03 Sep 2016
I spend most of my days surrounded by mothers.
Mothers raising their living children.
Mothers grieving their deceased children.
Mothers raising living children and grieving deceased children.
I love the work I do – supporting mothers of all varieties.
And sometimes being surrounded by mothers and children is so painful all I want to do is put my head down and cry.
I’ve been doing that a lot lately.
Crying behind closed doors.
The truth is as much as I love my work with mothers it’s hard to be around them. It’s painful to watch mothers give birth to living, breathing babies. It hurts to watch their children grow and to see them mother in ways I never will. It’s difficult to get excited for all their milestones and developments knowing my children will remain forever tiny babies, silent and still.
It’s somewhat easier, though also painful, to be with other mothers like me – the grieving mothers. It’s more comfortable to be with those who get what it is to watch your child grow only in your imagination, never in your arms. They know what it is to cry behind closed doors for the experience of motherhood we don’t get to have with our children. Still, it somewhat challenging at times to be around the grief and pain of mothers with dead babies.
Grieving mothers often ask me how I can bear to work with living children and their mothers.
Mothers with living children often ask how I can bear to work with grieving mothers and their dead children.
Sometimes I ask myself those questions too.
My answer is usually pretty simple.
I believe in life. I believe in living fully – all of it. The ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, the shadows and the light.
Being a mother to a living child is about life.
So is being a grieving mother.
Our culture isn’t fond of facing or talking about the shadows of life – on either side of motherhood. Death, grief, babies who die, the challenging and messy aspects of mothering living children, postpartum challenges. Society doesn’t like to acknowledge any of that.
Instead, there’s a fanatic focus on idealizing motherhood.
Perfect, natural birth.
Perfect, healthy babies.
Perfect, by-the-book parenting.
Perfect, superwoman mothers.
We like to whitewash the shadows – glossing over dead babies, imperfect mothers, grief, mistakes, postpartum issues, trauma, loss, any difficulties of any kind.
Don’t talk about the shadows and only acknowledge the glitter and lights.
However, both sides of motherhood exists – the shadows and the light.
Yes, pregnancy is beautiful. Birth is amazing. Motherhood is a precious gift.
And some pregnancies also end in death. Some births are filled with silence and tears or trauma and pain. Some motherhoods are invisible. Some mothers struggle. Some mothers experience postpartum depression and anxiety.
Why do we constantly try to deny the shadows of life and motherhood and glorify the light?
The shadows of life cannot and do not dim the light of life. Motherhood can be messy and painful and challenging AND be beautiful and amazing and light-filled.
The shadows only enhance the light and make it more visible. We cannot have light without shadows or shadows without light.
The truth is whether something is viewed as a shadow or a light depends on your perspective.
Because life is made up of both shadows and light, to deny either is to deny life.
So, yes, it hurts to work with living children and their mothers. It hurts to work with grieving mothers and their dead children. It hurts to BE a grieving mother with dead children. There is also joy in both. Joy in seeing all the messiness and light and pain and joy of every kind of motherhood.
I choose to embrace them both – the living and the dead, the shadows and the light, the joys and the sorrows.
The shadows enhance the light.
The light casts shadows in it’s wake.
Where shadows and light merge is where life happens.
I choose life.
I’ll cry in the shadows, laugh in the light, and find life in all of it.
Whether your children are living or deceased, this is what motherhood is made of – the shadows and the light. There is love and loss, joy and pain, gifts and challenges. Motherhood encompasses all of it.
26 Aug 2016
Life after loss is weird.
Nothing is the way it was supposed to be. For a long time – years, in fact – nothing felt familiar or comfortable or right about my life after the deaths of my fiancé and my daughter.
To be perfectly honest and blunt, in those early years, everything simply felt fucked up.
Nothing had gone as planned.
Nothing was as I expected it to be.
I wasn’t the wife and mother I wanted to be.
I was nothing. Who I was and the life I was supposed to be living was lost in a sea of grief and confusion and not-right-ness.
At least, that’s how it felt.
Everything was moving along as expected. Then suddenly in an instant, everything normal and familiar and right was gone.
Life was irrevocably changed. I was undeniably and unequivocally altered.
I spent a lot of years stumbling around wondering,
“Who the hell is this person I’ve become?”
And other questions like:
What is this life I’m living?
Will I ever feel normal again?
Will I ever feel like me again?
Who am I supposed to be now?
I hadn’t just lost my beloved partner and our daughter, their deaths had killed who I was as well. The woman, the partner, the mother I had been – and would have become – was no longer. She died along with them.
People talk about “getting back to normal” after loss and death. Like somehow, once the funerals or memorials are finished and everyone around us goes back to their day-to-day life, somehow we’ll suddenly revert to our old selves as if nothing happened.
That’s fantasyland, folks. It isn’t going to happen.
After years of trying to be the pre-loss me that people wanted to me to “get back to,” I finally realized she didn’t exist anymore. She was a memory and she lived only in the memories of my fiancé and daughter.
I couldn’t get back to her again. I had to find a way to be familiar and comfortable and at ease with post-loss me, the me I was now.
I didn’t want to be her, post-loss me. I didn’t want make peace with my post-loss life. I didn’t want anything to do with the unexpected, unplanned ruins of a woman that had been forced upon me by death and grief.
But she was all I had.
And, try as I might, I couldn’t get away from her. She was me now. I was her.
I had to learn to love her as much as I loved the me I was supposed to be with my fiancé and our daughter.
There are things I love about post-loss me. The me I am post-loss is strong and fierce, compassionate and loving, determined and driven, motivated and generous. She lives more fully and more intentionally than the me I used to be. She doesn’t take love or life or ordinary moments for granted. Post-loss me is more grateful than pre-loss me.
There are also things I’m not such a fan of in post-loss me. I’m more anxious and insecure, more stubborn and impulsive. Post-loss me has a harder time trusting life to be safe or supportive. Post-loss me is not a fan of surprises or unexpected changes.
Some days I miss the innocence and simplicity of my pre-loss self so much it aches. Other days she feels so far away I can barely remember who she was, let alone what it was to be her.
I think it surprises people when I say that one of the hardest parts of having my family die isn’t just mourning the loss of them – it’s also mourning of loss of myself. No one tells us about the aspect of grief that includes the confusion and chaos of trying to find a sense of yourself in the midst of grief and longing and utter devastation.
I can’t say, even after all these years, that I am completely enamored with my post-loss self. At times, I still experience some bitter resentment that I don’t get to be the wife and mother I expected to be – that I don’t get to be the woman who hasn’t lost her innocence and carefree outlook to death and grief.
But, more and more I’m learning to embrace my post-loss self. I’m learning to love her – with all her imperfections, flaws, and neuroses. And for all her grit, her fierceness, and amazingness too.
The truth is that post-loss me is very different from pre-loss me. I’m finally learning to see that both me’s were worthy and beautiful and deserving of all the beauty life has to offer.
And post-loss me is finally feeling normal and familiar and comfortable. Seeing her in the mirror in the morning no longer surprises or momentarily confuses me.
She is who I am, and I get to be her because of the love, life, and losses that pre-loss me experienced. She carries pre-loss me inside of her – in the memories of love and joy and family that not even death can take away.