By Sara Langford
On February 24, 2015, I walked into an ordinary midwife appointment, expecting to breeze through as we had for the previous nine months. My husband and I were excitedly preparing for our first child, who was due to arrive in just a couple short weeks. The nursery was painted and full, the pregnancy was blissfully complication-free, and we felt like we were on cloud nine, just waiting for our sweet boy to join us. In an instant, it felt like all of our joy had been stolen away, with the quiet words, “I can’t find his heartbeat.”
I remember becoming hysterical and staring at the monitor where our baby laid still, his heart no longer beating, his legs no longer kicking me in the rib. The image of his tiny body, unmoving, remains burned in my mind’s eye forever. Going to the hospital, I kept asking everyone, “What do I do? How do I get through this?” Over and over I heard, “You take it one day at a time.” I nodded, but my mind was still spinning. My world had shifted into such a dark space, and despite everyone’s reassurance, I couldn’t see the end of pain or grief.
The days immediately following the birth of Emmett Austin Langford were some of the worst days of my life. Reality sank in deeper daily, and I found myself aching in ways I didn’t know possible. I spent countless hours lying in bed, with my husband’s arms around me, and we wept together. Each day I wondered what I was going to do, and how I was supposed to face the next day.
One of my biggest fears when Emmett died was that I would never feel alive again. It truly felt like my heart stopped with his, and I wrestled (still do sometimes, if I’m honest), with feeling angry and empty. I found it difficult to smile, or laugh at anything. I went to church and spent time at home, withdrawing from the majority of my friends and family. Within a few weeks, I felt as if I was going to burst. I had so much pent up frustration and sadness, so I turned to writing. I began a blog, and I would retreat there with my thoughts, rambling on nearly everyday. Slowly, I began to feel again.
I found great comfort in sharing the many thoughts tumbling around in my mind. As the days and weeks passed, I found myself turning and clinging to my faith. Slowly, I began to feel the dead parts of my heart coming alive again. I know not everyone believes the same things that I do, but I truly believe it is God who brought me back to life. I find Him again and again, mostly in small moments, that to a passerby may seem insignificant, but for me, they are small reminders that He is still there with me. I hold onto the hope that Emmett is in Heaven, and it gives me true joy when I think about seeing his sweet face again. That’s not to say there aren’t bad days, because those do happen. I don’t think it’s possible to know your own child and not be permanently marked by their existence.
Since he passed, I’ve found myself stepping out into a freeing reality of loving others, and living in the fullest way possible. Having, then losing Emmett has taught me what it means to love without condition, and without restraint. I fight the daily temptation to pull back, and hide within grief, and instead focus on the sweet presence of my son. Sometimes I consider diving headfirst into grief, but somehow the light always pulls me back. I can’t fully explain it beyond saying God has carried me and given me strength. In knowing the worst pain imaginable, I’ve learned to love, and for that, I am so grateful.
In an effort to keep Emmett’s memory alive, I have embarked on a beautiful journey. I continue to write. I’m also in the process of putting together a nonprofit organization in his name, to provide resources for hospitals, grieving families, and so on. (It’s a big dream.) Currently, I’m enrolled in a doula certification program that focuses on support through pregnancy, regardless of complications, and focusing on pregnancy loss. My hope is that I could partner with the hurting ones, the ones who have been unfairly marked by loss.
I don’t share these things as a way of saying, “Look how awesome I am!” I share these things because I want others to see what can happen when you allow your brokenness to shape your character. Something as traumatic as losing a child changes you; there is no doubt about that. Coming alive happens when we choose to grow, as painful as it can be. My husband and I will always love our son, and we will ache for him until we are reunited. In the meantime, we choose to keep moving forward. Each day we wake up and decide to keep going. Bad days happen, sadness comes and goes, but there is always the possibility of rediscovering joy after heartache. Nothing can ever replace our son, but we can take our experience of loss, and decide how it will affect our lives. We choose to see the gift in loss.
Knowing and losing our son has given us the ability to love deeper, so that is what we try to do. We choose to love generously, and we choose joy. We choose to live, not recklessly, but fully, knowing life is so short. Mostly though, we choose to remember the sweetness of our son, and we remember how he taught us to love.
Sara Langford is a follower of Jesus, wife to Ryan, and mama to two babies, Emmett and Ella. She writes at Grace In Chaos, a blog about how she navigates life after the loss of her son. Find her on Facebook or on Instagram.