On Silence, Fear, and Saying My Daughter's Name

photo walk 8/15/2012

Yesterday, I went to a support group.  One that I helped create, for women affected by the death of a baby before, during, and after birth.

I have to confess -- I was so nervous.  Nervous that I would be a disappointment, a let down.  Nervous that I would not find the courage or space to speak.  Nervous that I would not be liked, that I would find myself an outsider in this tender place where belonging feels essential.

Of course, I needn't have worried.  As one of the other founders pointed out, there is something about babyloss that turns strangers into sisters.  Sitting yesterday with those kindred women, sharing and receiving our stories -- it felt like coming home. 

But something struck me, as I listened.  I had not yet spoken, and could feel a familiar tension building in me.  Would I speak?  Would I tell the painful and ongoing story of Eve's death and my missing of her without editing myself? 

I realized as I sat and my heart cupped its hands to catch the words and tears that fell from each woman's soul -- I don't speak of my daughter, my sweet Eve who lived but never breathed.

I don't speak of my one and only daughter who lived and died and broke my soul open and changed my life.  

I write of her, and of my grief, but to say her name with my real voice in the physical world?  I seem incapable of speaking her name with a voice that does not tremble.

And the truth of that breaks my own heart. 

Why is it that when I try to speak of her, the words feel thick, as if my tongue moves through mud?  Why can I not say her name clear and strong with the courage that her death forced me to learn?

I realize that I am silencing myself not only here on the blog, but in life.

And I realize further -- I have always, always done this.

Because in my family, individual opinion and truth were not tolerated.  To speak your mind was to be punished, your soul crushed.  Because in my growing-up schools (and I am not alone in this, I'm sure), to be different was to mark yourself a pariah. 

So I learned to silence myself.  Because to be silent and not-punished, not-pariahed, was easier than speaking my mind and bringing the rage of those who should have known better down on my body.

And I never unlearned this, not when I left the unsafety of my hometown for college, and then grad school, where opinion was encouraged.  I never learned how to know my own thoughts, and how to express them.

Until this blog.  Until I discovered art.  Until my daughter died.

I have come a long way.  I realized this in church yesterday, breastfeeding my son as I listened to the preaching and the singing.  I realized that ten years ago I did not know how to feel, how to think for myself.  And writing like this, so raw and real?  It would not have been possible then.

God has set me down into so much freedom.

Freedom that I still tremble to use.

Why do I not say Eve's name?  Why do I hold back when strangers ask if my son is our first child, or when friends ask if I can see her in him?

For that matter, why do I not knot my hair up into the dreadlocks that my soul is crying for, symbols of the freedom and feminism that God is teaching me?  Why do I not ink my daughter's memory into my skin in the form of a flock of tiny birds winging their way across my shoulder?  Why did it take me so long to start whispering my dream of a local babyloss support group into being?

Why indeed.

Let me tell you something that I know to be true, friends, even though I do not live it as bravely as I would like -- it is so, so important for you to tell your messy, true, sacred story.  For me to tell mine.  Because our culture, it does not value the mess.  It tries to shut the uncomfortable away.  To paint life all roses.

But you and I both know that there's no such thing as a rosebush without thorns.

And so the world needs our stories, because there are not many willing to tell the truth that sometimes life is horribly painful and ugly.  Who are willing to say that it's okay to limp and stumble and fall and get up and fall again.  Because there are hurting people who need to know that it's okay to have dirt on your knees more days than not.  Because there are people who feel all alone in their tears and need to know that they're not the only ones who have cried, who cry still. 

So tell your story.  Please, tell it.

And as for me . . . I will speak my story, too.  Not only here, but with breath and sound.  I will say my daughter's name where I have been lying, even if my voice trembles.  Because there are people who need to know that it's okay to speak of the dead, to speak of hurt and of impossible hope and healing.  And I am the first of those.

When I speak, I speak to my own parched soul, cracked and sunburned from an overabundance of silence. 

I will tell the truth, and all of it.

Will you?  Why, or why not?

"In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
~ George Orwell

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