Monday, January 24, 2022

‘Grief Only Exists In Our Lives Because Love Did First.’ Meet The Mother Who Wrote The Baby Loss Book She Needed

This week is Baby Loss Awareness Week and here at Capsule we’re committed to sharing the stories and information about this topic which is SO important, yet so rarely openly discussed. Annie Anderson experienced two baby losses and found that a lot of the grief resources and books weren’t sharing the full experience… so she decided to write her own.

One of the common phrases used by authors is that they end up writing the book they needed, and that couldn’t be more accurate for Christchurch teacher – and now author – Annie Anderson. After suffering two baby losses in a relatively short space of time, she was on a search for hope. “I wanted to find something that would tell me that I would rediscover my joy again. I wanted to read someone’s story that would acknowledge the hard times, but also let me know that I still had some choices,” Annie says.

“What I’ve come to understand about grief and adversity is that they have a way of narrowing our focus onto the things that we can’t control.” She likens it to “an impenetrable glass sheet” dropping between the person and their life as they knew it. “It’s almost like you can’t touch any of it anymore, that you’re in control of nothing. But what I learnt is that I can be an active participant in my grief and there are choices I can make. And that’s what gave me hope.”

“I wanted a book that would reach them in their hard season, so they could feel hope. Because one of the hardest things in grief is searching for hope, and feeling so alone.”

The idea of writing her book, Your Soul Is Wintering, started off as an initial inkling that grew louder. There were repeated little nudges, Annie says, and then one night her husband said, “Do you think you should write a book?” So she took the hints and started writing, with the intention that she could write a book that would be helpful to the many other parents who find themselves enduring the frequently lonely road of baby loss. “I wanted a book that would reach them in their hard season, so they could feel hope. Because one of the hardest things in grief is searching for hope, and feeling so alone.”

Adversity comes in many forms, Annie says, and we will grieve many things, whether it’s baby loss, job loss, divorce, getting older or grieving for a life we once had – but there are two things that can make that journey easier. One is having the hope that good things will happen again and the second is acknowledging, strange as it may sound, the gifts that can come from those hard seasons as well.

“I called them Lessons from Lily, because that’s what our wee girl is called, and I’ve interspersed them throughout the book, because they’re what we learned as a result of her amazing life,” Annie says. “By choosing to focus on her life, and the gifts that have come from it, rather than her loss, it’s helped a lot.” 

Having the book as a medium to get this journey of grief and hope out there was also important, because it gives the person seeking that knowledge a bit more agency in how they choose to engage with it. There are many support groups that embrace the community of those affected by baby loss but they can, at times, be overwhelming. “I had to take a break from an online support group that I was a part of,” Annie says. “When you’ve got something where there are very few spaces where people can share openly and be super vulnerable… the rawness of it. I just saw it as ‘Wow, am I never going to get through this?’ and that petrified me.”

In the book, Annie writes about one night when she turned to her husband Rob and asked, “Do you think I’ll ever be happy again?” because both the online forums and a lot of the grief literature she was reading had left her feeling bereft about the future.

“I just felt that if life was like a table, all the seats in our grief experience weren’t being acknowledged. I felt like the sorrow and the pain and the suffering were all acknowledged, but there wasn’t space saved for compassion, or love, or empathy, or the other side of the grief experience.”

Annie says that almost as a reaction to the limited resources that were out there, she initially wanted her book to lean really hard into that side of the journey. “But as much as I wanted to focus on all of the hope, I realised very quickly I was going to have to honour just how hard it is.” She believes that a holistic approach to healthy grieving requires us to acknowledge all aspects of the experience. “If people don’t see the darkest of your nights, or the deepest of your valleys, then they’re not going to appreciate the hope in your ascension.”

The darkest of those nights came as follows. After having two children, Jai and Arabella, Annie and Rob then had one pregnancy end at nine weeks – a baby they named Micah, and then the following pregnancy with their daughter Lily ended when she was 17 weeks along.

After the loss of Micah, she and Rob did their best to focus on their blessings, that they had two healthy children earth side. But when they lost Lily as well, it “blew us out of the water,” Annie says. “My grief compounded. It was another lesson in just how little we have control of, as well as being made aware that adversity doesn’t discriminate – it comes in many forms and unfortunately, it will visit us all.”

“I’ve termed the phase that ‘grief is love plus one’. We don’t invite grief into our lives, but we do invite love in. And as a result, we’ve given grief permission to come in as well.”

But there’s also a kind of empowerment that comes with learning to walk with grief, Annie says. “The person who walks into that fire – well, is thrown into it, in some respects – someone new walks out of those ashes. You’re not coming out of an experience like that unscathed, but we also don’t find out how strong we are until we’ve got a choice to make.”

There was another game-changer that came out of this experience, Annie says. “It was realising grief only exists and has a place in our lives because love did first. Because I have loved – and I do love – it puts me in a vulnerable spot. Because when those people are no longer in my life in the way that I hoped, then I’m going to feel it. I’ve termed the phase that ‘grief is love plus one’. We don’t invite grief into our lives, but we do invite love in. And as a result, we’ve given grief permission to come in as well.”

It makes the cost more bearable, she says, knowing that you can’t have one without the other, and it also reframes grief as something other than a monster in the dark. “It helps us take grief by the hand, and makes our walk with grief a little gentler, because we’re not fighting it anymore. And there’s some real healing in that.”

After the two baby losses, and a subsequent diagnosis of a blood condition, Annie and Rob knew they wanted more children but weren’t sure about how it was going to happen. A conversation very early on in their relationship had revealed that they were both keen to adopt, so they began training to become foster/adoptive parents. Their profile had been in the mix for two years – and they were close to withdrawing it – when in a bit of magic, they were matched with a six-month-old girl called Rose on the same day they buried Rob’s grandmother, also called Rose.

“It was a massive goosebumps moment,” Annie says. “It’s been incredible – and a whole other book in itself – but the reason I didn’t share too much of it in this book is that I didn’t want readers to think that we wouldn’t have got to a place of healing had it not been for Rose arriving into our family. I acknowledge that for some people who lose babies, that’s it. They don’t have babies to hold, earth side, and I was very conscious of that.”

“And what I’ve come to realise is that actually, we can hold more than one feeling. We can hold ALL the feelings.”

But it also adds another level to the emotional journey of baby loss that those who have been able to raise children afterwards may experience. To put it bluntly: How do you parent a living child – and all of the sleepless nights and stressful moments – when you’re still grieving a child that didn’t get to live?

“When I felt frustrated with any of the kids, but particularly with Rose, because she came after, I felt such heavy, immense guilt, when she was grizzly or teething and in my head, I was like, ‘Just go to sleep. I’m so tired,’” Annie says. “When I had those very normal feelings, I’d be smacked with this massive dose of guilt of ‘you should be so grateful, some people don’t have babies; you should know another level of gratitude now that you’ve lost babies!’”

“And what I’ve come to realise is that actually, we can hold more than one feeling. We can hold ALL the feelings. We’re taught with emotions that it’s binary – it’s one or the other. That if I’m feeling guilty or frustrated, then I can’t be feeling grateful too. And then you feel such guilt and it goes in a vicious cycle. But what I learned is in those moments where I felt frustrated, or felt fed-up, I still felt really grateful, and I always will be. And I’m still human. We can hold all of those feelings at once.”

Your Soul is Wintering: Rediscovering joy after baby loss by Annie Anderson, published by Bateman Books, RRP$34.99, Release Date 15th October. To purchase check your local bookstore or any online retailers.

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