Coping with loss and gender disappointment
Let me start off by saying that I do not consider myself to be an expert on loss but I have been thrown into the deep end of the ocean of grief and during this time I yearned to read about and hear from others with similar stories – so this post is for the mothers of loss who are fumbling in the dark for that same familiarity and connection. I hope this provides you with a sliver of light in what may seem like an eternal darkness.
I have written previously about the loss of our second born, Tommy, and the devastating effect it had on our lives. This post is about coming up for air. About finding that light and a new normal, because although you may not want to think about it when you’re suffering the trauma of a loss, you do need to find a new normal. However, finding that new normal does not mean forgetting or not honouring your past. It is possible to do both.
When returning to normal life, I found that not many people could grasp the devastation that this loss had brought upon our lives. To others it was merely an uncomfortable situation; I’ve been there before, I’ve had people in my life who have experienced the unexpected loss of a child and I’ve felt sorry and sad for a moment and then put the thought away as it was uncomfortable for me to remain in that space.
We are urged to move on as quickly as we can and we urge the grieving to move on swiftly too. We aren’t given proper time to grieve. Even on an excellent benefits scheme in a Federal Government job, we are gifted only 3 days bereavement leave for the loss of an immediate family member. 3 days. To repair the hole left in your life when you’ve lost someone you’ve known your entire life?
I began to see that our society was/is in denial about death.
Being in denial may be nice for some, a comfortable grey area. Ignorance is bliss and all that…but what about the people who don’t get the choice? What about the women who are thrown into that space and are kept there against their will? How horrible that there is an entire segment of our community who are ushered into darkness and silence when they are one of the many people who need our support most?
When I found myself in that space, I decided that while I may be held there against my will I would certainly not concede to remaining silent on it.
Uncomfortable with hearing about how I lost a child and had to deliver his lifeless body and leave the hospital with my baby in a box – too bad. This is my reality and is so many other women’s reality and it deserves to be broadcast, heard and respected…and therein laid my healing.
When speaking the raw honest truth about our loss I found the universe returned healing to me in equal parts. Hearing from other women who had been helped in some way by reading my own words, gave me the strength to get up the next day.
I know not everyone is comfortable speaking about loss, and in particular about pregnancy and infant loss but it is one of those dirty jobs that needs to be done.
We contribute to the stigma of loss by remaining silent on the issue. It is our duty to help guide people affected by loss, out from the darkness and to the surface of life. These people need our help and you can be their hero. Until you have been thrust into the life of loss you won’t realise just how much weight your words and actions will have to someone experiencing loss. Every connection matters. Every gesture matters. The smallest things can lead them to healing.
I found that many people did not know what to say, they were concerned about upsetting me…but I was upset anyway,
I was in a constant state of sadness day in day out so I would rather have had people ask me how I was coping and risk me shedding a tear in their presence than to shedding those same tears on my own in the darkness of my bedroom.
So how do you survive grief? I survived my grief by honouring my grief. I came to learn that my grief was not unproductive. I was not merely sad and holding onto that sadness. I was in pain and I knew that soon these wounds would heal so I honoured that pain by giving myself time to dive in an experience it. I didn’t bury my grief. I let it float to the surface of its own volition.
You have to swim in grief and submit yourself to its mercy, allow it to consume you for as long as you need and when you’re ready you will reach the end, float to the top and be renewed; some people take the ocean swim and others take the 50m across the pool. There is no comparison here.
I was determined to not be ambushed by my grief years later. I wanted to wear my grief like a beautiful bloody badge of honour. Yes, I suffered the loss of a baby and yes I am happy to talk about it.
Since our loss, I have learnt that I am more resilient than I ever gave myself credit for in the past. I have bounced back from terror and turmoil and managed to go forth with minimal damage. I know this doesn’t speak true for the majority of pregnancy and infant loss sufferers and if that is you, it doesn’t make you any less strong or resilient – we all deal with loss differently and no one can judge how that process plays out for you.
For me, falling pregnant again after the loss of Tommy provided me with unfounded healing.
When I fell pregnant again after our loss, I was so happy, I felt like things were “back on track” and then came the guilt. I felt guilty for feeling like things were “back on track” because I felt that I was unintentionally trying to fix our loss, trying to replace the baby we couldn’t have. This was a difficult time for me, I worked hard to separate the two experiences in my heart.
One thing I really struggled with was the sex of our new baby. I chose not to find out the sex for fear that I would be disappointed. We had just lost our first boy and with the possibility of this being our last baby, I was worried that I would be disappointed if I found it was a girl. So I declined to know until I had no choice. I didn’t dwell on it. We declined to find out and we left it at that.
Fast forward 20 weeks and I have just given birth in a beautiful calm, peaceful and healing homebirth. We are 15 minutes into this new baby’s beautiful earthside life and we haven’t even thought to check the sex. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. We had a baby. Alas, there is paperwork to fill out and we needed to know…
A girl. Clover.
I would be lying if I said that I was not hoping for a boy. After losing our boy just under a year before of course a part of me wanted that for our family.
However, I believe Clover came to me for a reason. She is who she is. She is a baby in her own right. She is not a replacement baby to band aid over the loss of our boy, and I feel that healed me immensely.
I did have fears that I would feel guilt for bringing a new babe into this world when I should have been nursing an almost one year old boy but it didn’t feel that way, she wasn’t a consolation prize. She was and is our third child.
When announcing her birth and her sex I could feel others’ disappointment that we hadn’t gotten ‘the boy we were after’ and that makes me so incredibly sad. Both for our family and for others going through similar experiences.
No baby, not boy or girl, could heal the trauma left by the loss of our boy Tommy. Delivering a healthy baby boy would have been amazing, but no more amazing than delivering a healthy baby girl. It would not have made up for the fact that we were still missing a baby who should be a living, breathing member of our family.
We get so caught up in ‘making things right’ in our lives and sometimes, it’s just not possible. People die, babies die, pregnancies fail and nothing can undo that pain and ‘make it right’ and on some level, that is okay. Because I would rather grieve for the loss of my only boy lifetimes over than to never have known what it was like to hold that child inside of me at all.