The First 40 Days Without My Son - Skillful Cook
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The First 40 Days Without My Son

The First 40 Days Without My Son

A few weeks before Afton was born, I bought a book called The First 40 Days.

It's about the 4th Trimester. You know, those fresh days after you bring your baby home, when you - the powerful, beautiful, natural mother - are reeling and healing and head-over-heels in love all at once. This book embraces the idea that there's so much healing and adjusting that needs to happen after a baby is born, and that we should really view those first 40 days after birth as an extension of the pregnancy - the 4th Trimester.

The book is really beautiful and intentional, and I'd recommend it for any hippie-leaning mama who is preparing for life with a new baby.

But that's not me anymore.

The First 40 Days Without My Son

I need a new book - one that's written for moms who never brought their baby home. Whose first 40 days after giving birth included, mainly, surviving the shattering of their own hearts. Instead of giving us recipes for how to promote healing or lactation, this book, in my imagination, would tell us what to eat when we literally cannot find room for anything in our stomachs other than rock-heavy grief.

As far as I know, that book doesn't exist (does it? please tell) and this post is not my attempt to write that book. I'm in no position to be giving advice. In all honesty, today I could hardly get out of bed and it was 50 degrees in February. 50 DEGREES IN FEBRUARY.

Earlier, in my happy days of being pregnant, I decided to share first trimester and second trimester posts. Now, after his too-early arrival at 23 weeks, I'm going straight to the fourth.

Here it is in all its wordy honesty: a full documentation of the first 40 days without my son.

Physical Healing

The First 40 Days Without My Son

People often ask me, how are you healing? physically?

And I really appreciate it.

But I have almost nothing to say because, if I'm being honest, having a major abdominal surgery and several very large incisions on both the inside and outside of my body is really a non-issue in comparison to the emotional pain of losing my baby.

The First 40 Days Without My Son

For the record, everything seems to be healing just fine. I bought these things which seem to be helping on a cosmetic level, maybe? I guess I didn't realize that a c-section scar would not heal super smoothly, so there's that special and very glamorous detail that I will now live with forever. The uneven scar would have really bothered the old Lindsay, but it doesn't ruffle even one single feather of my new exhausted self. Okay, maybe half a feather. I might still have a little shred of vanity hanging on.

Bottom line - I'm healing. I can sit up, I can walk, it's all fine. And even though I never wanted a c-section and I definitely never wanted this story, I'm grateful that my body is putting itself back together.


The First 40 Days Without My Son

After giving birth at just 23 weeks, my body started producing that liquid gold for my baby, and it was incredible. I'm obnoxiously proud.

I decided to pump and donate milk, primarily because the idea of just stopping lactation immediately upon getting home from the hospital was so heartbreaking that I couldn't handle it. I knew I needed to have this experience, even if it was just for me.

Meeting a mom and handing her a bag of almost 100 ounces of hard-earned breastmilk that should have been for my son was sweet and weird and super emotional. I thought: maybe I won't cry. I cried immediately. Her baby was a former one-pound preemie, and the mom hugged me and teared up with me as her happy little buddy smiled at us from the backseat of the car. I smiled back at him and thought: that could have been Afton. That one-pound preemie who grew up to smile happily at strangers could have been my son.

As amazing as the donating experience was, I would do the pumping all over again even if just for me. It was so emotionally healing to just find a quiet place to sit and be close to the memory of my baby every day. I'd hold his blanket and think about him, and a lot of times I'd light a candle or just cry, but staying close to Afton and close to the pregnancy through pumping milk was one of the best things I did in the first 40 days.

It gave me structure, purpose, and a really bittersweet joy. It made me feel like a mom.

The First 40 Days Without My Son

I decided to officially stop one month after his birthday. It's hard to describe the level of emotional pain that I felt as I watched my body produce less and less milk, and then eventually none. There were so many hard changes: My nursing bras no longer fitting. My appetite completely vanishing. The feeling that my heart was literally, physically, breaking. For two days, I had a hard time talking to anyone about anything without needing to leave the room for a good hard sob. Those were some of the darkest days of my life.

Letting go of this crazy-beautiful body miracle has made Afton's goodbye official for me. He's here in my heart, yes, always. But he's not a part of my body anymore.

Sleeping and Eating

The First 40 Days Without My Son

Sleep? Sleep has been okay.

The time before I got to bed and the time after I wake up are the hardest for me. Bjork and I realized our differences one morning when his use of the paper shredder just after I had woken up was enough to trigger full-on waterworks. I don't know why. I don't even know. It's just one of those things. When I wake up from sleep, I am so emotionally fragile that I cannot handle a paper shredder.

But sleep is there. It's happening. And that's a really good thing.

The First 40 Days Without My Son

But oh, the eating, you guys. The eating during these first 40 days has been unlike any other season of my life, and I don't mean that in a good way. My stomach is constantly full, unnaturally satisfied, not hungry at all, because it's heavy with emotion and anxiety and grief. There is absolutely no space left for food.

Food fits neatly into two categories: Okay and No.

Right now in the Okay category, we have:

  • sugar cereals (calling back to those first trimester days)
  • avocado toast
  • hot chocolate, of which I can drink exactly one third of a small size from Caribou
  • soups and crusty white bread with butter
  • chocolate covered animal crackers
  • ginger tea

I'm trying to eat just a little bit every day, but even foods in the Okay category are just okay. Nothing tastes good. Nothing gets me excited. It sounds cliche, but it's the truth. Food has lost its flavor.

The First 40 Days Without My Son

Can I just tell you, though? My one successful experience with food came after a day of really struggling to eat. I had picked at my oatmeal that morning (as with almost every morning) out of sheer obligation to keep my body alive and then just skipped lunch altogether because I couldn't even handle the thought of forcing myself to eat any more food.

That day, Bjork and I went to Afton's grave. We spent some time just being with him and near him, crying together, loving the sweet spot that we picked for him (pictured above). And when we came back to my parents' house that evening, I smelled lasagna right when I walked in the door and I came alive. Garlic and cheese and meaty tomato sauce... ah, there you are, hunger. I had a huge bowl of lasagna that night and felt just a little bit like my normal self again.

The strange thing is that every time we spent time with Afton, even after he had passed away, I felt a little bit better. It's like after I was close to him, holding him or being near him even after he was gone, it pulled up my last reserves of strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It feels symbolic: when I was with him, I was okay for a little while longer. I could eat.

Food = survival in the first 40 days.


The First 40 Days Without My Son

If you came for the juicy stuff, this is your spot.

The first 40 days have been nothing short of an emotional shipwreck.

From the start, it's been disorienting. One moment I'm pregnant and happy, and the next moment I'm slammed, pinned down under a waterfall of grief, trapped and scrambling to right myself but not knowing which way is up. I find the surface, I catch my breath, I scramble to hold on to Bjork, and then I get pounded again by a new wave. There is heavy water rushing over my head and pushing me back under, and this time I know which way is up a little better than I did before, but I'm also getting tired. It's getting harder to claw my way back up for air the second, third, fourth time. The exhaustion is bone-deep.

And then between the waves, in the periods of stillness when I come up and catch my breath, I look around and see a wide expanse of open sea in every direction which brings its own type of panic. Here I am, stranded, in the middle of my own ocean of sorrow and confusion. Where is everyone? Just a minute ago, I was on solid ground, safe and naive, and now it will be years before I ever make it to shore. Wait, will I ever make it to shore?

The First 40 Days Without My Son

This is where I live now: in the heart-and-soul identity crisis of being a mom but not.

It's my ocean. I'm out here in the middle of it, miles away from my baby and all the dreams I had for our family, present and future. And what's really overwhelming is knowing that my new identity - a mom without a baby - is one that I'll carry for a lot longer than I'd like. Maybe, in some ways, forever.

I have days where things feel almost normal, where I know I'm coming alive again. And I know that I will be okay, and I know Bjork will be okay, and I know that because we made that promise to our baby as he was dying in our arms.

“It's okay, Afton. You can go. We will be okay.”

I WILL keep that promise. For him, I will.

But damn. My heart. It hurts.

Hard Things Vs. Helpful Things

The First 40 Days Without My Son

Things that are hard:

  • Seeing baby bumps
  • Seeing babies, kids, families, and anyone who doesn't know about Afton... so basically all people
  • Looking at social media because the baby announcements are everywhere
  • Getting dressed - maternity clothes are too big, regular clothes are too small
  • Talking to people without acknowledging Afton
  • Making small talk with anyone about anything
  • Listening to music without crying
  • Caring

Things that are helpful:

  • People asking us questions about Afton
  • People making plans with us and understanding if we have to cancel last minute or if we are a little on the socially weird side right now
  • People texting us throughout the day just to say, “How are you today?”
  • Writing about Afton
  • Writing to Afton
  • Sleeping
  • Snuggling with Sage
  • Walking with Sage
  • Doing anything with Sage
  • Following a bunch of animal accounts on social media
  • Lighting candles
  • Browsing trash magazines
  • Binging on TV shows
  • Reading about other peoples' similar experiences with loss

And Now What?

The First 40 Days Without My Son

I was probably moderately good at this in my Before Life, but in my current state, my ability to fake my way through anything has gone down to zero percent.

My counselor recently asked me: what feels good right now? And I said: telling the truth.

Which is good - it just means that the hardest possible thing for me to do right now is to pretend to be excited about something I'm not. So I'm going to honor the honesty that this situation is asking of me.

I think the answer to the Now What question looks like slowly trying to cook and eat, just for me, just because. Now What looks like walks with Sage and naps as needed. Now What looks like finishing those thank you cards and finding the right special box for packing away all of Afton's clothes and blankets. Now What looks like writing posts about whatever is true, and only when the inspiration comes, such as at 1am when I am drafting this post. That night owl lyfe tho.

Now What looks like love and grief in a holy mix: slow and steady, little by little, day by day.

The First 40 Days Without My Son

My vision for these next few months involves a slow re-assembling of all the pieces of our life... and the blog sort of coming along with it. My promise to you is that when I'm ready, I'll write about food. And when I'm not, I won't fake it.

To all of you who read these posts? Even though it's such a hard and weird season for us, I'm thankful that you're here for it. Really, deeply thankful.

I closed my other baby posts with this note, and as I stand here on the other side, I think it's worth ending with that one last time.

To you mamas who are pregnant – I’m glad you’re here. Please love those precious babies the very best you can. ❤️

To you mamas whose journey includes loss of a pregnancy, a child, or a dream  – I now stand bravely among you. I see you, I love you, and I'm hopeful for us and our babies.

To you readers who are in a completely different life stage altogether but still show up to be friends on the internet – you are amazingly cool. We're lucky to have you here. 

The First 40 Days Without My Son

Filed Under: Afton

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  1. Skillful Cook Logo

    I am at a loss for words, even so I felt the need to place an acknowledgment of sorts. Motes of dust in the grand scheme of things, but still, I hear you and I see you and boy do I feel you.

    Sending heaps of love your way.


  2. Skillful Cook Logo

    …a big hug from a reader who is in a completely different life stage, but loved to read your personal Afton Story. xoxo, Daniela

  3. Skillful Cook Logo

    Dear Lindsay, this is such a beautiful, honest post. For the past few weeks, you, Bjork and Afton have constantly been in the back of my mind. I’d go about my daily life and all of a sudden wonder how you guys are, and what your life looks like right now.
    I haven’t commented a lot anymore after your ten posts about Afton, simply because I felt that at some point I didn’t know anything to say that would help you two in this difficult time anymore. I almost felt like I was butting into your grief, and that I, as a stranger, should just leave you to your healing. But after reading Bjork’s last income report and how readers’ comments have been a comfort to you, I decided to comment again.
    I still don’t think this comment will actually be helpful to you in any way, but I want to let you know that I still think about you and Bjork and baby Afton. My boyfriend and I still talk about Afton’s birth and your terrible loss. And I completely understand that you need time – maybe a lot of time – to start feeling ‘not sad’ again. Take all the time you need.
    Yes, I love your recipes, but there are more recipes right now on the blog than I could possibly try in a year! Besides, what I really like about your blog, is the people behind it. It’s maybe a bit weird for me to say, because we’ve never met, but I care. And I’m worried. And I just want you guys to start feeling ‘not sad’ again, then maybe ‘okay’, and then maybe, at some point, even ‘happy’ again. ❤️

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      So beautifully said Nila. I agree – the recipes are wonderful, but the people behind the recipes are even more amazing. It breaks my heart that Lindsay and Bjork have to travel this journey, but in weird way I am grateful they are including us. thank you Lindsay and Bjork for continuing to tell us about Afton and thank you Nila for your beautiful post too.

  4. Skillful Cook Logo

    My friend Rhonda Mason wrote a blog and then turned it into a book detailing her grief after loosing her son still born at 40 weeks. It’s called life without Cameron. I hope that it helps you. Love and prayers

  5. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’m so sorry for your profound loss. My heart breaks for you and Bjork. I had a baking blog that I decided not to continue and so I’ve been away from the blog world for a while. I visited your blog yesterday and I learned of your heart-breaking story. Lindsay, you are so beautiful and brave and such a wonderful mommy. My heart and prayers go out to you. xxoo

  6. Skillful Cook Logo

    No words can comfort you.. but you are so strong to write your heart out.. to write to someone who may need your support.. cant imagine your sorrow, stay strong, much love

  7. Skillful Cook Logo

    You are writing this for yourself, but it will also be a huge gift to others who experience anything like this. Just your ability to write these beautiful, thoughtful words means that you are resilient and stronger than you feel right now. My thoughts are with you and Bjork, we will all be waiting whenever you are ready 💜

  8. Skillful Cook Logo

    What a searingly, raw, beautiful ode to your sweet son Afton. I feel privileged to be taken on this journey with you.

  9. Skillful Cook Logo

    I am a reader that is in a completely different phase of life, but you have shed so much light on something that I have never thought to consider. I hope that you do write the book. Your emotion is raw and you have a talent for letting us feel the tiniest, tiniest little sliver of what you are going through.

    I am also reading “There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love”. It’s a great reminder of what to say or do when someone is going through a hard time. Your “Things that Hurt/Feel Good” lists completely line up with the books recommendations to just say something to the griever and not worry about saying or doing the right thing.

    Thank you for being you. While I love your POY recipes, your Afton posts have been inspirational. I hope that you do more lifestyle blogging in the future.

  10. Skillful Cook Logo

    Something I’ve learned through my own loss (very different from yours, but loss – no matter the type – has similar themes) is that grief is not linear. It doesn’t follow a straight path – it’s something I’ve had to accept and understand. Sometimes it’s three steps forward, two steps back. Wishing you the best, Lindsay, and sending thoughts and prayers to you, Bjork, Afton, and Sage.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      April this is so true. I remember being surprised and upset that I could go from feeling happy and normal one day to barely able to get out of bed the next. It didn’t make sense to me–I thought once I started feeling better, everything would be uphill from there. It took me a while to accept that it’s normal to have ups and down, and I didn’t need to feel guilty for feeling happy one day and sad the next.

  11. Skillful Cook Logo

    I read your blog everyday.. I have cried with you as I pray for you all. Your honesty is so beautiful. Stay true to your new heart that is forever changed. God bless

  12. Skillful Cook Logo

    I stumbled across your blog, and am so sorry to read your about your loss. I miscarried durine my first pregnancy, and it rocked my world. Grief and loss suck. Thank you for sharing your honest story… thinking of and praying for your family.

  13. Skillful Cook Logo

    I have read your blog sporadically through the past couple of years, but have read every single one of your Afton posts with tears pouring from my eyes and my heart absolutely breaking along with you. I am a mama of a four-legged baby, but have never had any human babies. Still, I feel your grief and I ache for you. What you are doing – sharing and grieving and honoring your son – is amazing. I know you are blessing so many even in the midst of this most dark time of your life. I pray God’s peace will envelop you and that you will simply rest in His loving care. Also, please never stop being completely honest. It is vital and refreshing and so so important. You are an inspiration and an example, and I am grateful to be able to read your story and share in your loss. Please know that you are supported and loved even by people who will never meet you. I pray that you will take each day as it comes, be kind and gentle with yourself, and lean on those who are there to love and support you.

  14. Skillful Cook Logo

    Lindsay, you and Bjork are in my prayers each day. Thank you for sharing your journey and sweet Afton with us.

  15. Skillful Cook Logo

    I am so sorry for your loss and have no words.. just, you became a mom the moment Afton was conceived, and you will always be his mom.

  16. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’ve been thinking of you all and sending lots of love your way. I’m very moved by your bravery and grace. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words with us!

  17. Skillful Cook Logo

    Bless you, Lindsay, on your journey to find peace however and whenever you see fit.

  18. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing Afton with the world. Infant and pregnancy loss is something that most hold on tightly to because it is so painful. I’m grateful you are sharing your heart, experience, and grief with so many. Your words will be a balm to those who will experience the loss of a child.

    I’m a few years out from our loss. I related to all of what you are going through. I could tell you all the things you already know, it doesn’t get better, it gets easier, joy comes with greater ease. It’s still hard to meet new people and explain your situation. Grief will sneak up on you at the strangest times. God has put pregnancies on my heart to pray for because I know how fragile it really is. As I cooked a couple of your recipes this weekend I prayed for your family.

    Well, this is longer than I thought. A book that I loved was Every Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Haggerty. It led me to her blog and Instagram where she has daily adoration. That adoration healed my heart. I’m sure God has put people in your life that have experienced similar losses. You are not alone. Even strangers are lifting you up.

  19. Skillful Cook Logo

    I personally can’t imagine what you and Bjork have been through. My husband lived through it with his first wife and his first daughter Melissa who lived for two days and then died in his arms on Easter in 1984.

    It’s been hard reading about your loss and I’m am so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine what I would do without my son and your stories make me even more grateful than I thought possible for him.

    I sit here crying and feeling for you. Sending many thoughts of love your way.

  20. Skillful Cook Logo

    i stumbled on your site from Pinterest and i have followed your Afton stories (and made those awesome soft batch cchip cookies). there are two women, one a fellow food blogger named Danielle Walker of and Angie Smith, a writer and mother, who know your grief firsthand. you can find them on social media. i know you know you are not alone, but i thought having two names might help you have someone to talk to who has shared your experience. (fyi, if you google Danielle, you will find she is in her last trimester, so i’ll give you a head’s up on that.) Angie’s story can be found here:

    one more thing: i’m thankful you know the Source of Peace. His everlasting arms are supporting you and Bjork. Deut 33:27.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      I am reading one of Angie’s books right now, and Danielle is a friend of ours through blogging. So yes and yes to both of those people. 🙂 Thank you Jenn!

  21. Skillful Cook Logo

    Even though we had an early miscarriage, which is definitely different from Afton, so much of these posts have rang true for me. In the early days after I hated when friends wouldn’t acknowledge what had happened to me or ask me about it. THANK YOU for writing and sharing. Your words mean so much and bring me to tears every time. Tomorrow we go to the doctor to find out if the life I’m now carrying is truly life, or another loss, and I’m so scared. But I know if it is a loss, there are others who can empathize and share in grief. Thanks again and much love to you and your family.

  22. Skillful Cook Logo

    Lindsay and Bjork,
    I have only commented on a couple of these posts, but I have read every one. Multiple times. Most nights while I am showering I cry for you and Afton. I can’t really pinpoint why this makes me feel so sad – I don’t know you beyond a few comments here and there on POY recipes and I am not (nor have I ever attempted to become) a mother. I think it is really because I just know what awesome people you are and I cannot even imagine what terrible pain this must be. I am really glad that you are putting yourself out there and making your story known. It’s awful that any woman would feel like a mother who is no longer a mother. You will always be Afton’s amazing mother and Bjork will always be his amazing father. I think what you are doing for the entire community of woman who have lost babies is amazing. I see so many people comment on your IG posts about Afton saying that they have been thru the same thing. Honestly, I had no idea how common it was. Anyway, I’m just here to give you a virtual hug and to say take your time. Even if you never write another recipe, this will forever be one of my favorite blogs and I will continue to read whatever you post and will continue to cook POY recipes from the archives.