The Curious Problem of Hoarding When Parenting After Loss

By | 2018-04-10T19:23:11+00:00 April 11th, 2018|Parenting After Loss|0 Comments

Memories. After a person dies, that’s all you have left.

But what sort of memories do you have after your baby died during pregnancy?

After Lily died, I spent a good portion of my time affirming her existence in the world. In my world. I created a folder in my email to save all correspondence that related to her. I saved appointment cards from the doctor’s office. I applied for the certificate of birth resulting in a stillbirth available in my home state. I dried flowers people sent to us. I saved every sympathy card and note.

When you lose a baby in pregnancy, the aftermath can make you feel like you made the whole thing up. Like the baby didn’t really happen. These mementos were proof I didn’t.  She was real. She was an important part of my life.

I regretted not taking more belly shots while I was pregnant with her. I took exactly one. It wasn’t even a side view so unless I tell you, you wouldn’t know I was even pregnant with her. I didn’t keep a pregnancy journal though I had one. These are the things I came to regret after her death.  Why didn’t I catalog everything about her pregnancy? Why didn’t I take more pictures?

This past weekend I traveled for work and while on the plane I went through all the photos on my phone – deleting ones like plates of food from fabulous restaurants I ate at while away; photos I didn’t really need to keep.  But I found myself refusing to delete pictures of my kids. Even if I had five or more pictures of the same shot.  Their faces were slightly different in all of them, so how could I choose? It was equally hard to delete the pictures the kids had taken like a burst of 100 pictures of their toes.

I didn’t have to wonder why I was hoarding all these pictures. I knew exactly why.

If one of them dies, these will be all I have left of them.

I take an insane number of pictures of my kids. It’s not all related to the incredible ease of being able to take daily pictures of them although that certainly helps. I will want to remember all of them – from their faces to the back of their knees to their ears to their toes. So, I didn’t delete the picture of my youngest who refused to smile for the camera, and in fact turned around entirely so I couldn’t see him. But now I have a picture of the back of his body. With his cute little bedhead hair, the curve of his back, and the memory of how he would kneel and tuck his small feet under his bottom.

Hoarding photographs

It’s not just pictures either.

I have boxes that have cards we received after their births, first birthday cards, wrapping paper from that first birthday, deflated balloons from that party, and first drawings even though they’re either so light you can barely see them because the baby didn’t have good pencil grip, or if they’re just dots, or even though they’re just scribbles. I have hospital bracelets – mine and theirs, the card that indicated I got a shot for the Rh factor, his baby socks from an ER trip, a matchbox car that he carried around all day every day for months and months, and her favorite sundress. And more…

Now that my oldest living child is in school, I find it very hard to get rid of his school work. He comes home with piles and piles of art work, work sheets for math, practice sheets for writing, and he makes his own books. He rarely finishes the books he writes, but it’s really hard for me to part with them. I see this problem only growing as my other two enter school.

I have heard of “grief hoarding” meaning when a loved one dies, and you bring all their belongings home in an attempt to stretch their memory.

But what is it called when you’re holding on to things just in case they die?

I am figuring out how to sort through all the things I’d like to keep, but really don’t need to. I remind myself to live in the moment. My memory will serve me just as well as the tangible items I’ve put in memory boxes for my living children. I’m trying to keep the faith that my kids will be here for a long, long time. At some point, the fear of losing them too will dissipate, right? And with it the tendency to hoard everything they’ve touched.

But I won’t stop taking an insane number of pictures or videos. My babies are just too cute and precious to do that.

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About the Author:

Rebecca Markert
Rebecca Markert lives in Verona, Wisconsin, with her husband, Mike, and their three living children, Dexter, Audrey, and Owen. She gave birth to her first child, Lily, on Mother's Day 2010 after she went into preterm labor at 20 weeks. Rebecca had a septate uterus, which put her at risk for preterm labor and an incompetent cervix, among other things. Lily was a beautiful baby girl with her daddy's nose and her mommy's feet. She was stillborn. She was proof that love at first sight does exist. After another high risk pregnancy, Rebecca welcomed her rainbow, Dexter, in 2011. During her second pregnancy after loss, Rebecca realized how anxious and fearful she still was and sought out other women expecting again after loss. She, along with four other courageous mamas, formed the Rainbow Pregnancies of Madison group, which supports women pregnant after loss. Rebecca is still the facilitator of that group, which meets monthly and has an active, private Facebook page.

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