcome with the realization that I was only sitting there, breathing, so that my toddler son would not be left without a mother. I reminded myself of this, that he needed me, as I watched my mother crochet a baby blanket that I knew would not keep my daughter warm when she was born because she would simply be dead. You cannot sugarcoat death, or keep it from getting cold.
I’ve written often about my loss, but mostly in the years that followed it. I was raised in favor of meekness, believing that we shouldn’t talk about certain things publicly, or even candidly among friends. “Let it go” are the words spoken frequently in my family since childhood, and it took me until I was in my thirties to realize that I am not very good at letting things go — nor should I have to, and nor do I want to. Those who know me now know me as a riled-up mom with a reputation for speaking my mind as publicly as I feel necessary, and struggle to imagine me as someone timid who kept her feelings to herself. I don’t blame them: it feels like it was another life, one that has since died and decomposed, blossoming into something bolder in the face of trauma.
When my daughter, Wylie, was born, a photographer took the usual newborn pictures for me to keep — how this token of normalcy was appreciated during a time when the world would not stop shaking — and my well-intentioned family advised me to keep them private, urging me to simply issue a quaint statement that she was gone and asking for privacy. I did not want privacy. I did not want to hide the photographs away in a bin, as if they were somehow shameful or an admission that I had done something wrong. As I navigated the days, weeks, months after loss in the same stupor that I existed in from the moment of Wylie’s diagnosis, I allowed others to dictate my every move despite what I needed — and I have spent every day since promising myself that I will never be that person again. Because in hiding away the rawness of my loss, I denied myself the freedom to grieve and, most importantly, the transparency that others needed when they found themselves mourning a similar loss themselves.
I’ve made good on that promise to myself. I have not shut up in years, and with that comes something that does not get talked about as much as it needs to: secondary loss.
I’ll be honest in that I do not know who Chrissy Teigen is, nor do I know any of John Legend’s music. I joke often that I live under a rock or exist in a time where My So-Called Life and Party of Five were the last television shows I kept up with but that’s not exactly overtly farfetched (except a friend did pull me into Cobra Kai, which only sort of counts as being hip and new, but hey).
What I do know is that I have struggled when reading the ignorance spewing from comment sections worldwide — and that it feels an awful lot like I am again being asked to mourn quieter, grieve more silently, to let my life fall apart alone in my room as to not make others feel uncomfortable.
I may not know Chrissy Teigen, but I feel for her. I feel for the confusion she is trying to navigate as her entire future detonated around her, fragments of what could have been lying at her feet in shambles. The world is taking a leaf blower to the mess and laughing as it all swirls around her. I feel for her, for trying to grip onto the pieces of normalcy in a situation that is anything but, and still letting the public see her pain as to bravely and selflessly be a life raft for other mothers who are drowning in a sea of despair that causes others to look away from the lifeguard stand. I feel for her, because the loneliness will permeate through her life in ways she is not aware just yet.
The secondary losses hit somewhere around the two or three month mark when your friends realize that you aren’t willing to let this go, that this is real, that your breasts are lactating and you don’t have the energy to hide it so you sit for coffee dates in your living room and they stare at the milk pooling in your shirt.
They hit when your friends know exactly what they would do in situations they’ve never been in, how they would have reacted differently than you did as you laid there on that ultrasound table listening as your future was erased, as was any road map towards surviving the present. They tell you where you went wrong, what they believe to be truths, what you should do now — and have you tried prayer? And then they leave, because something So Much A Part Of You becomes villainized as only something that makes others uncomfortable can.
Everyone’s an expert on something that they have never been forced into experiencing.
No one prepared me for these secondary losses, and no one will likely have prepared Chrissy Teigen. Maybe she will see the trolls flocking to her posts, telling her that she’s grieving wrong or exploiting a traumatizing pain for the sake of likes on the internet. Maybe she won’t see any of them. Maybe she won’t even care, because she is a bigger and better person than I was for way too many wasted years of my life.
I have seen friends, family, acquaintances of mine lament on public social media posts that she is making strange choices, weird choices, attention-seeking choices, and I remember the way it felt in that quiet, cold room underneath the warmth of the ultrasound gel and the crushing expectations of how I was expected to conduct myself at a time when all I wanted was permission to fall apart.
I remember the way it felt to lose those who loved you only with apparent conditions, who accepted you for someone on the surface who liked good movies and made the occasional funny joke, but had the audacity to then find herself consumed with a loss that never will quite make sense. I’ve never shown a soul the photographs that the photographer took that day. I do not know Chrissy Teigen, but my instincts want to protect her from the pangs of heartache that will only continue to roll in as the phases of grief begin to break like waves, as she navigates this life on the front lines of a situation she never asked to be in — and has no idea how to be in, because no one does.
It has been six years since I was quietly pushed back into a world in which I no longer fit. My voice doesn’t shake when I speak anymore, and I’ve learned to yell without even a falter. I receive emails and social media messages every so often, to this day, thanking me for a post I’ve made in which I allowed the reality of the situation to scream out unfiltered feelings that served as buoys for those lost at sea without another person in sight.
I have lost people who were uncomfortable with my pain, choices, or situations I was forced to navigate needlessly alone, but I’ve gained more in allowing my own scars to serve as solidarity for those who have struggled in the same gnarly battles that I have. I will forever have said goodbye too soon to a daughter who is but ashes in an urn, and I will forever share that with Chrissy Teigen and countless others who grieve at whatever pace they see fit. And in those early days, how I lagged behind. How I wished someone would stop and walk with me, holding my hand instead of telling me to hurry up and fake it to the finish line before anyone suspected I wasn’t up for the task.
I’ve crossed the finish line, but until my own dying day will be that person — the hand holder — to all of the women who will find themselves bruised, bleeding and sprained as they struggle to put one foot in front of the other without quaking. If you haven’t ever run that race, just a reminder: you don’t know what it feels like, but you can take a grieving mother’s word for it and walk alongside her anyway.