October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Last weekend in Frazier Park by Our Children’s Memorial Walkway, Levine Children’s Hospital held its annual butterfly release for babies who were lost in the neonatal intensive care nursery. Smarty Guest Blogger Kelly Burton was one of several speakers during the ceremony and provided the following words about her personal experience of losing her first baby and how it continues to affect her today.
My story begins in January 2008 when my husband, Anthony, and I lost our first child, a son named Liam. Up until that point, I was having a healthy, normal pregnancy. But at 34 weeks, I was being told in a hospital that the reason I wasn’t feeling my baby move anymore was because his heart had stopped beating. That horrible realization was followed by me being induced, going through labor and then delivering my baby.
The doctors believe that a cord accident was to blame for his death, as it was wrapped tightly around his neck at birth and all of our tests and his autopsy came back normal. Put simply, we were hit with a random, sudden and unforeseeable accident. We fell into one of those awful tiny percentages you never think you will be a part of…less than 1% of pregnancies end in stillbirth. Yet that’s where we found ourselves. I knew no one who had been through this, and I felt completely alone. I had never before experienced tragedy firsthand, and I was quickly learning what it felt like as we had to go through the motions of leaving the hospital without Liam, selecting a casket and gravesite for him, holding a funeral service, and then trying to figure out how to carry on with our lives beyond those painfully sad moments.
It has now been nearly 7 years since that day, and at this point in my grief journey, I like to spend more time thinking about what we have gained from this experience rather than what we have lost. I called my segment here today “Lessons from Liam” because I’d like to share with you four valuable lessons that Liam has taught me, from his short life growing inside of me and through his death.
Lesson #1: THERE IS ALWAYS ROOM FOR HOPE. For a period of time, I felt stuck in a dark place of despair and hopelessness. However, the love and support of our friends and family as well as our support group at KinderMourn helped us put many of the pieces back together again. We haven’t moved on – we have just learned to integrate Liam into our lives in a whole different way. And with time, we were able to build up our courage to look forward to the future and try again. As a result, we now have two beautiful twin daughters, Abbie and Lily, who just turned five years old and are here today. We can always hope that the next hour, the next day, the next month, will feel a little easier, a little lighter, a little better. Despite our sufferings, good things can and will happen in this world.
Lesson #2: REACH OUT TO OTHERS. Before Liam, I was like so many other people who just don’t know what to say or do or how to be there for someone who is grieving. I now believe that it is always better to say something or to do something rather than do nothing. And that something can be as simple as an email or a card that says “I’m sorry”. To acknowledge one’s loss and to let them know you are here to help speaks volumes. My friends and family know I’m more than happy to be a resource to other moms that have gone through similar losses. Because of Liam, I have connected with other parents in various parts of the country – mostly to just be a listener and bear witness to their own stories. But also to lend words of encouragement and support during their most difficult days. Everyone here today knows best how to be empathetic and compassionate because you know personally how comforting it was when others reached out to you.
Lesson #3: LIVE FOR THE MOMENT. This one sounds cliché, but Liam taught me to never take anything for granted. I was always a perfectionist, a hard worker, a planner. But my biggest plan of all, to be Liam’s mother, was changed in a way I never thought possible. I had no control of the situation and I had to learn to LET GO. It was hard and I’m far from perfect today. But he has taught me to be a more giving, more patient, and more loving mother. Every single day I hug my husband and my girls and tell them how much I love them. Because I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But what I do know is we should try to live in the moment more often and have more dance parties in our PJs, like the one we had last night before Abbie and Lily went to bed.
Lesson #4: FIND YOUR PASSION. I’ve often heard that adversity can bring out the best in people. I don’t know just how valid this statement is, but I know for me, that Liam put me on a search to find a new passion in life. And I have found that purpose in giving back to KinderMourn, the place that helped us find our footing again in the months following Liam’s death. We have been able to raise thousands of dollars for KinderMourn as Team Liam has won at the annual Duck Race two years in a row now. I hope we can keep on growing next year and hope that many of you can attend in April. I also enjoy representing KinderMourn through testimonial speeches, especially as a participant on parent panels for new residents at Levine who are learning how to deal with parents who have lost children. For my husband, his passion is in coaching baseball, and I am proud of the way he devotes his time and energy to motivating and teaching kids to not only be better players on the field, but also how to step up and be leaders in the game of life. Through directing our energy into a positive purpose, we can make a difference in Liam’s name. I feel this is the best way we can honor him. I see so many examples here in town of the legacies that children are leaving behind because they have propelled their parents to do something for the greater good.
Thank you for letting me share a little bit about Liam and the impact he has had on me today. My heart especially goes out to those who are here for the first time, or who are still in the first year of their loss. It’s really hard to get through those important dates and holidays; but I hope that with more time, you find more peace and can rediscover joy.
About our Guest Blogger: Kelly is a busy working mommy who enjoys juggling early morning workouts, an exciting career at Babson Capital and spending as much time as possible with her smart and funny twin daughters, Abbie and Lily. The girls just turned 5 years old and are getting ready to enter the real world of kindergarten next year. She’s been married to her husband, Anthony, for 12 years but started dating way back in 1997 after meeting at an Alpha Chi Omega (UNC-Chapel Hill) Hayride! With four grandparents always willing to pitch in and Rosie (the best nanny on the planet) helping her 5 days a week, she feels that she truly has a village raising her girls. And that village is thankfully happy to step in to let Mom and Dad get a break when she and Anthony need it!
Thank you so much to Kelly for sharing your story of loss, love, and hope with Smarty Charlotte!