I connected with Keisha Wells, a Georgia-based licensed professional counselor, and advocate for the bereaved for a special interview for the Shame Recovery Project. Keisha’s clinical focus is on supporting others in developing their voice and identity through loss—and finding hope and empowerment in the midst of grief. This includes following the loss of a baby or babies in the womb, perinatal loss, and the loss of a child. Keisha is the author From Three Heartbeats to One: A Gentle Companion Offering Hope in Grieving Pregnancy and Infant Loss.
Meredith: This is a line from early in your book that struck me—powerfully—on a number of levels: “As my sons’ conception was never considered, neither was their transition.” I believe it is the first time I have heard reference to the idea that the baby who dies is experiencing a transition. This is an acknowledgment of a life—two lives—that began, developed, and then ended too soon. I say this as someone who has worked extensively with people who transitioned to hospice or who were in hospice as a way to transition to death, their passing, their transition (people call this process different things). I always thought of the hospice framework as providing a transitional space in which the soul was untethering from the body and the body was releasing the soul. The transition of which you write is different, but it allows for this context for grief—and that your babies were wholly individual selves. Can you share how this occurred to you and how it helped in your own processing and healing?
KEISHA: Transition is a more appropriate term for me to use in respecting my eternal, spiritual connection with my sons, Kyle and Kendrick. I’m comforted and anchored in the fact that my sons lived a powerful lifetime—even if only for 23 weeks in my womb and a few moments outside in drawing their last breaths. Because of their earthly lives, they have transitioned and now have eternal lives. This undying connection transcends our physical separation.
Meredith: You describe the deep connection you had—have—with your sons. I don’t know that I have encountered this depth of connection conveyed in someone’s writing before. It resonated with me, and, though I’ve never carried a baby in the womb, I immediately understood your pain at a visceral level. I think this is the pain so many individuals feel but may hold back expressing. Please share what might help the reader who apologizes for their pain, longing, and suffering, or is ashamed by the depth of their emotion.
KEISHA: I appreciate your understanding of my connections with my sons. The loss of a baby is such a deep maze of emotions and experiences. It’s an individual and unscripted path, in which a person doesn’t know what the next step will be. You don’t know what is ahead because you didn’t plan for this aspect or journey of parenthood. With this understanding, please give yourself a multitude of grace in learning a new way to live and love as a bereaved parent. This was not the outcome you desired or deserved—and for that—you owe it to yourself to be gracious and patient in forming this new identity. Your pain is valid. Your wide range of emotions, felt deeply, are your own and you have the right to feel them. You don’t have to qualify your emotions in longing for your child(ren) or feel insecure or inadequate because you have these feelings. We mourn our children’s lives—the lives we created, nurtured, and birthed—because of love. Grief cannot defy our love for our babies, our children. This is a connection that will endure and we, as bereaved parents, don’t have to minimize or apologize for that.
Meredith: Our society places so much emphasis on “getting through the pain” as opposed to being in the pain and how to meet that pain. But I am a believer in process. I believe that, perhaps counterintuitively, that process—in this case, grieving—is the goal. I mean that being intentional about one’s own process of grieving (which includes trial, error, adaptation, and experimentation about what works and fits and helps you and you alone) and valuing its unique expression is also the goal.
KEISHA: The pain of losing a child never goes away, it can change over time, but never completely dissipates. We don’t move on from it—the love, the loss, or the grief, and we cannot speed through this journey but, yes, we do move forward. It’s vital to acknowledge and identify our vast feelings as we rebuild our lives and own this process of life after loss. Running away from the uncomfortable emotions of shame, guilt, and despair will not make them disappear. Just as we carried our children, we carry those emotions in our grief, loss, and love. As I stated in my book, to grieve in a healthy manner requires us to be mindful and courageous—acknowledging our hurts mentally, spiritually, and physically. Grieving is not a weakness that will make the pain more unbearable. Grieving is the product of love.
Meredith: What helped you be in the pain?
KEISHA: I had to feel and be in my pain because I couldn’t deny my sons and their lives, their absence. I couldn’t deny my love and our bond. The pain was all-encompassing with no way to get around it or even block it. Because I knew that my life would never be the same and I had to live this–walk this path and survive. Very early on in grief, I took control of the narrative about what my life would look like as a mom to Kyle and Kendrick. I made a declaration in the early weeks of loss that I would always acknowledge them and their presence in my life and family. Writing continues to be a major tool for me in managing grief and loss. Connecting with other bereaved parents and sharing my emotions in those early months and years of loss was instrumental. I still value the support and understanding I receive from my pregnancy and infant loss community. Finally, I always share just how impactful counseling was for me in having a space to vent and process my emotions. Many express they benefit from working with a mental health professional, specifically those who specialize in perinatal loss.
Keisha created a self-care exercise for mothers to affirm and celebrate their motherhood, as well as their special bond with their child(ren).
Visit her website at keishawells.com/freeguide to access
The Pledge of Loss in Healing.
Meredith: For the reader who is suffering, what are three things you’d like to “give” them via this interview?
KEISHA: I offer the readers my support and compassion as a fellow bereaved parent. I also offer them wise words I received from a fellow bereaved mother of twins at the genesis of my grief journey—be kind to yourself and prioritize your rights in loss. The skills of self-compassion and self-care have served me well as I have learned to maintain boundaries by saying no to people, places, and things I don’t have the mental, spiritual, or physical energy to entertain on this journey. I have also learned to say yes only to things that strengthen and encourage me and ask for support when needed. It has given me permission to boldly acknowledge my motherhood.
Finally, understand that you have the right to honor your baby as you choose. You have the right to name your baby and speak your baby’s name. You have the right to celebrate your baby’s lifetime. This right is inherent in that no one can give it to you and no one can take it from you.