Preface: I originally started writing this post a couple of weeks ago, when in processing the grief over the recent loss of our baby daughter, I turned to gratitude to find some light. I was having a good day…feeling so much love from my amazing friends, grateful for all the things I am lucky to have, and focused on how much of a stronger, more compassionate person I will become from this. Writing the words below made me feel good, and I was eager to post them after a quick proofread with a fresh set of eyes the next day.
But the next morning, I woke up feeling unexpectedly angry. I was angry that all the things I was grateful for were at the expense of my own joy. I couldn’t even look at my “gratitude” post for two weeks.
The reason I am prefacing this post is for those who may be reading this because you have also experienced this type of loss. I am very sorry that you are here. The rest of this post may be about gratitude that is genuine and real, but those other feelings – anger, sadness, confusion – are also valid and real. Grief is not linear. For me, my feelings have often been conflicting – searching for answers, even when I know there are none; being frustrated that I’ll never know why this happened, but finding comfort in the fact that there was nothing I could have done differently (but then still wanting to do things differently); fear of being judged by others who will never understand, but then not giving a shit what people think because they can’t possibly understand…I could go on and on…
“In order for the light to shine so brightly, darkness must be present.”
“There is light at the end of the tunnel.”
“No pain, no gain.”
There are many sayings that imply that for every negative there is a positive. Perhaps it is one of those universal truths. But in the darkest depths of our loss, I’ve refused to believe that anything remotely positive could emerge from this kind of pain. Sometimes I feel that mantras like those are total bullshit fairy dust created to make people feel better when there is nothing else good to say (i.e., “Rain on your wedding day is good luck!” Come on, no one ever actually wants it to rain on their wedding day.) Even though there had been glimmers of light – strengthening my bond with Sven, the outpouring of love from friends – I’d still rather be expecting a healthy daughter.
Then I recalled something a spiritual mentor told me three years ago:
“If people understood how much light comes from pain, they would ask for more pain. No one thinks they should ask for pain in their lives, but why do you go to the gym and make your muscles burn? It hurts, but you surrender to the pain because you know it will achieve the results you desire. Surrender to the pain in your life, instead of resisting it.”
This didn’t mean much to me back then, but somehow it stuck with me. Remembering his words released me from the need to resist the pain, from refusing to focus on anything positive that could be gained from it. I still resist it every day – I even feel a little guilty for writing about finding light when I just want to feel sad. But then I remind myself that sadness and light can coexist, that loss doesn’t erase gratitude. I remind myself that she was a gift. It was literally the first thought I had when I found out I was pregnant: “This is a gift.” She brought real joy, love and excitement to our lives. If parenthood itself was not the gift our daughter was meant to bring to our lives, then what was it? This question tests me often, and I know only time will reveal the answers. But I choose to believe that she is part of the person I was meant to become.
Compassion and self-kindness. After the loss, so many people told me to be kind to myself. I know that I am very hard on myself, but I always viewed this trait as a motivator for success. I pride myself on being acutely self-aware and constantly focusing on self-improvement, as personal growth is something I highly value. Ironically, I resisted the type of personal growth that accompanies an experience like this. However, in an effort to be more kind to myself, I realized I don’t always have to be in improvement mode, that I can show myself more compassion and forgiveness rather than just trying to fix whatever I think is wrong with me. This doesn’t mean self-righteousness and entitlement to own my flaws, but treating them with understanding. When I am too hard on myself, that extends to being too hard on others – those I love, those who I work with – and I could probably stand to be more compassionate and forgiving to them, too. I can’t shut off the part of my brain that is hard on myself overnight, but when I think of self-compassion as a gift from my daughter’s soul, I can hear her saying, “Mommy, it’s okay. Be kind to yourself.” And it works.
Acceptance of love. I have a lot of social anxiety around the loss. I fear running into acquaintances when I am out in public, and I’m dreading going back to work. I even have guilt around how much generosity has been bestowed upon me by my friends, as if I can’t possibly reciprocate their kindness. (See: Being too hard on myself.) But I’ve realized that the more I open up to people, the more opportunities I give myself to receive love. I was too scared to share my last post on the blog’s Facebook page until some friends told me they thought it would be helpful to others. Ever since I posted it, the outpouring of love from friends – some of whom I haven’t spoken to in years – was truly amazing. I like to think of it as my daughter’s soul teaching me new ways to accept love. <3
Faith. After the loss, I had some guilt about how open I had previously been about not being sure I wanted kids. But after speaking with a dear friend who was also ambivalent about having kids until she became pregnant, I realized it was not guilt – it was a fear of being judged. I am actually proud of my candor on this topic. From my post The Hardest Thing to Admit About (Not) Wanting To Have Kids this past March:
“The hardest thing for me to admit is that I am terrified of the fact that my potentially-future child will be one of the best things that will ever happen to me. I know I will love my kids as much as I love Sven, and that I will never take them for granted. I know they will become more important than my career and all of my unrealized selfish ambitions. And as strange as that may sound, I’m simply not ready for that yet.…But I’m admitting this because it’s oddly liberating in a way, and I’m trying to justify the fact that it’s still okay to view myself as a potentially-future mother who still deserves all the wonderful joys of parenthood, should it choose me someday – even if I can imagine just as joyful of a life without kids.”
Obviously, I have always respected the gravity of parenthood, but before I experienced pregnancy, I never believed I was meant to be a parent. Maybe I didn’t want to feel entitled to parenthood, or maybe I even felt that I wasn’t cut out for such a responsibility (See: Being too hard on myself). Or perhaps I simply didn’t think I was ready yet. But once I was pregnant, I felt ready. (Okay, shocked, but ready.)
Immediately after receiving the devastating news of our baby’s anomaly, all I wanted was statistics of recurrence, causes, methods of preventing any future defects – anything I could do to control my ability have a future healthy baby. I wanted facts, facts, and more facts (what can I say, I am a Rational). The reality is that what happened was out of our control, and there is no way to control any future outcome. But I was certain I wanted to have another baby. I am not typically a person of faith, but now all I have is the belief that Sven and I will be parents to a healthy child someday. If that doesn’t happen, I can still imagine a full life with Sven without kids, our love is truly enough. But I am holding on to the innocence that is still left in me after a traumatic experience, and it believes that Sven and I were meant to be parents – no facts necessary. That faith itself is something I’ve never had before, so yes, I believe it is a gift from our daughter. Even though I so badly wish the outcome had been different, I am grateful that parenthood chose us for a fleeting moment in time, and hopefully not the last time.