I swore I wouldn’t publish a rant post. Really, I did. Yet the material is just so abundant, that I am giving in to the familiar urge to just “get it out on paper”. I need to release it – the rant – from its confines in my brain where is only serving to pollute my usually positive and glass half full, (albeit battered at the moment) self. Perhaps this little commentary on things one should not say, will serve to gently educate the usually well-meaning general public, friends and family about what grieving parents often experience in the aftermath of the loss of their child. Ok, yes, I am totally justifying my rant post as educational. So, as long as I might be doing a bit of public good…….here I go!!
1. “So………..are you back at work?”
This question drives me crazy. I have been asked this question about 8 times over the span of a few days recently, which makes me realize that I have now passed a certain undetermined milestone in the eyes of many which leads them to believe that this question is natural and not offensive. The trouble is, when the onslaught of this question started, I re-engaged in a long series of sleepless nights again, just considering that this is what I “should” be doing. I love my work and am quite grateful to have a career that gives me a sense of accomplishment in addition to a decent paycheck. But right now, I absolutely have no desire to be there. I don’t care about work, and unequivocally do not want to be there. I just don’t have the energy or focus or concentration. In a word, I am not ready to go back yet.
I totally get the question though. It is a signal that the person asking it likely does not realize the length of time a mother losing her baby may need to fully recover. They couldn’t possibly understand the roller coaster process of grief that you are trying to allow for whilst being a parent too. They have no idea that although from the outside, your life looks exactly like it did before your baby died, that in reality your life has changed profoundly. In fact, YOU have changed profoundly. And while you are busy trying to just put the pieces back together, you are also trying to redefine what those pieces even ARE. Counsellors call this “finding your new normal”. The less offensive question or comment regarding work could just simply be “How are you doing? It is good that you are able to take some time off from work to heal.”
One aspect of finding your new normal is redefining your family. One assumes that this would be easy in our case. We planned to have four children close together. Then we had four children close together. Then we were done having kids. Everyone knew it. I unabashedly gave away clothes and baby things, happy to pass them on to those friends of mine entering this delicious but exhausting stage of life. I was sad to be finished having babies, but knew we were ready to move forward from this time of our life.
Then we got pregnant with our little Samuel. He took us by surprise, completely. He was a miracle, even breaking through all contraceptive barriers and showing us that our lives weren’t really totally in our control. From the start, he showed us how to surrender to that fact and embrace the bend in our road with gratitude. So we did. Joyfully. We were delighted that a new baby would join us, but after this I felt we couldn’t continue to risk having more kids. My body had been through so much in 8 years with 5 pregnancies and an early miscarriage as well. I was physically exhausted. In January, my hubby booked the procedure. I was relieved. After our bonus baby came, we would be DONE….again.
Then, a week before my husband was scheduled for the vasectomy, I had a really random thought. “Maybe we shouldn’t do it. What if something happens?” The thought hit me like it wasn’t mine…..like it just landed in my mind and kind of smacked me sideways a bit. I was alarmed by it. I quickly dismissed it as weird but maybe normal. My husband, begrudgingly, had the procedure. Then my due date came and went. My body did not seem to want to go into labour despite two cervical rimmings and as much activity as I could manage. I felt so depleted. I didn’t feel the way I did close to my other deliveries. I told my husband that I was worried because it felt like the baby didn’t want to come. Something just felt different. Everything looked normal, nothing was clinically a red flag, but the truth is, I felt different.
Then Samuel died. Our worlds came crashing down with his loss. This was like the sucker punch in a boxing match of a lifetime; the KO that you don’t see coming. This one did it. This has been the only time in my entire life that I thought I might not make it through something. How does anyone make it through this? Somehow though, we are making it through, bit by painful bit. The roller coaster of redefining our family over and over was about to hit a new low. What now?
Well, now I don’t feel DONE anymore. I would love to have another child. I will wait for a few more months to see if I still feel the same as time moves along and as I work through my grief. But it is complicated now for a number of reasons.
1. My husband is happy to be finished having babies, although to his total credit, he is willing to discuss it.
2. I am now 40. This is not the age at which I would have thought that I would want to have another baby much less be seriously considering it.
3. Having another baby would mean another surgery, one which costs money even here in Canada. It is not like they tell you this when they give you the snip, but that is a whole other rant! This leads me to the next comment that I despise with everything in me.
2. “You know, having another baby will not bring Samuel back……”
This is likely the stupidest thing anyone could ever think would be helpful.
“Nooooooo Wayyyyyy!!!!!!?” I want to say. “You are KIDDING!?? Here the whole time I have just thought I could just get pregnant, and he would just jump right back in there. I am so totally grateful that you have enlightened me to how this works.”
This is of course my internal monologue. I respond in a kinder and much more appropriate way, but sometimes I wonder why I have spared this person the truth of knowing how this suggestion affects me and likely most other women wrestling with the same question. Having a rainbow baby as they are called; that is a baby born after a loss, can be a very healing and hopeful experience. The urge to create new life is quite a natural and positive one in many cases. It is also a very personal decision, and one that no one, no matter how close they are to the grieving mother, should adjudicate at all. Ask questions, yes. Be there to listen, yes. Say comment #2, never.
So there it is, my educational rant. Ahhhhhh. I feel much better having written that off my chest. I hope that this post might provide some insight into why it is my cheeks and ears sometimes flush in frustration at certain well intended and seemingly benign comments, and why at times, I seem to shift into a darker mood quite abruptly. Perhaps I have written the words that others in similar shoes might be experiencing too. Regardless, I know that I feel better just getting it out there.
Thank you for listening.