Grief, the shape-shifter

Have you ever experienced loss before? In any way {and there are many}?

Then you will have no doubt met Grief.

I don't know about you, but my journey with grief has been a turbulent roller coaster, zig-zagging and diving in different directions - often with no warning as to new twists and turns that would appear.

The first time I met grief due to pregnancy loss was in 2006. I forcibly pushed it into the tiniest little box and wrapped it with so many layers of inadequate (and harmful) substitutes. I was in a place in my life, with a person in my life, where expression of grief was not an option. In fact, I don't even think my ex-husband acknowledged grieving over an early pregnancy loss as a 'real thing'. So, grief and I never got acquainted, and years later I feel like that was not honouring my little babe (or myself for that matter) and not acknowledging how much the loss truly altered me as a person.

Fast forward to just over a year ago, I became pregnant with Anahera. And in a month's time, it will be the anniversary of when Anahera was surgically removed from my body, after they couldn't find a heartbeat.

After nearly a year with this particular grief, after the loss of Anahera, I thought I had it all figured out. I thought, I know grief's ins and outs now, I can almost pre-empt triggers and upsets and I have strategies in place to help me navigate those extra little surprises along the way.

But, grief, it seems, had me fooled.

Only because grief didn't tell me that every time we met, it would look different.

I wasn't prepared for this new feeling that came after my 3rd pregnancy loss over Christmas 2017. Everything felt so different this time. When previously I had so many words and an overwhelming desire to express all that was happening inside my heart and my head, this time - I felt so empty that I had no well of words to dive into.  I had no way to truly express what I was experiencing, and so I fell silent and withdrew from the world.

I wanted so desperately to connect with my people, to feel like they cared and like they felt this pain with me, but some absences spoke volumes to my broken heart and my emptiness and frustrations with life ended up pushing me further and further away from the support I needed. I ended up feeling like I was just a burden and that I needed to hide my pain away because surely nobody else wanted to see this rerun of Rachel's encounters with grief.

Healthy? Definitely not! (This is another blog post in itself though...so watch for my reflections on this later).

So. What now?

Now that I've met with this new form of grief? One that I don't recognise and haven't already mastered?

I start from the beginning again.

This is a different loss. Squishy was a different baby. So therefore, the grief will be different too. I take account of what things worked last time, I try them now to see if they are still effective, and if not - I adapt. I seek new resources and new outlets for my pain, search for new support groups and new perspectives on healing, I pray and I figure out how to walk through this manifestation of grief.

One emotion that has been present both times (and now retrospectively, 3 times) is guilt.

Guilt that I don't have the 'right' to be so upset about this. Others lose their babies later in pregnancy or after their birth, or others have 4, 5, 6 or even more losses - my loss is insignificant compared to theirs. Guilt that, again, my body betrayed my heart and failed another much wanted and much loved baby. Guilt that I can't give my husband a living child, when he has to watch so many others around him exude that radiant joy that often comes with welcoming a healthy newborn, knowing that he wants this just as much as I do. And guilt that I haven't been a good enough friend and therefore somehow deserve this feeling of isolation now.

Guilt DEFINITELY needs to be something I work through as part of my dealings with grief.

I have spent a lot of time reflecting over the different times in my life when grief and loss have been a part of the story. As with everyone, there have been many, many times throughout my 34 years. Loss is a part of life. Unfortunately.

I think back to when I was 8 and my beloved Gran passed away. I remember feeling that I had been robbed of all the memories that should've come with more precious moments shared with her. That I had been given the least amount of time with her, and for some reason - that meant that it was worse for me than my sisters (both older than me). Now, I am in no way saying that is true. My eldest sister could have argued the opposite because she had the most time with Gran, she had more opportunities to bond with her and so therefore had more reason to be devastated than I did.

But see, this is where it all goes wrong. When comparison kicks in and feeds that guilt. The guilt then makes our relationship with grief construed and disingenuous.

Grief is grief. Loss is loss. Hard is hard.

The truth is, all 3 of us girls lost our Gran that day. And all 3 of us had different relationships with her. And all 3 of us had the 'right' to grieve and truly feel her loss - whatever that loss meant for us.

To me, this experience relates so closely to the guilt that comes with acknowledging our pain when we lose a baby - at any stage of pregnancy or life. I may have 'only' been in the first trimester when I lost each of my babies, but each time - I was still 100% pregnant. I loved each baby as soon as I saw those positive results on the tests. I had already imagined how life would change when they came, and yes - I had definitely already created the most perfect (and beautifully styled, I might add) nurseries in my mind. I didn't have as much time with each baby as other loss mamas have, but that doesn't minimise their worth. It doesn't mean their life was less significant. It doesn't mean their loss was less devastating.

For me, even though I've been through many hardships, losing my 3 little ones is by far the hardest thing I have had to endure. And that is real. For me. Whatever the hardest thing you've had to endure is, that is real for you. Your response to that experience is valid. End of.

I have spoken to many amazing loss mamas through my platform with The Anahera Project. Some have been through different types of loss. And many of those who have had to endure the unbelievable pain of having to give birth to their baby, knowing they will not be able to take them home (one that I do not claim to know because I have never experienced that), can still acknowledge the significance of losing a baby in early pregnancy and the range of emotions that emerge from never feeling their baby kick, not knowing their baby's gender, possibly never knowing why they died, the feelings of guilt and that similar sense of loss of a future with their baby.

Grief is grief. Loss is loss. Hard is hard.

To work through our relationship with grief, we need to successfully tackle this feeling of guilt. It is not helpful. In ANY way. And usually, these feelings of guilt are just lies!

To help combat some of these lies, a person needs their tribe. Their 'people'. Not isolation. Not silence. Not judgment (silent or spoken) on whether they should still be grieving or comparison to another person's story.

In her book "A Deeper Shade of Blue", (as shared on Postpartum Progress by Katherine Stone) Dr. Ruta Nonacs states that the "process of grieving requires time, patience and the support of others".

{But more on this in my next post.}

 

For now, I am taking time to focus on my well being - physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I am trying to fiercely resist any notion of guilt that I am wrong for doing so.

I will not push grief into that tiny little box like I did so many years ago. The ramifications of that have been so detrimental, in ways that I never expected.

I will live this grief fearlessly. I will get to know it, intimately, in this new form - or whatever form it chooses to take in the future. I will learn how to weave its pain and its beauty in to the fabric of my life. The tapestry is already so full of colours, some bright and fluorescent, some dark and stormy.

Eventually the threads will come together to reveal a rich and intricate picture of my life. I want to have really lived every single tiny detail of it.

And that, I am sure, is going to take immense courage.

{Image from the amazing Morgan Harper Nichols}

 

In what ways have you met, and learned to live with, your grief?

What have you found helpful when walking through grief in your life?

The thing about HOPE

It’s amazing how losing hope can change you.

Even if you try, with every fibre of your being, to cling on to hope…eventually at some stage, you will break, even just a little.

Well that's my experience anyway and recently, I’ve been struggling with hope.

I’ve been praying, I’ve been trying positive affirmations; I’ve been “putting it out there” and trying to keep hope alive.

But then, this thought crept in to my mind.

It started niggling away, quietly at first. Until, one day it shouted so loud I couldn't ignore it and the words echoed around in my mind - like the more times I heard it, the more I would believe it.

 

"MAYBE I DON'T EVEN WANT A KID ANYMORE"

 

I mean….what the actual?!?

 

Who IS this person saying this?

 

What happened to the ‘me’ who used to feel that my main reason for existing was to be a Mum?

The teenager who had already planned her life because she imagined she would be married and have (or be having) a baby by the time she was 21.

The one who always imagined a large family and the biggest problem would be deciding when to stop.

 

Where is she?

If that me could hear these thoughts in my head now, she would slap me. She would hate the thought of a life without the joy a child can bring.

 

But this me?

She’s tired. She’s emotional. She feels the weight of every month’s disappointments. She struggles to push aside that darkness that creeps in to proclaim that perhaps actually getting to have a living child is not an option.

 

This me senses that giving up might just be less painful than pushing forward – even though pushing forward could actually lead to success.

 

I feel like I have changed so much. My view of life, the world, people. Everything. I’m not the same person I used to be – and I’m not sure that’s entirely a good thing. Yes, there have been some learning curves that have been positive through all this. But overall, I feel disconnected, displaced, misunderstood, unable to even figure out who I am and what I feel. I feel confused – and even more so every time I hear of a new pregnancy. It’s that age-old bewilderment of “Why do I not deserve this?” or, even harder to swallow, the thought of why someone else deserves it more than you.

Bitter is something I never wanted to be.

It’s not something I want to be now.

 

I’ve experienced loss in many ways in my life. The other main life-changing way for me was the loss of my first marriage to divorce.

The loss of trust in what and who a husband should be and what a marriage should resemble (I know all marriages are and should be different, but surely there should be some at least lowest standard that no marriage should ever dip below). Even through all of that, I was adamant that I was not going to be bitter. About marriage, towards my ex-husband (even though many others expressed their disgust and words that could encourage bitterness in my heart), or about love and life in general. I was adamant that I would still hold out hope for that love that I was dreaming of, the love that I knew I deserved.

Yes, life sucks sometimes. It isn’t always ‘rainbows and unicorns’, as the saying goes. But in that situation, I somehow always knew that things would be better. I could already see that I was better off without him and that toxic situation. I was able to absorb my thoughts in the clichés that others offered – because I believed them and I knew that they would eventually come true.

And they have.

I no longer mourn my first marriage.

 

But with this?

This is different.

This is harder.

This loss, this grief, it never goes away.

The babies I’ve lost can never be replaced with something better.

Also, the grief is not just for the lives that are lost.

The grief extends beyond even the concept of giving birth and having a child.

The grief extends to suddenly being faced with the real possibility that something you’ve always thought was possible, or even a 'given' or a right, might actually be the complete opposite.

The loss of that naïve mind where there was no consideration that even just getting pregnant would be a challenge. Let alone staying pregnant.

The fact that now I may have to just accept that this is my life.

Yes, I know there are options and of course adoption is an amazing opportunity if that is where this path leads us.

But, for the old me – the me who felt so deeply from such a young age, even down to the tiniest molecule of my being, that I was born to be a Mum…….this idea is devastating.

The thought of not being able to carry my own child to full-term and watching them grow up…..it is absolutely soul-destroying. I mean, who am I then? What is my purpose for living if not to be a mum? Could young me have gotten it so absolutely wrong?

 

Perhaps that’s why my mind is trying to get into damage control mode preemptively.

Perhaps that’s why my thoughts are trying to deceive my heart into thinking that actually, no, we don’t want a child anymore.

 

Life could be absolutely fine without one.

I have an absolutely amazing husband; I have the love that I know I deserve. And I am so immensely grateful for that.

We could have a perfectly happy existence together, just the two of us for the rest of forever.

 

But there's a problem with that.

I don’t want to betray the ‘me’ I used to be – with that whole-hearted desire and inescapable pull to be a mother.

And I see how much my husband wants this too.

 

This is why I keep pushing forward.

This is why I don’t give up.

This is why I continue to pray.

And this is why I struggle, I battle, I wrangle; I combat all of the negative thoughts that seek to steal my hope.

hope brings courage.jpg

“Having hope will give you courage” Job 18:11

 

This journey through infertility, pregnancy loss, and the potential reality of life without my biological children will definitely need a mammoth amount of courage!

 

 

My new mantra?

 

M U S T . K E E P . H O P E . A L I V E !

 

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this post!

How do you keep hope alive?

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