Monthly Archives: April 2015

Healing Companion

Healing Companion WEB400x800 Watermark

Healing Companion

It is almost a year since I met the artist, Sindy Lorraine Strosahl. She came to my house on April 30th, a rainy Wednesday, to deliver my painting, Healing Companion. I knew of Sindy through my midwife who had one of her paintings of a pregnant woman in her office. I fell in love with the vibrant colors and decided that I would like to have an image to commemorate my two pregnancies, especially since I was childless for 15 years in what feels like another lifetime.

When we received news of our daughter’s fatal condition, I messaged Sindy and told her. She meditated and connected to the soul of my unborn child and painted the image that you see here. When Sindy went to her car to get the painting, the torrential downpour stopped long enough for her to walk into my house. Healing Companion is a mixed-media collage. Sindy cut out pieces of the pages of a gardening book. I was so excited when I saw words in Mary Rose’s and my hair. My dress is fabric that she painted. The 3-D view of this image, with the ancestors as yellow orbs surrounding me, is so powerful that almost everyone who see the original walks away with tears in her eyes.

One painting. One mother. One child. Sometimes I feel like a grain of sand in a vast lineage of mothers whose children have died. Who am I to think that this should not have happened? Loss and death are all around us though we choose to ignore it much of the time. Sometimes babies die. Sometimes children die. Mary Rose lived and died. But that word, Companion, is so real. She is here with me. Her DNA is in my body. I think of her often throughout the day as I take care of my son, as I wash a cup or spend time outside watching my plants blossom. She is my companion and my heart center feels her soul is as alive as any of our souls.

Sindy, who also photographed Mary Rose’s birth and witnessed her brief life, is now a doula. Mary Rose changed my life she says. And she’s not the only one. Healing Companion has comforted many mothers. The print hangs in a birthing center in Michigan, the card is in an apartment in Romania. I like to think of a web connecting the mothers who gaze at this image remembering their children. And we are their mothers still. Some women do not birth living children. Some women do not have any living children. For many these challenging pregnancies are their first. I am honored that my request for this painting is helping others.

It has taken me some time to acknowledge that the pregnant woman in Healing Companion is strong and graceful, that perhaps I am strong and graceful as Sindy painted me. In the painting, I am perfectly centered and focused on my pregnancy and baby. I neither felt strong during my pregnancy nor did I feel graceful as I limped around in extreme back pain for the last weeks waiting for my baby girl, still or breathing. But sometimes I catch a glimpse of my resolve in the image, and sometimes I feel that perfect peace knowing that everything is as it should be. Mary Rose, at my side; my three-year old son holding my hand, leading me to his train tracks once again.

This morning I had a few messages from my friend, Isabel, whose brother and sister-in-law are in labor today. Their daughter, Grace Miriam, has many challenges and may not live long. I lit two candles for this baby today and cried remembering Mary Rose’s birth in a pool under Healing Companion. Did I mention that Sindy was trying to paint an androgynous, adult angel, but the image that emerged persisted? Mary Rose looked like that angel, so much like her father. I hope that Grace Miriam’s life is a blessing for all those who encounter her. Her parents are courageous and loving. They are waiting to embrace her, no matter what she looks like, no matter what her condition.

And at the end of our lives, what will we remember? Not what we ate today or what show we watched, or who we did or didn’t call, but that endless and boundless love that flows from our Creator, the love that lives in each of us with potential to grow and bear much fruit throughout our days, whether they are few or many.

(Prints and cards can be purchased through the link on the Resources page of this blog. And no, I do not profit financially from any of these sales.)

My Daughter, My Angel

IMG_9851My angel grew inside me until my womb swelled and my body opened. Then she surrounded me with wings and love. My daughter, Mary Rose, lived one sacred hour. I held her in my arms and had to let her go.

Why am I still here a month later when my body is heavy with grief and milk? How do I answer the question “How many children do you have?” Dead babies and miscarriages are taboo in our society where positive thinking cures all. But this angel…

Her energy is with me. I carry my daughter in my heart.

Mary Rose’s portrait was painted months ago. In the painting I hold my pregnant belly and the angel holds me from behind. Her wings are my sanctuary. Prints of Healing Companion comfort mothers with infant losses.  Now I write to heal myself and others. We women need each other to survive and bless this planet-in-transition. We are standing on stepping stones to higher consciousness. My heart is shattered and open. I will not hide my third-eye sight and intuition any more.

Mary Rose, bless us. Thank you for sending roses and feathers as you illuminate our path.

Dianna Vagianos Armentrout

published in 365 Days of Angel Prayers edited by Elizabeth Harper and Cathleen O’Connor
© 2014

Spring

It is April and cold in New York where I visited with my dear friend, Rachel. We met in high school in New City, she from Brooklyn and I from Queens. We had not seen each other in well over a year, maybe a year and a half and it has been a blur, a long blur between that first ultrasound last spring revealing my baby’s genetic defects and here, now, eight months after my daughter’s death. It is springtime, though the leaves are still mostly bare. I went to Rachel’s parents’ house as I had dozens of times in the years of our friendship, even going to the finished basement today where we had watched movies and hung out as teenagers and young adults. I saw her two beautiful sons, and her sweet husband. I think that Rachel wouldn’t mind if I said that we are late bloomers, coming to our fulfilling married lives later, in our late thirties and early forties.

When I told Rachel that I was going to launch this blog to support mothers searching for something in the middle of the night to comfort them, she called me “Brave.” I don’t feel brave, but I am going to overcome my fear of technology (I just got an iPhone this week) and set up a Twitter account and do this to honor my daughter’s life, and to offer some words to someone out there who has just heard these words: “trisomy 18” or “trisomy 13” or many other “diagnoses” that aren’t exactly diagnoses.

In March of 2014 it felt as if I was thrown into another galaxy of new language, fatally ill unborn children, neonatologists, pediatric hospice, funerals for tiny babies. As with most things, there was no map, there were no directions as to the next steps. I didn’t know how to maneuver and negotiate this rocky terrain while the pregnancy hormones surged and my body prepared to nurse and nurture its baby.

I couldn’t sleep so I would look things up on Google. As an academic I can’t call this research, but it was a way of finding information. I was looking for someone to comfort me, to say something reasonable or poetic, to tell me that I would be okay, that my baby would be okay, that my marriage and family would survive this. I found blogs about Jesus and faith and asking for miracles. I found photos of newborn funerals. I even found a new virtual friend, Lakshmi, who birthed her son in April of 2014. He lived a few days. What I didn’t find was a beautiful essay or a friendly perspective on the choices I had to make such as life support or no life support for a newborn.

So here, Dear Reader, I wish you weren’t reading my words. I wish you didn’t know this pain, this path, but I have traveled across this river rowing my boat mostly alone, guided by the love soaring out of my heart for this unborn child. I carried my daughter to term, even though I am pro-choice politically, dealing with people’s words, some comforting, but many hurtful or anxiety- provoking. I go to a church where my daughter is hardly acknowledged. My mother’s family barely acknowledged my pregnancy or my daughter’s life. My husband pulled away from me and my body during the pregnancy and post-partum period because he was trying to protect himself from inevitable pain. It hurts. It stinks. There is no easy way around this. I walked through each step allowing myself to feel and process my emotions moment by moment. I thought I would lose my mind. I thought I would die from my grief. I worried about my two-year old son who would not get to have his sister for long.

We are all still here. In our grief we walk forward, and though I walked much of this path alone, I had enormous support. There are some amazing people who surrounded me, prayed for me, loved me, blessed me. I have an incredible therapist who gave me tough love and compassion, who sent emails at all hours of the night to help me process my soul contract with my daughter. I found Isaiah’s Promise, an amazing non-profit that supports parents choosing to carry fatally-ill children to term. They sent blankets and gifts for Mary Rose. The only things she used in her one hour of life were two blankets from those sweet volunteers. I had an amazing midwife and doula, and even a birth artist, walk this path with me and surround me with unconditional love as I maneuvered through the medical system to find the right place to birth, the right way to hold the sacred space that was Mary Rose. I hope that every woman going through such a traumatic pregnancy has people to support and love her through the pregnancy and grieving process.

My Facebook feed today has pictures of siblings because it is National Sibling Day. There are beautiful living babies, and there are beautiful babies who died of trisomy 18, two friends have three trisomy babies. I love the living babies even though seeing their faces still stings just a little bit. I love the healthy unborn daughter of our friends. And I love the angel babies who are present with us in a different form, from another dimension, our children still.

I told my friend, Rachel, about the pain, about society’s inability to honor death, to stay in the space of death and to hold us, the bereaved parents. I will hold that space for your dying babies, and for your grief as you walk this path, and together we can transmute this pain into healing energy as Sandra Ingerman has taught us. Together we can embrace the lives of our children and their deaths as we make our society more friendly to infant losses, because we all need friends. Not just far-away abstract prayers, but hugs, kisses, cards, flowers, tissue boxes and moments of shared tears.

It is my intention that this blog be a space of healing for you, as it is for me. I honor my Mary Rose, my pregnancy, my path, and I honor your loved ones too. This springtime I don’t feel mocked as I did last year when I knew my baby would die. The daffodils and crocuses are popping up and I too am bearing fruit. My daughter’s life counts among my children. I have two children, one on Earth and one on the other side of the veil, and I am blessed.

April 10, 2015