I’ve gone quiet again, both here and within myself, instead of keeping in touch like I’ve meant to. There are a lot of changes happening for me in the background and I’m still not quite sure how to process it all… I keep forgetting somehow that writing is a process for me and that I don’t have to have everything together before I attempt to form sentences. That said, please forgive the winding sentences and logic that is sure to follow. I am tired and out of practice and 50 more excuses I won’t bother to list. It seems like I will do nearly anything to avoid writing these days, which is ridiculous, really. I also have to remember that I write for myself as much as for anyone else… this is therapeutic for me.
Maybe that’s why I keep avoiding it.
I even started writing in a journal I bought years ago a few nights ago, when I couldn’t sleep. I wrote and wrote until my hand hurt about things I don’t even remember, (I virtually never go back and read what I write, in any form) but I also stopped suddenly when I mentioned a subject I remember quite vividly. I’m sure I’ll make an entire post about it when I’m ready, or would have if I was more on top of things then, but this is my best right now.
The pen fell and I started crying until I felt like my heart was going to fall through my chest. I had visited Patrick earlier that day without planning to, and it had opened a part of me I had been carrying, guarding safely contained until then.
It’s a difficult thing to process, the 3am tears… usually I try to realize and accept that a wave of grief is coming, and just let myself cry. During the day, if I’m caught off guard, I usually take a few breaths, get a hug or distract myself, somehow… It’s exhausting tearing up at every crying baby, every happy baby, every pregnant belly, every butterfly, bug, ambulance, amber necklace, kind word, unkind word… ohhhhh, I am a hot mess of random triggers, these days. I get that.
Most of the time, I can do fairly well at staying in the moment, being grateful for my life and my kids, staying busy with housework and reading and life- but at 3am, none of that is happening… only the tears are happening.
So, I was writing and then sobbing and working on accepting the sobbing- and then there came a point when I realized that this wasn’t a predictable wave I could surf, it was a batten-down-the-hatches tsunami, wherein I realized I am going to lay in bed crying uncontrollably until something else happens, which is hours away. There are a slew of people that have volunteered for the “Call me, anytime. Any. Time.” time slot and I get and appreciate that… but who do you call when all you can do is sob and squeak and form gurgling, random half-words like a drowning robot? That’s what it feels like, too… the robot-self that has to deal with everything can’t, and it sputters and sinks into the waves. I realized have to call someone that recognizes those sounds, who they are coming from and what they entail after being woken up at dark thirty by a ringing phone.
I called my sister, who talked me through and out of looking through some of Patrick’s things that I have had sitting in my room for 6 months, like his beautiful piece of hair that was longer than the rest, for whatever reason it decided to grow that way. It didn’t hurt anyone and it was something uniquely PatPat, so we let it be… he had a natural mullet and I am so, so glad that we let it grow, as strange and silly as it was. I feel that was about a lot of things, I guess.
I sat there with it and felt it between my fingers for the first time since that night, the same way I used to play with it while we were nursing. I expected to crumple and die metaphorically, even physically, on the spot. Instead, I closed my eyes and rocked myself as my fingers and even my breasts immediately responded with, “Here you are, my love.” My life is an hourglass of brief, bittersweet moments and any and every time I can feel that connection, however painful it will be when it goes, I grab it with both hands and let go of everything else.
Triggers always sail like a dart straight through my solar plexus. It’s one of the ways I can identify the beginning of the sensations that follow and how to sit through them, much like the tingle that happens at the very beginning of a contraction during labor. “Okay. This is happening. It is going to be alarming. I am going to sit. I am going to breathe. I am going to pay attention to my breath, to what I feel and where. I will stay here, this will not.” as I wait for the tightening to release.
I have become a bit of an introspective master, these past few weeks trying to identify and ride through the waves of my grief. Part of what is causing this flood of emotions is that I’ve started school again for the first time in more than a decade. There were more than a few things about starting that bore a certain kismet… so much that I couldn’t even write because they required so much internal processing. There are a lot of triggers, a lot of hard work and heart work involved that I am still slipping and clawing my way through as best I can- not sailing through as one (who didn’t know me in high school) might think me prone to do.
In fact, every person I’ve spoken to, from high school or not, agrees that this next step really is the difference I make in the world and how perfect I am for it and how well I’m going to do… and here I am, hardly able to write, terribly afraid to both face my grief and to fail at something everyone says I am clearly meant to do- that involves Ack! School! which has never been a discipline of mine.
So what have I started school for? I am studying to become a Doula, which is something I have been interested in for years. A Doula (doo-la) is a non-medical advocate/assistant to help women (and their partners/families) emotionally and physically before, during and after the birth process. I had a Doula during my first birth and she made such a wonderful difference! She gave me tips I have used in each birth after and I’ve remembered her words and her help ever since.
The training I am taking has a secondary, deeper level; I am to become, if I can pull myself through the training, a Bereavement Doula through Stillbirthday University, to step in and help guide other mothers (and their partners) before, during and after the birth process when a miscarriage, stillborn, or neonatal death occurs.
Losing my (marriage & everything I’ve ever owned, the friendship of one and the life of another close high school friend, and then) father forced me into finding survival tools to process my heavy grief that I hope to use to help others. I had a lot of regrets and guilt tied into each of those initial losses that gave them many extra layers of deep pain. Through my recent reading, I have found myself repeating, Those are just things, I can’t help that, I tried my best there, I didn’t know that then… and found myself trying to befriend and assist my justifiably angry and wounded self and treating her as I would my very dearest friend- or one of my future clients. I am learning to let go of a lot, and to try and separate the things making me overwhelmed into digestible, bite-sized pieces. There are a few other things along the way I have learned that have helped, but I still have a long, long way to go.
Mourning is a naturally occurring element in the same way as labor, opposing sides in a process of connection to the one(s) we love. People needing Bereavement Doulas often have to enter both processes simultaneously, needing an entirely different level of care physically and mentally. Though the nerve and mental sensations of both can be overwhelming and unfamiliar, recognizing individual parts of them is the start to being able to find a way to process, or simply wait through them taking their course. Having the awareness to make those distinctions has helped me through my labors physically, the same awareness has allowed the separation between the pain of mourning vs. the pain of all of the would have/could have/should haves about my losses.
I had been grieving and starting to realize the different aspects of life and grief when Patrick was conceived. By the time he was born, I vowed to appreciate every moment with him with a conviction I had never felt before.
And I did.
Because of that, all of those secondary layers of grief I had expected and experienced in my previous losses were simply not present in my grief for Patrick. I had no guilt. I had very few, very human, could have/should have/would haves. Though I got exhausted and overwhelmed as every parent does, I truly cherished every moment with Patrick. After more than two babies, or even one if you’re lucky, you begin to understand the depth of Ruth Hamilton’s, “Song for a Fifth Child” from 1958;
Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth
empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
hang out the washing and butter the bread,
sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
and out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
but I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
for children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
I thought, as all mothers do, that my love coupled with my knowledge and experience would protect him in some magical bubble. When I was told he was gone, I absolutely could not believe that it could happen, that it was happening, that it had happened. I was furious with the Universe, feeling like Rumpelstiltskin tricked me and whisked away my baby, even after I’d devoted and rerouted my entire life to his upbringing, as well as the upbringing of my other children, who were left as empty handed and empty hearted as we always will be.
My hands and heart can be as full again, and have been close, but they’re like a sieve; I am forever perforated by loss. Nothing will ever fill that gap between my heart and my soul. How could it?
Those types of feelings are ones I still can’t place words on, like trying to say contractions feel like “squeezing” or “cramps”. Um, true, but… yeah… that doesn’t even come close. I guess that’s why I keep reverting to the birth metaphor- it’s something most of us can relate to on some level. So, I find myself with this set of feelings and also this set of ways to navigate them that is pretty unique, albeit tragic and overtly painful, and I hope to use them to help others navigate their own.
No one knows what to say when someone experiences child loss, infant loss, pregnancy loss… especially not the people it is happening to. Those types of loss go widely unaddressed in our culture, with women sent home to bleed physically and emotionally on their own, the latter largely ignored, entirely. I aim to step into those moments and provide some sort of comfort, of guidance and support. I know how it feels to want to make those moments, however morbid they may be to others, last forever, cherishing every fleeting second of warmth. I know how it feels during the moments when there is having to not only mentally, but physically let go of a child for the very last time.
There are no words and there never will be. I can just be there, do what I can, and know… and I feel that’s something worth sharing.
I know more than I never, ever wanted to about loss. If I can get through reading about so many others having gone through similar and worse circumstances in my school work, I think I can lift the burden and make lighter some of the deepest, darkest, most ignored parts of life- and perhaps secondarily, even help limit the amount of women needing medication to help them deal with parts of their lives that they themselves, society and their families have been programmed to ignore.
I can’t tell you how many women I know, friends and strangers alike, who have immediately responded to hearing about the existence of Bereavement Doulas by sharing that they have been carrying the weight of miscarriage, elective or medical abortion or even SIDS that has gone ignored by everyone but the pharmacist and insurance companies for years. My heart breaks every time, and I always with there was something I could do… so I’m doing it.
Speaking of which, I ought to actually, this moment be (studying about) doing it, so I should get back to that.
Baby steps…. baby steps.