In the spring of 2006 I became pregnant with my first child. I was elated to discover the sweet pea growing inside of me was the daughter I had spent my childhood dreaming of. I named her Madeline, read stories to her in my belly and fell head over heels in love with her. I sailed through 40 weeks of beautiful, complication-free pregnancy and then- the unimaginable happened. Six days after my due date, Madeline died. I delivered her the next day, January 5, 2007. She had dark brown hair and big brown eyes. High cheekbones like me. Long, delicate fingers that wrapped around my own as I held her close, breathed in her sweet baby smell and cried. She was perfect, healthy and beautiful. We never found out why she died.
Madeline's death shook me to my very core. I had a difficult time returning to my life, because I had rearranged it for motherhood. Not only did I lose my daughter, I lost myself. My purpose. I was a mother with no child. I had quit my job to be a stay at home mom. I had transformed my art room into a nursery with sage green patchwork decor and teddy bears. And all the new friends I had made in prenatal yoga and birthing classes were tending to newborns now. I was lost and alone.
I filled the empty days of that winter by writing. I found it easier to fall asleep at night if I purged the emotions that were ricocheting around inside of me onto the pages of my journal. I wrote out my hurt, my anger, my devastation, my longing. My love. My hope. My deep, dark sadness. There were pages of angry scribbles and line after line of "I want her back I want her back I want her back I want her back." I wrote letters to Madeline. Love letters. Apologies. Poetry.
I painted a lot, too, and sculpted. Controlling the clay, when there was so little in life that I had control over, was refreshing. And painting allowed me to release those emotions that words are simply not able to express. There were so many nights during that first dark year without Madeline when I would sneak out of bed in the middle of the night, feeling suffocated by the silence of our baby-less home, to sit at a canvas and paint out all that I could not speak.
Out of these journal entries, poems, paintings and sculptures emerged an intimate portrait of a life after the death of a baby, and slowly it evolved into a book. That book, Still: a collection of honest artwork & writings from the heart of a grieving mother, was published in 2010 and quickly became a must read for parents who lost a child as well as the medical professionals who care for them.
I always had a love of writing, but never expected to become an author. Even as Still. was being created, I didn’t feel as though I was writing a book. It was my journal, my canvas. It was a way for me to express all that I could not say out loud. I decided to publish it in the hope that it would help break the silence of stillbirth. I wanted to give other bereaved parents something they could relate to, to help them feel less alone in their despair. I also wanted to offer a deeper understanding to those who haven’t experienced such a loss so that they would be better able to support those who have. There is such a stigma attached to stillbirth, nobody wants to talk about it, but this is a story that needs to be told. Nobody should have to suffer in silence. I want to begin a conversation that will ultimately allow other bereaved mothers to feel confident in speaking about the full truth of their motherhood.
To learn more about Stephanie Paige Cole, author of Still. and founder of the nonprofit organization Sweet Pea Project, please visit www.sweetpeaproject.org. Find your copy of Still. at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com or through Sweet Pea Project.