As a grieving mother, I tend to walk a very fine road as I learn to reintegrate into society and learn to navigate this new life of mine. What the world sees of me is only what is apparent on the surface. There are certain things I choose not to share because I am just trying my best to function normally again. And that is no easy task.
Not to mention, I am often misunderstood by those unfamiliar with this kind of grief. It is exhausting having to explain myself day in and day out. This is exactly why I hide a lot of my tears. I secretly cry in places like my car while driving alone or in the shower where no one can hear me. I probably cry way more often than anyone realizes. And I’ve perfected the art of pulling myself back together.
A smile doesn’t always mean I’m fine. Just because I walk around with a smile on my face doesn’t always mean I am okay. It doesn’t mean I am “over it” either. I smile because I am trying to live my life again. There are times when I spend the day smiling and feeling okay, but I still end up crying myself to sleep at night.
There are also days where I am genuinely happy. But it doesn’t mean that the deep ache in my soul has subsided. It’s still there. It will always be there. Don’t mistake my smile for something it’s not. Is that confusing to you? Good. Because it confuses me too.
There have been times I’ve had to resist the urge to physically hurt you. Every time you complain about your children I don’t know whether to laugh or cry because it is so ridiculously insensitive. But I do know that I have to resist the deep urge to throat punch you. It is really hard to listen to people complain about their living children because I would have done anything to have those “problems” in my life. Listening to these petty complaints makes me want to beat my head against the wall. But instead, I usually just laugh hysterically at the idea that you think it’s a real “problem.”
And what’s more – I will probably never truly empathize with your poop stories or sleepless nights. I know motherhood can be tough, but it will never compare to mothering a child who is no longer here.
I don’t want to hear about your new pregnancy. Don’t get me wrong. I am happy for you. I value the prospect of new life more than anyone I know. But I don’t want to hear how hard your pregnancy has been or how you “just want it to be over.” I will slap a smile on my face and congratulate you. And I am probably going to be really happy for you, but I also may flop between feelings of jealousy and horrible – yet realistic – thoughts that you too might lose your baby. Because contrary to what you believe – it could happen. And I hate that it could.
Don’t think that because of my grief, I didn’t notice your absence. Don’t assume that because I’m cordial with you, all is fine between us. You dropped off the face of the earth when I needed you most and I resent you for it. But actually saying that to you would just cause more issues. And trust me – I don’t need any more. So, I choose to say nothing at all.
I hate making small talk. I avoid it as much as possible. I know how it goes. Eventually, you will regret striking up the conversation once you ask me how many children I have. Because I am not going to lie to you just to make you feel comfortable. I will tell you that I have a child, but he died. It will be completely rehearsed and forced – but it will still fall from my lips.
And if you’re a mother holding a baby, I will probably avoid eye contact and resist striking up a conversation. It doesn’t mean I am ignoring you or that I am completely uninterested in talking to you. I just want to tell you about my baby. You see, I would love to swap stories with you. But odds are you probably don’t want to talk about my dead baby.
Sometimes simple things can be the most challenging. Like when I visit the doctor and the paperwork asks me to scribble down how many children I have. I don’t know if they mean living or living and deceased. Or when I have to sign a birthday card – I always pause and wonder if I should sign my child’s name too. Or would that just be weird? It all just becomes more emotionally complicated than it’s worth.
I still sleep with a teddy bear. Yes, you read that correctly. I am a fully grown woman who sleeps with a teddy bear. But it isn’t just any teddy bear. It is my child’s teddy bear. I want more than anything to feel him close to me and his bear brings my heavy heart a bit of comfort. Especially on the nights where tears are endless and sleep doesn’t come easily.
I am sorry I lost him but not sorry I had him. I know people often look at me with pity in their eyes when they hear that I’ve lost a child. But please don’t think that this means I regret having him be a part of my life. You see, he was one of my greatest blessings. I am not sorry that he was a part of our family. And I would do it all over again even knowing the outcome. Because I love him that much and I am grateful for our time together.
*Thank you to the group of beautiful grieving mothers who shared their confessions with me for this article.