My dear, Darling Karis Alayna...
My heart is full of things I wish to share with you, but now, as I sit to write, none of my words seem good enough.
It's been nearly eleven years since I held you in my arms...though my heart has never let go of you. And I suppose it never will. I pray it never will.
I don't pretend to know fully how heaven works...so I don't know if you've been watching me. I don't know if you hear me when I speak to you. I do believe that you are with our Heavenly Father...and so I often end my prayers asking Him to tell you that I love you and I miss you. I do know that He hears me, and I like to believe He grants my request and lovingly relays my messages to you.
I suppose the best place to start is at the beginning. They say that at the end of every story is the beginning of another. Well, the beginning of this story starts at the end of your life.
I didn't sleep at all the night you went away. I didn’t sleep. I didn't eat. I didn't speak much. I barely even cried. But I was still at the hospital and things hadn't quite hit me yet. My brain hadn't caught up to the events that had transpired. But I'd carried you for 6 months. 23 weeks and 6 days to be exact. You were born, and I held you until you died. And then they took you away...
As I was leaving the hospital, my mind started to wake up to the truth. I had a baby...and I was leaving without my baby.
That first night at home was awful. That's when the tears came. I remember kneeling at the edge of my bed saying over and over again: "I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do..."
My mother heard me and she came and sat with me. She held me like I wished I was holding you.
My family...our family was supportive over the days that would follow, but they didn't really know what to do. But pray.
Sometime within that first week, I cried for 3 days straight without a break. I didn't even know that was possible. I cried in my sleep. Tears fell as I showered, and as I brushed my teeth and watched TV and walked aimlessly around the house. Tears fell into my food as I ate...because my father, your grandfather, insisted that I eat. I wasn't interested in eating, but I didn't want them to worry. But eventually, it became too heavy to bear the burdens of what anyone else thought. I didn't even realize that I'd stopped eating until I couldn't fit my clothes anymore. Even my underwear was too big.
I was just a whole different person. And it happened the moment you left...or maybe it happened the moment you arrived. I'm not really sure anymore.
I shaved my head. I don't even really know why except that maybe I was trying to see myself...trying to figure out who I really was apart from you. You have to understand, Baby...I never expected to have to live without you. No parent expects to outlive their child.
When I visited my doctor for a follow up…
(Baby, you’ll have to forgive me for going out of order in my storytelling. My brain was so fragmented during all of this.)
Anyway, when I visited my doctor for a follow-up, she took my blood pressure, and it must have been really high because she asked if I was stressed. And I wanted to just slap her. Or shake her or something. Was she serious?!
I just started to cry.
'No Doctor. I'm not stressed.'
She prescribed anti-depression meds for me.
‘Ummm...lady...I'm not depressed either! At least not yet.’
But to be fair, depression was coming. At that point though, it was exactly one week after I delivered you. Yes, depression was coming...but at that point, I wasn't stressed; I wasn't depressed, I was just grieving.
In just a few months, I had fallen completely, unconditionally in love with you...and in a moment, you were gone. I was holding you, and you took a breath. And in that moment, I was so proud of you! It was the one thing that they said you wouldn't do. Breathe. They said your lungs weren't strong enough. But you did it! All by yourself! And I don't know what parents feel for their children when they take their first steps... or when they make the winning soccer goal, or when they walk across the stage at graduation...but I'm telling you no parent was ever more proud than I was when you took that breath.
You tried to take another one. I could see that it was harder for you and I knew you were leaving me. And as hard as it was, it really was okay. You'd done enough to make me proud forever. Your life was beautiful, and you were surrounded by family and love, and I was with you for every single moment of it.
But then I had to live on, and I didn't know how.
I didn't know how to talk anymore. I didn't know what was appropriate to say. My words made people uncomfortable, because all I wanted to do was talk about you.
I knew you were real...but Baby girl, you have to understand. There were many people who know and love me who never saw you. Many of those people never even saw me pregnant. And even though I was now a mother, it was like I couldn't prove it. You weren't here with me to validate me.
So for the sake of the comfort of others, I refrained from talking about you too much. That made me want to avoid people, especially in public, social settings. I've never experienced anxiety before that, but if I didn't have a clear role or function in a group, I had no clue what to do. So, I would leave...and not leave an event or house... I would excuse myself and literally go hide in another room.
Then I started to feel crazy. I knew how I felt internally...I was a mother. But was I really? Where was my baby? 'If I'm really a mother, where's the child to prove it?!'
I would look at my body in the mirror. I was skinny...much smaller than the curvy, fit girl I was before I got pregnant. There was no way the girl looking back at me in the mirror had just had a baby. I remember when that dark line appeared down the middle of my belly when I was carrying you. In a way, I felt like it validated my motherhood. But it was gone just a week after you were...and I needed it. I needed a scar or something. You were gone and I was dealing with it, but I needed something, anything tangible to help me wrap my mind around what had happened.
I became afraid. Afraid that I would forget you. My mom, your grandmother, assured me that I wouldn't...but what did she know? The first day I went almost a full day without thinking about you, I was consumed with so much guilt. I swore I would never let a day go by without thoughts of you...
But again, you weren't here with me. So I felt insane. I couldn't talk about you without making people uncomfortable; I couldn't openly refer to myself as a mother, because that came with too many questions...questions that didn’t have a simple answer. Questions that people take for granted…
“Do you have kids?”
"…uh, yes? …no? … I don’t know…." (UGGGGGHHH!!!)
My brain just didn't know what to do with the confusion and darkness that had become my life.
I don't care what anyone says...insanity doesn't look like what people think. I battled with insanity for 2 years. Most people never knew it. People think it comes with a lot of outward expression, fits of rage, yelling, destruction of property, physical harm to self and others, but that wasn't my experience at all.
Insanity held me hostage. Like someone holding a gun to my head in my own home. I knew I was in danger, but if anyone came to visit me… Insanity told me to "just act natural" or it might kill me.
Only those closest to me, who really knew me could tell that something wasn’t right. And I'm thankful for that handful of people who could see the truth of my condition. They saw through the months, years of pretending, and rehearsed rhetoric and artificial smiles. They knew enough to pray for me, cover me, talk to professionals on my behalf, and allow me the space to be whatever I needed to be to heal.
Karis, I don't tell you these things to dwell on all that I've been through. I feel like I need to make that very clear. Otherwise, you might think that I'm blaming you for the difficulties and darkness of my life. On the contrary...the depths of my grief only validate the depths of my love for you.
People hear phrases like mental illness...words like anxiety and depression and think that they're ongoing conditions, like they're some kind of life sentence.
Oh, on the contrary...
I share these things to celebrate all that I've overcome. Who knew I was so strong???
I share these things to let you know that your life had more purpose than anyone could've ever dreamed of. It's still being revealed.
I speak of you with a pride that I cannot adequately describe or convey.
When I think of you, my heart now swells with gratitude...not grief.
I thank God that He trusted me with your life and your purpose. And I want you to know, it's still being revealed. You added inexplicable value to my life...and even the lives of others.
The family is well. You changed us all.
Your grandmother enjoys tending to your tree. Did I ever tell you that I planted a tree for you? I planted a tree for you. And it's beautiful. We call it "The Karis Tree". She has her own story and journey, but that's another letter for another time. Just know that she continues to grow tall, and she blooms when she feels like it. Something tells me that you would have behaved in exactly the same way. Last year she didn't bloom at all...this year she had the first blooms in the garden. I've learned to trust the timing that God has given her.
That tree brings me and my family such joy...as do you. Please know that, Baby. It's easy to focus on the grief and the depression and the insanity and the darkness. But that is not what defines my story. Or yours for that matter. The moral of this story is that God's light is greater than any darkness.
I am a better person, stronger woman, and a fierce overcomer all because of you! And no matter what I have experienced along the way, my story ends in joy.
Karis Alayna, my darling, you bring me joy!
With All My Love Forever,