The Perfect Grief Mom
Guest post by Marie Hughes
I am a perfectionist, and I wanted to be a perfect mom. When I became the mom to an angel—Sadie’s mom—I still found myself striving to be the perfect “grief mom.” That’s very hard. I want to be productive for her, inspiring for her…but I am so sad, and I am so broken. What I have to accept is that being broken and being inspiring are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can’t be for any parent who has lost a baby—because if they were, then none of us could ever be inspiring, because our hearts will always be broken. The death of a baby is irreparable. There’s no fixing it, there’s no turning back the clock on it. But there’s also no way—aside from dying ourselves—to deny that there is a future before us, even in our sad and broken state. What I want—and what I am sure I am not alone in wanting—is to still be an inspiring mom, to still live my life in honor of my daughter…to still be Sadie’s mom every day, and to make people remember her…to make the world better in her memory.
If there’s one thing that’s frustrating for a perfectionist, it’s not being in control. My journey of being out of control began right when I decided that my journey to motherhood should begin. Summer 2008, four years into my married life with Dave, my high school sweetheart and my perfect soul mate, we were ready to start trying. And I was not nonchalant about that for a second. I thought I could control it all—I knew what month we’d start trying, and then when the baby would be due (because, obviously, I would be pregnant exactly when I deemed to be the ideal time-ha!). Those plans were quickly thwarted when my OB discovered a grapefruit-sized fibroid that would need to be surgically removed before we even tried to get pregnant. And so…the perfect plan changed, and in November of 2008, I had a robot-assisted myomectomy surgery, which would have to be followed up with months of recovery before we could start trying to conceive.
Now, of course, once we were green-lighted, I didn’t foresee any further complications. But instead…infertility. Polycystic ovaries. The fertility clinic. Clomid. Not pregnant. Clomid again…and 2nd time was a charm. In the fall of 2010, we were finally pregnant…for about 6-8 weeks, until our first ultrasound confirmed that there was no heartbeat, no baby…a ”blighted ovum.” Just an empty sac with no baby growing inside. I was crushed. Back to square one. I was given Misoprostol when the miscarriage didn’t happen “naturally,” we waited a cycle…and started trying again. Two IUIs, daily meditation with a guided audio track for enhanced fertility during medicated cycles…nothing. Negative test after negative test. Injectable cycles. Negative. Took a shot at Clomid again…negative. One more shot.
October 29th, 2011. It was snowing in October. And my digital pregnancy test was positive. I was in love immediately. I was scared too, but I was hopeful, and I was right to be hopeful. From the first ultrasound to the second-to-last one…(which was just three days before that last, heartbreaking ultrasound where there was no heartbeat)…everything about Sadie always looked perfect. Her heartbeat, her growth, her organs…her everything. Sadie was perfect and healthy, until she was gone. Just because there is perfection doesn’t mean that you are going to get what you want. Just because your baby is healthy doesn’t mean she’s going to be born alive.
June 19th, 2012. Sadie’s delivery was incredibly special. I completely treasure my memories of that day. Meeting my girl, who I had known for 36 weeks and 6 days, who I had fallen madly in love with, more and more each day—it was sacred. It was magic. I would go through that pain and sadness every day if I could also feel that joy and divinity of holding my baby girl in my arms, kissing her face and feeling her smooth, soft skin on my lips. I wouldn’t take it back ever, for anything, even through the agony that it was mixed with, and followed by. I would sacrifice everything to have her with me again. But that’s not an option. And now I had to make everything perfect, as perfect as everything can be made when all is lost.
It started with her funeral arrangements. This had to be the perfect tribute. And it was. I wrote her a song that my brother did an amazing job singing. We had a canvas made of a picture that was taken of her, and we displayed it on an easel. We planned everything out to be so special, and it really was. She looked beautiful, and it took so much self-control not to pick her up out of that tiny white casket and run off with her, despite how “crazy” that would have been. After the funeral, we focused on making her plot perfect—from the headstone, to the decor, to the flowers… But it’s hard to keep flowers alive in the heat of summer in New York, and it’s sad to be at the cemetery every day, so we started going every week instead.
The quest for being the perfect grief mom continued with my desire to make sure the system for photography at our hospital was improved—bringing information about NILMDTS, volunteering, recruiting photographers. I decided to make the gifts for the hospital’s remembrance ceremony—85 wind chimes, each personalized with baby’s name and date of birth. And then there was the book of poems, which I saw, and decided I needed to take charge of editing and formatting—because if Sadie’s poem is in there (which I wrote for her), then every page in that book better be typo-free and aesthetically consistent with the other pages.
But what I have learned is this: being a perfect mom is not about being perfect. It’s about fueling my days with love. It’s not about making myself crazy or overloading my plate so that I am frazzled and exhausted. It’s about acceptance, that no matter how perfect the decor at her headstone, no matter how meticulously edited a poetry book, no matter how impressive the fundraising effort… my life will never be perfect, because I will never have Sadie back. She wouldn’t want me to go crazy trying to be the perfect grief mom, trying to outdo everyone else. She would be proud of me for being her mommy, who loves her perfectly, and always will—even though we have to accept a family with a permanent hole in it, here on earth. My daughter has taught me so much…and like I always say, and firmly believe—there hasn’t been a single lesson worth the loss. But even though I didn’t want to learn these lessons, I have to accept them, because Sadie is my teacher…that’s her, still being here, still with me every day. Still in our family, making us better, stronger, more appreciative of each other, more grateful for each day we have together. Life isn’t going to be perfect, but my love for Sadie is, and I am so lucky my daughter is my teacher.