this is motherhood {too}: Lisa’s story

July 25, 2018, This is Motherhood Too, 1 Comment

A short while ago, I took my two younger daughters to a playground, where I met another mother who was there with her three children. We hadn’t met before but we chatted easily about our kids and parenting. She mentioned how busy she is with three little ones and commented on my luck for only having to worry about two. It was a lighthearted joke, and nothing more. But her casual words stung my most tender wound. And I had to pause.

Actually I have three children, I thought. My eldest died when she was four. She’s with me; you just can’t see her. 

When I dreamed of becoming a mother, I believed life would be a mostly linear progression of love, happiness and milestones. The reality turned out quite different than what my younger self imagined. My real-life version is gritty and complicated. Despite the awfulness and tragedy of my daughter’s death, my life as a mother is still full and rich. Motherhood has become about letting go of how I thought things would be and embracing and finding joy in what is.

My eldest child, Mila, was born with congenital heart disease. During a routine 20-week ultrasound we discovered that the structure of her heart and possibly the arteries around it had not developed normally. It was my first pregnancy and when I left the appointment, I sat on a bench outside and cried.

Mila arrived on her due date. At two days old, she had emergency heart surgery. For her first month of life, my husband and I lived at the hospital while she recovered. The care she required was complex and my anxiety over her health was scarier than expected. But she was with me and I was so in love with her that any thoughts of wishing things were different simply fell away.

At six months old Mila underwent her second heart surgery. She recovered quickly and was discharged four days later. We could not leave the hospital fast enough. Our baby was well and there was so much we wanted to see and do with her. We started small and expanded our adventures as she got bigger and we felt braver. We ate out as a family, visited friends, traveled, and enrolled in preschool. When Mila turned three we welcomed a second baby, a little sister. Our life was full, and I felt a sense of contentment and gratitude beyond anything I had ever known.

At age four Mila underwent her third and final heart surgery. The day before her procedure we were nervous yet filled with hope and optimism for her future. But in a flash, life turned on its head; sixteen hours after her surgery, while recovering in the ICU, Mila suffered an unexpected and devastating cardiac arrest.

The shock and horror of that instant found me slumped against a wall in the hallway of the hospital and I sagged to the floor. As her mother, I could not save her or control her outcome. My heart split wide open and part of me departed this world with her. My grief was wild, loud and painful; something precious had been ripped away from me. I can’t do this. I want my daughter. How do I live the rest of my life without her? At times my deep sadness also felt quiet, tender, and mine alone. How do you mother a child who is no longer with you? 

In the aftermath of Mila’s death I sunk into my sorrow. I have never felt so exhausted. My entire field of vision was filled with grief and all I could see was heartache on the horizon. It was impossible to imagine that my life could ever grow larger than the darkness. One month after Mila died, my second baby started to talk, and said, “Mila”. This was one of many moments when joy and grief walked side by side. Another was when I was pregnant with our third baby girl and I sobbed every night for all that we had lost.

I was scared to embrace my new life without Mila. It took time before I felt ready to engage with the world again. Ever so slowly, the broken parts of me somewhat mended and began to re-emerge. I started attending a support group for bereaved parents; I said yes to social invitations; I opened myself up to new friendships. And when my third daughter held up a photo of her big sisters and asked why there were no photos of her with Mila, I told her gently but with certainty, “You weren’t born yet my love, that photo was taken when Mila was alive and you were still a light that lived inside my heart”.

And in those words I heard my truth; my grief remained, yet my life had grown larger.

There was more than heartache ahead.

It’s been almost six years since Mila died and my mama heart still aches for her. I miss my relationship with Mila and how I felt when she was alive. As I learn to navigate life without her, my sadness is still there, I just carry it differently. I can now feel and find the lightness in moments and allow joy to emerge in the present.

My grief is largely invisible; the world sees my two daughters, yet does not know I have a third. Everyday, I raise my living children and remember Mila. I weave a story of love for all three of my girls and find beauty in the broken parts. As my motherhood continues to unfold, I do too.

By Lisa Lalsingh

Photos by Katie Cross Photography. Clothing provided by June Isle Clothier.

1 Comment

  • Reply Chris Sanderson August 11, 2018 at 3:58 PM

    This is beautiful, I admire you, and am honoured to have had the opportunity to experience the Love that you share with Mila. Thank you, sincerely.

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