Empty Arms Bereavement

Is the Time Before Your Baby Died a Bittersweet Memory?

Healing a Heart
By Sara Barry

The sun was bright in my face, the soil warm and soft beneath my bare feet. My belly balanced on my thighs as I leaned forward to pick up a clump of dirt. As I shook soil from the roots of weeds, the memory came as it does each year.

Planting holds muscle memory for me. Each year as I prep the soil to plant the earliest seeds, I remember May 2007, when my belly full of life balanced on my thighs, when leaning forward was a little harder. My neighbor did the hard work that year of digging and turning the soil with a shovel. I squatted and broke up the clumps with fingers and hand tools, tossing the weeds into a wheel barrow.


This year, like the last  eight, I remember that hopeful me, planting seeds for a garden I wasn’t sure I’d tend (I was going to be busy with a new baby after all). I remember that hopeful me waiting for new life, both a fuzz of green sprouts and the baby I had known for nine months but had yet to meet.

For the past eight years, the smell of freshly turned soil, the feel of dirt underfoot, the shaking and tapping of root-bound clods of earth brought me back to those last weeks before Henry was born. I’d remember the hope, the anticipation, the expectation—and how much went unfulfilled. What do you do with hope that gets stunted like that?

The earliest prep work in the garden with all it’s connected hope became one of the strings of bittersweet memories that followed me through the years.

But this year, as I bent my face away from the sun, clearing away weeds earlier than ever before, that muscle memory came back to me. But I stayed in that moment where I was squatting and leaning over my big belly. I stayed in that place of hope and expectation that all would be OK, and I realized what a gift this memory is. That moment is not tangled with beeping monitors at the hospital or the anxiety of waiting for surgery. It isn’t a moment of joy and love wound tight with fear. It’s love. It’s hope. That’s it.

Sometimes, I get tired of telling my story. I feel like I’ve felt it all, said it all before too many times. And then something new catches me. A new memory, a new angle, a new understanding. My beautiful, loving hope is as real as the grief that came after. They are connected in a way that can’t be severed, but I can sit with that hope and the love that surrounded it. I have sat with the grief, with the what ifs, with the won’t ever bes. I can sit with the before, the possibility, the pure hope and delight. I can sit and hold that memory too.


It took me a long time to see the gift in this spring ritual memory. For years it was a reminder of what I had hoped for—expected even—that didn’t happen, not the reminder of that place of love and joy and hope.

Have you been able to get back to that place, to cherish those memories, or is it too hard, your memories too tangled? What action triggers your memories most?


1 thought on “Is the Time Before Your Baby Died a Bittersweet Memory?”

  1. Carol McMurrich

    Oh, boy. Do I agree with this. It’s so hard to wrap yourself around the sweet, when the bitter colors everything. It’s hard to remember that I was blissfully, beautifully happy and in love for my whole pregnancy. But I was, and that memory, when I can get to it, is a gift.

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