Note from Jen Pastiloff:
So I received this message on Instagram from a woman I didn’t know the other night. My community there is beautiful and active. I had posted about an opening in the “Writing & The Body Retreat” I do with Lidia Yuknavitch. For those of you who don’t know Lidia (and you should! you should!)- I call her my “wifey.” She has written life-changing books, given a bring-you-to-your-knees TED talk (watch it here) and teaches writing (and also, basically, how to just be a free AF human being.) If ou follow her on Facebook, you know what I mean. People live and die by her Facebook updates. Her memoir, The Chronology of Water, starts with the loss of her daughter, who was born stillborn.
Read it if you haven’t yet. (Thank me later.) We do have one spot open for next month, otherwise catch us in Portland March 15-17 or take one of her amazing online courses.
That book (and Lidia) changed my life, and I don’t say that lightly.
So I posted on instagram about our retreat and I got this message after someone had commented that Lidia’s book had really helped her. Her brave message to a stranger moved me tremendously.
Here it is:
“Dear Jennifer, I’m not sure you will read this and I’m not sure I will even send this but I need to get this out, either way. I want to begin by saying that This Instagram thing is so strange and so beautiful and so weird. Connecting with strangers and the desire to be “seen” and “heard” through use of language, likes and emoticons (our modern day hieroglyphics) It’s by explaining this that recently I have been leaving comments on your pages beneath the beautiful and raw as red meat posts on Motherhood.
You have written back a few times and I felt less alone. And inspired. And when I received your words, my heart bloomed and gushed. That’s the beauty of social media. No, I’m no stalker. Or a weirdo (only stalkers and weirdo’s say that, right?) But I’m trying to get somewhere in explaining all this with you.
You probably don’t remember, as you receive so many messages, but yesterday you posted about your friend Lidia Yuknavitch. Now here’s the weird thing part of social media.
I wrote beneath your post that lidia’s work, the Chronology of Water helped me through the time in my life when I grieved for the loss ofmy own daughter at birth.
I’m ashamed to say this but that was a lie. I have never read any of Lidia’s books. I have wanted to. I’m going to. But I haven’t. I wrote that because I needed someone to catch that memory. I wrote that because it felt scary to fling it out there into the dark void of Instagram and for my pain to be caught by your kaleidoscopic care. It’s bizarre I’m telling you this.
But that’s it. In a nutshell, I lied to you, a stranger who I read about on Instagram, me who you don’t know. Me who is writing this Unshowered and sweating with an hour for myself before my husband comes back with the baby. And this ridiculous lie was on my mind all night, and I didn’t need to tell you because there’s really no need and you won’t give a fuck anyway but I lied that I had read your friends book, your friend who has suffered a similar loss as mine. A lie in order to connect.
Actually, not a lie to connect. But a lie because I’m so fucking lonely in my grief and in motherhood and finding myself within the thicket of sleep deprivation and deeply caring for my boy.
There I said it. I was vacuuming and I added this on.
Like you’re listening. Like I’m having a conversation to myself.
But maybe you’re there-“
I told her I was. There. And that I was listening.
Connection is real- however you get it. However you find it. So we started talking and she sent me the following essay about losing her daughter. And I think you should read it and let her know in the comments because I do believe connection is everything. As Brené Brown says, we are hardwired for connection. That is at the core of all the work I do and why I am started an online
course experience next month. To simply connect and be more free, to take up space in the world, and to share our stories. Like this one:
By Katherine J.
It was backpacking through China with my husband that we came to know I was pregnant. The little stick I peed on told us so. And then a second one told us the same. I was so eager to return home, to care for myself, to prepare for this little being. My husband was ecstatic. Very early on in our relationship, we had always spoken about the children we would have together. And here we were.
Once back in America, I felt safe and ready to nest. This feeling would not last long. The first blood test and ultrasound revealed that my baby was in some way “abnormal”. What that abnormality was, they did not know and it could only be revealed through more thorough testing. It took weeks, months, of waiting, waiting, always waiting for results.
They told us over the phone. Our baby was diagnosed with a major heart defect. And one that could not be fixed. They would not operate at birth. My baby was deemed incompatible with life. I kept repeating the words over and over in my head, tapping each syllable onto my arm, the kitchen counter, my coffee cup.
That man over there yelling at his wife, is compatible with life. That child eating ice cream, is compatible with life. That flower, that dog. And aaaaaaall the other babies. Compatible with life.
I thought of my daughter’s heart. I thought of her tiny heart that would not function. Never ever. I thought of her tiny heart that was rushing like a freight train within me. I heard it once. And then I asked to never hear it again.
You see, she was thriving within me. Growing, and moving, and swishing and she was all elbows and legs, kicking softly.
When we were told the diagnosis, I was a little over six months pregnant. But I did not stop being a mother. I sang to my baby, I danced with my baby, I played music to my baby. My daughter. Through my womb, I sang to her lullabies, I let her hear the sound of the ocean, the sound of water trickling in a fountain, I let her feel the cool rain as it fell on my belly, I crushed crispy fall leaves near my belly in the hopes she could hear. I gave her flowers, her father played songs on his guitar and he whispered love to her and we touched her through my belly- tickled her.
It was time to let her go. It was no longer safe to keep her, for me or her. I gave birth to my daughter, in a hospital. I was induced. I went through contractions and everything else that comes with birth. Only I knew my daughter would not be born alive.
My husband never left my side.
During labor, I saw four people dressed in white in the corner of the room. Later I asked my husband who they were. I thought they were doctors or medical students, observing. My husband said besides himself and me, there were only three people in the room- two nurses and the doctor. I’d like to believe they were protectors or, yes, angels even.
She was born so peacefully. With the softest smile. Breathless.
We held her. She was weightless. Already of the stars. Her gentle fingers around my thumb. Still warm. Then, stone cold stiff.
I gave birth to death. The sweetest death.
My daughter. Sunshine. That is her name. That is what she was.
All other names were too earthly for her. She was bigger than life. And so free. She knew only love.
“You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine…”
The aftermath was grueling. An unbearable grief. And when the milk came in, it was as if my breasts were weeping. And at sunset, and sunrise, it was as if she was dancing and laughing across the skies, finger paintings for Mom and Dad. At night, I would wail.
At night, I would walk around the rooms of our apartment, searching for her. During the day, the Southern Califonian sun was relentless and there was no hiding from the red raw pain of my post-partum body under the light of the stark sun. I wanted to run into the rain and drown in it and pull the dark sky over me and hide. The names of the days no longer mattered. Time felt like one long Monday. For a long, long time.
Until, he came along. He, who began to heal what felt broken.
A son that is sleeping beside me as I write this.
A son that giggles and breathes and poops and crawls and wriggles and reaches for me in the night.
A son that points to the moon.
A son with a heart that beats like a jungle drum.
Katherine J. is a writer and yoga instructor. She lives in California with her husband and rambunctious one-year-old boy. Katherine is not on FB so please leave her a note below.