‘I don’t know how you do it?’
This is a phrase I hear quite often. I suppose it’s because I don’t keep Louis, Corey and Elliot a sordid secret. I speak their names as I would my living children and this then triggers curiosity and subtle questioning about what happened to these three little boys I speak so highly of.
‘I don’t know how you do it?’ makes it sound like something I’ve strived to achieve an accolade for when this path was not a choice I would willingly take. It’s the cards I’ve been dealt. Surviving the journey of stillbirth and neonatal death has been one hell of a ride!
When someone dies you pretty much expect to be upset. You expect to cry, and you expect to feel sad. But what is difficult to compute and unexpected is that sometimes these emotions don’t happen or display themselves the way we predict them to and then you start wondering ‘what’s wrong with me?’and the answer is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
The days after Elliot’s death and the run-up to his funeral, I did nothing but cry. I cried so many god damn tears I am sure my tears had tears. But then something happened and I just stopped. I didn’t cry at the funeral. I didn’t cry at all for weeks after and I would look at myself and get angry, willing myself to cry because my heart ached and I wasn’t ready to stop crying. When I am crying the world knows I am breaking, people can see my anguish and they can see from the tears that I’m crying, that I am still grieving.
The parts of grief that you don’t foresee and often don’t anticipate when your child dies is the anger, guilt, blame, bitterness, hatred, the failure, self-persecution and the time.
Grief needs to be treated with respect, and grief requires patience from the person grieving but equally from those around you. It is in times of great hardship that friendships and relationships are challenged to the brink. Those that fall short ‘unfriend’ from Facebook, ‘evict’ from your insta, and ‘abolish’ from your twitter. You need to make life easy for yourself because you have been thrown one of the ultimate tests and the deadwood will only drag you down. Don’t be scared of what they might say when they’ve realised you aren’t popping up in their news feed because believe me, they won’t say a thing because people really don’t like to confront a grieving mother, and that’s because they never know what face they’ll be greeted with. They might get ‘sobbing and bawling uncontrollably face’, or ‘knock your fecking teeth out’ face!
When my twins died in the neonatal unit, I felt the most extreme level of failure, my body had failed them. I had failed them.
They died because my body rejected them in their prematurity, blaming myself stifled any grief I felt. I was angry and bitter. This surge of anger and bitterness was ‘silently’ directed at any other woman that had children, was carrying children and if the children happened to be twins, my anger and bitterness would be elevated to levels where anxiety would take over and my breathing would be erratic. My stomach would hurt, and I would begin to panic and sweat and start looking for the nearest brown paper bag that I could breathe into to stop me passing out into a heap in the middle of the frozen isle.
I dealt with losing my twin boys by getting pregnant as quickly as possible. There are no hard fast rules about when to have another baby after loss. You just have to trust your body and do what is best for you. Hindsight tells me now that maybe it was a little too soon because upon reflection I can now see that all I did was metaphorically cover my grief with a plaster, and a plaster doesn’t stay stuck forever.
The plaster came unstuck when in 2012 I found out Elliot had grown his wings at 38 weeks gestation. My world crashed into 1000 pieces. Elliot had exposed an old wound and their names were Louis and Corey. Not only was I grieving for my stillborn son but for my premature twins that had passed 7 years before. I had no idea what was ahead of me, but I knew I had to be strong for my other children and for my husband. But by being strong and maintaining a stoic stance I masked my own grief.
It took months of people telling me I needed some help, that I might benefit from counselling. Sadly I am one of those people that find it very hard to listen to other people telling me what to do, this trait has followed me since school to my detriment.
Everything had finally snowballed and I was treading water and slowly drowning in a sea of grief.
I had denied myself grief; I had hidden my emotions and suppressed my feelings because I wanted to be strong for everyone else.
I hated myself and I loathed every part of my person, I did not feel worthy to have my husband or my living children. I thought they would be happier without me. I believed that I was a tainted and if people got close to me bad things would happen. Only now I am accepting of my grief and I understand and respect that grief is part of me now. I also realise how utterly absurd it was to think my children would be better off without me, they are my kids and I am their mum, and as nutty, crazy and broken I am they love me, and I love them, warts and all and that includes my ever so slightly grumpy, kind, sometimes funny husband! There is no replacement for ME to them. (Even if Rachel Weisz came along singing nursery rhymes by day and wearing a ‘sexy nurse maids’ outfit by night ….I HOPE!)
My husband is such an important part of my story and every time we lost and buried a child I felt completely and utterly responsible for his pain and my failure to yet provide him with another son and this manifested itself in blame. I would blame him for loving me, blame him for marrying me and blame him for choosing me to have children with, because if none of that happened, he wouldn’t have a life filled with grief and disappointment because his wife failed to do the most natural thing in the world. If he didn’t choose me maybe I would have been liberated from this feeling of failure and self-loathing too. His grief displayed itself the polar opposite to mine and his continual effort to tell me he loved me and needed me, and that he doesn’t blame me just suffocated me.
We were like two magnets trying to be together but repelling against each other’s energy.
My grief engulfed me and it affected my marriage, my children, my family and my life. I almost lost everything!
So my message for surviving grief after a loss is to not fight against it. Let it do its job, be led by grief and feel the emotions as they come because resistance is futile and detrimental to the survival of bereavement.
I have accessed a great deal of counselling to get where I am today and one of the most helpful things I ever did as part of my therapy was writing. It’s helped me in so many ways. One day I wrote a letter to my guilt because guilt was draining my soul. This letter encompasses everything I felt.
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