Trigger Warning: This post contains discussion of miscarriage and pregnancy loss.
Written By: Nicole Gabor
Tethered: The Daughter I Lost is Always with Me
In the days that followed the loss of my daughter Madeleine Jean at 20 weeks, I would creep into the bathroom in the middle of the night and fall to the floor. In an attempt to stifle my sobs – so as not to wake my sleeping husband and children – I would erupt in a guttural, aching moan so foreign to my ears that I can only describe it as … primal.
As I lay there on the bare floor, praying to a God who I was yet to truly believe in, I begged for her safety. Let her be safe. Let her be loved. Let her be cared for, wherever she is.
Of course, I knew exactly where she was. Her remains sat on a shelf in a little pewter urn her father picked out at the funeral parlor while I lay, swollen-eyed and stone-faced, in an empty hospital room. The front of the urn had three doves in flight.
And yet, my helicopter-parent brain could still not grasp the concept of where, exactly, Madeleine was. Because losing a child, a person who has just come OUT OF YOUR BODY, someone who was a part of your flesh, who sprang from your loins, tethered to you for weeks, months — who days earlier had tap, tap, tapped you in the staff meeting or pick-up line at school — and who suddenly (with little warning to us!) escaped from this earth and into the ether. Well, that was too hard to accept.
So I prayed and waited for a sign. Why kind of sign? I was new to believing in the idea of an afterlife, a soul, a spirit, but I had to do it. I needed to believe to survive. The thought that Madeleine no longer existed in any realm was not an option moving forward. So I would believe in any bible verse, fairytale, or soloquy that promised life after death.
I told myself that even though we were apart in the physical world, we were still connected – still “tethered” —heart-to-heart, by a tiny pink string. Imagine one of those dog leashes with a never-ending lead. Sort of like that. So that wherever she went in heaven (or the alternate universe of your choosing) and wherever I went on earth, we were always connected. I would visualize this connection whenever my arms ached and I doubled over in grief.
Three months into this dark journey, it came. My sign came. More than a sign, it was like a Times Square-sized billboard flashing quick enough to illicit a grand mal seizure.
Valentine’s Day 2016. Madeleine’s due date. My husband and I had just returned home from a weekend get-away my “loss” friend suggested would be the best thing to do, to get my mind off of the significance of the day. My mother-in-law had been watching our boys for the night. Just before leaving, she pulled me into the kitchen to tell me that she’d seen a distant cousin at a funeral days earlier.
This cousin hadn’t known about my pregnancy or my loss. She wasn’t a family member whom we saw regularly; in fact, I’d only met her once before. My mother-in-law told her about losing a granddaughter. The woman asked a lot of questions. In fact, she kept asking them throughout the service.
Later that night, urged by her mother and sister, the woman called my mother-in-law. She told her she had seen a medium months earlier. She hadn’t really believed in psychic abilities, but went along with it because she was out with friends. The psychic told her that there had been a baby girl in her family who passed away. The baby’s initials were M. J. – Madeleine Jean. She said an older woman named Ann – my husband’s grandmother who had just died in the same year – was holding her. Ann wanted us to know that the baby was safe, cared for, and loved. She was holding a pink ribbon.
There are definitive times, life-changing moments, in a person’s life that mark the before and after. This was my moment – the balm my heart, my soul needed to move on. I knew, without a doubt, that this message was meant for me.
After this, little by little, I began to pull myself out of the abyss that had swallowed me whole. I knew that she was there. I was here. And that I still had work to do — why else would I be left behind? My new purpose was finding out what that was.
I began to question reality as I knew it and cultivate a spiritual life – reading everything from bible scripture and the writings of C.S. Lewis to the controversial theologian Emmanuel Swedenborg and atheist-turned-believer Anthony Flew. My hunger for knowledge of the afterlife – Madeleine’s new home – was insatiable. I wanted to know what any parent wants to know: What is it like? Who is she with? How will her spirit grow?
I continued to envision that pink string – or ribbon – that led from my heart to hers. One that her great-grandmother held rippling in the wind.
The more I spoke to her, the more I believe she spoke back. Those who believe say that spirits are there for us whenever we think of them. When I asked for a sign, needed strength, support, or just to believe, I got it.
First, it came in moments of divine serendipity, like the message I received on her due date. Then, one night as my husband and I spoke of her in the darkness of our bedroom, we saw a light – round and bright – like a halo above my head.
These days, Madeleine comes to me on hot days when I see dragonflies. Dragonflies, I’ve since discovered, have deep spiritual meaning in many cultures. When they are near, I know she is not far.
And so, this is how I know my daughter will always be with her father and me. Even when our earth-bound babies leave us one day to go off to college, or to move to another city or state, our angel baby will always be right where we are. All we need do is call her name, and she is there.
We are forever tethered.
Nicole Nader Gabor is a published author of children’s literature and an award-winning health writer and editor.
As an author, Nicole has published numerous picture books and early readers for children learning English. Her YA novel, Catwalk, has been featured on Wattpad.com with nearly 140,000K reads.
Nicole is an editor at KidsHealth.org, the Web’s #1 most-visited site for children’s health. Her health, lifestyle, and medical articles have appeared in Prevention, USA Today, SproutOnline.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer, book chapters, and hundreds of health and wellness newsletters.
Nicole lives in Delaware with husband Eric, sons Sebastian and Christian, and rainbow baby Audrey Grace.