After almost two years of hearing how people, “can’t even imagine” my life and what it is to be a bereaved parent I’m finding myself in a position where people are imparting their knowledge or experience on me because they at some point had a child (who lived).
I understand that this is a common experience amongst new parents. The problem is that we aren’t new parents. No one was available to offer advice in the newborn period after Lenny was born on the basics like how to organise a funeral for your child, attending post mortem results, how to feel like your life is remotely worth living – those kinds of things.
The advice, experience or concerns currently focus on how I’m finding postpartum recovery, breastfeeding and the lack of sleep. The truth is I don’t really know how to answer these questions often.
This is my third time going through postpartum but I only remember a couple of people asking me before and the only answer I have is “it’s fine because this time my baby is alive.” And genuinely it’s been so much easier.
Breastfeeding isn’t a walk in the park, I’ve already had mastitis and a 10 day course of antibiotics. But it pales into insignificance to when my milk came in after the boys died even though I had taken a milk suppressant. Or when I would leak milk when I heard a baby crying in public after Lenny was born.
Breastfeeding is a wonderful bonding experience with my baby, all the advice says to persevere and it gets easier- fine I can do perseverance frankly I wouldn’t be alive right now if I couldn’t. The weight falls off too – that doesn’t happen for those of us whose babies die, instead we are self conscious that people in public assume we are pregnant because there’s no baby and well… we still look pregnant. Postpartum weight loss was not a huge concern for me but I’m pretty serious about exercising and eating healthily and the only way I returned to my pre- pregnancy weight after Lenny and then Bhai died was cycling the length of a mountainous country, 2.500km and the equivalent elevation gain of 3.5 times the height of Mount Everest- a significant amount more effort than sitting down and breastfeeding.
Yes I’m tired because I’m up most of the night feeding or cuddling my baby (currently she won’t tolerate lying down because of reflux) but being up with her is indescribably blissful. I’m also managing to watch more tv than I ever have in my life. I’m less tired than when I had a chronic illness and the smallest tasks took monumental effort, sleep never felt restorative and if I overdid it I could be in bed for days or weeks. And I’m way way way way less tired than the excruciating exhaustion after Lenny died and again after Bhai died.
Grief tired is like nothing else. Grief tired is a level of exhaustion where it doesn’t matter how much (usually poor quality nightmare filled sleep) we have – nothing helps it. Night after night of fitful sleep full of nightmares, only to wake up to a living nightmare. that I could get hours and hours of sleep but I would wake up exhausted. The only way I can describe that level of exhaustion is to say that we aren’t supposed to outlive our children, so our bodies must assume we are dying. That’s how it feels.
I am not suggesting my grief is behind me – it’s absolutely not and if anything is pretty acute right now but I refer specifically to the postpartum period for women after their baby dies. I am also not discounting the experiences of those who haven’t experienced loss but have found postpartum and parenting a newborn hard – it’s all valid. But it is also all relative. Simply put, all of this is a million times harder if your baby dies. Having had two babies die and one baby live I have the comparison to say that confidently. We really could do better as a society by showing at least the level of care and concern of new mothers who have babies who die as we do for those who live.
I’m not saying I am immune from finding any aspect of parenting a living child hard I’m sure I will. In some ways I already have (thanks Bri for advising on the not lying down situation). Im sure I’ll seek out advice from people who have more experience than I do. Seeking advice on parenting a living child is easy, plenty of people can advise you, in fact they will advise you without you asking and for anything else – there’s google!
Right now though the bit of parenting I’m struggling with is the same bit I’ve struggled with for nearly two years – the whole bit where my child died infront of my eyes unexpectedly, then I unexpectedly lost my second son late in pregnancy.
The things I find difficult about parenting a living baby so far are things like:
- Feeding her whilst looking at pictures of her brothers who died,
- Holding her and knowing her brother’s ashes are in the next room but I still haven’t transferred them to his urn because I can’t bare it,
- If I were still pregnant I would be 40+2 a few days ago the same gestation/age as Lenny – Raya now weighs the same as Lenny and looks like him – the grief hits hard,
- Considering the above I’m confused how some people struggle to acknowledge Lenny but at the same time want updates on Raya,
- Walking through the cemetery because it’s one of the only ways we can feel close to all three of our children at once,
- When we registered her and returned to the same place where we registered Lenny’s birth and death and where Bhai was never registered because he wasn’t old enough for a piece of paper,
- Using equipment and other items all bought for Lenny, then saved for Bhai and now used for her – they’re third hand but brand new,
- Constantly having to find answers to, “is this your first?” Then dealing with the responses to my answers which are rarely compassionate or helpful because our society isn’t very grief literate,
- Making sense of the idea that Raya is both younger and older than her brothers,
- Feeling immense guilt that Raya misses out on having her older brothers here forever, I know what that means, I have an older brother and we have a similar age gap as Lenny and Raya. The majority of my childhood memories involve my brother, he’s one of the funniest and kindest people I’ve ever met, she misses out on that,
- She has brought intense joy to our lives AND this has intensified our grief, I am now under no illusion whatsoever about exactly what we have lost.
These are just some of the challenges of parenting after loss. The kind of complexity that most people cannot relate to, never mind give advice on and they’re not googlable! Sadly, most people can’t even tolerate a conversation on this kind of thing and change the subject to something “more positive,” – leaving us to wonder why the subject of our love for our sons is viewed so negatively?
The truth is I really wish I could relate to other non- loss parents. But I guess it’s my turn to say I can’t even imagine. Because I can’t. I can’t imagine the immense joy of bringing a baby home uncomplicated by the tragedy and trauma of grieving a child. I don’t begrudge people that, I’m so glad people don’t understand, especially those I know, love and care about. I’m so glad they get the pure joy and don’t know this pain. In all honesty though I would be lying if I said I wasn’t envious – pure joy without the complexity of grief is just another loss for us. Forever.