“I want a photographer here, ” I told my doula.
Reece was finally pushed from my body at 11:36PM. The photographer doula and another doula specializing in bereavement and loss showed up.The team was part of an organization called HEALing (Helping Everyone After Loss) Embrace. It was newly formed by two moms who knew loss way too well. There are 600 pictures of his whole life and death and they exist at all because of HEALing Embrace.
In the following days, my arms would inexplicably ache as though I was carrying heavy weights all day. A friend at Reece’s visitation told me they ache from the emptiness. Yes. My body had gone through the transformation from pregnant to post-partum without any of the snuggling and nursing and holding. My monkey brain was deeply confused by the lack of weight. You cannot deny nature its mark, and it knows no logic, only instinct. The emptiness was so deep and so sour.
Just days from the one month mark of Reece’s birth, HEALing Embrace would step quickly and quietly back into my life. What I thought would be a simple follow up visit would change the course of our healing forever. For everyone.
This is Reece bear. He weighs 4 pounds, 15 ounces, just the same as the real Reece. When he was handed to me from his basket, I felt the air escape me in a long-held breath. My arms relaxed. He was the perfect weight. I held him for many minutes before my oldest son wanted a turn. When I handed him off, I gasped at the lack of support for the head. The instinct is that strong. I had to remind myself that Reece bear wasn’t a real baby.
As our broken hearts scabbed over, we used Reece bear for all the hardest moments. My oldest son talked to him and tickled him like a real baby.
We dressed Reece bear in the one outfit that was bought just for Reece by a dear friend, an Indian motorcycle onesie. When my due date came, December 22nd, and my heart and head knew I should be busy with a baby by now, we got out all the baby stuff. Remember, we lost a baby at 34 weeks. We have a whole room full of diapers and clothes, car seat and bases, a bouncey chair, toys, bedding, and my baby carrier, the Ergo sport. I decided if I couldn’t use this stuff for months on end with a real baby, I would allow myself one day of break from reality and use it with Reece bear for one day. December 22nd, 2015.
Instead of crying every time I touched the baby stuff, I could smile while setting it up.
That day I went to grief counseling, I packed Reece bear in his car seat like a real baby, covered him using the cold weather cover we bought for Reece, and took him with me, securely fastened into the car. My therapist loved Reece bear.
“Oh, he is awesome. I wish these had been thought of when I was experiencing the loss of my Simon,” she said as she cradled Reece bear in her arms.
I took Reece bear with me to my last midwife appointment. No, I didn’t strap him into the carseat that time. He rode shotgun instead. I passed him around to the nurses who cooed over him and went bug-eyed at his true weight. My midwife who delivered Reece almost dropped Reece bear because she was not expecting weight in something so fluffy.
Reece bear was such a gift to our family as we went through the motions of grieving our baby. (If you don’t hear from me after this it’s because I posted this photo.)
Daddies have empty arms, too.
It didn’t take long before the boys played with Reece bear too hard and he sprung a leak. Big Brothers aren’t always so good at being gentle.
Reece bear helps us hold a place for Reece when we would otherwise be unable. When our dear friends came for a visit and I wanted all our hooligans lined up in age order on the couch, it was my friend who said, “We need Reece bear!”I was struck with tears at her insistence that he was part of the group.
It is a store-bought bear full of 5 pounds of rice. Polyester fluff and two black beads for eyes. I know that logically. But grief defies logic. It overrides sensible. It drives the heart. Without the gift of this bear, we would have not have recognized our grief as often. Instead of constant grey, we experienced small bits of sunshine. I can now touch some of the baby stuff without overwhelming feelings. Like my Ergo baby carier. I wore Reece bear in the infant insert for an hour on day.
Reece bear allows us to hold Reece’s place in our family. He fills the physical hole that has been left behind. The bear isn’t real, but the boy was. Reece bear helps me throough those moments when I come across a set of newborn diapers and know I won’t use them. So I diaper a bear. He will take his place in our double stroller when we use it at the zoo so that spot doesn’t have to be empty.
I knew the power of these weighted bears so when a friend cried out that her arms were aching from the emptiness, I contacted HEALing Embrace. I was surprised I wasn’t told that they only handle local families. Nathan bear was shipped all the way to Washington state and holds baby Nathan’s spot. My friend contacted HEALing Embrace and ordered a bear for her friend. There is now an Allie bear holding another precious baby’s spot.
Since then more bears for more grieving families have been made. My heart will forever be grateful for them and the work being done. Healing is truly happening.
HEALing Embrace is doing amazing work for families who have lost babies. Bears are only one facet, but they don’t get made for free. If you would like to know more about this organization and help to make more bears for more families possible, click below.