I thought it would be a good idea to gather a group of close friends for dinner to celebrate Christmas. What the hell was I thinking that for? My tiny baby boy had died only 4 weeks earlier. Maybe I wanted everyone to see that I was alive and ok, not sure.
The first indication that things might go awry was when I couldn’t find anything to wear. The button on my favourite skinny jeans refused to secure over my still enlarged tummy. Even though I didn’t look and feel anything like pregnant my wardrobe dictated that I had no choice but to wear maternity jeans. It turns out that wearing maternity clothing when you are neither pregnant nor nursing an infant is a cruel blow to an already fractured self.
When I first walked into the restaurant I felt sick. What do I even say to these people? I’d been living in a cocoon of grief and despair and the last place I belonged was within the confined space of a festive environment. I realised far too late that I needed to be immersed in comfort and safety but there I was and it didn’t occur to me to back out.
Most of my friends with their beautiful children in tow were happy to see me. I say most because not everyone wanted to talk to me. I certainly don’t blame them. Perhaps they also required something safe and comfortable, like distance between them and a terrified grieving person. Perhaps they were asking themselves what I should have been asking; What on Earth is she doing here? Why put on a brave face and pretend that you have any interest in Christmas whatsoever? What kind of a person would do that to themselves? I started to feel very anxious. I wanted everyone to hurry up and sit down and get dinner over with as soon as possible.
We had two long tables reserved and only a few friends sat at one end of the first table with me. If it wasn’t so sad it could almost be considered comical. Everyone else sat at the other table including my husband. I’m sure he appeared less scary and grief stricken and didn’t have to wear ugly maternity jeans and holdup useless oversized boobs that never provided even a hint of nourishment.
After I sat down a lovely girlfriend presented me with a Christmas decoration with my baby’s name on it. She said to me quite miffed, that all the other kids would be getting a present tomorrow and why shouldn’t he? I agreed wholeheartedly. She was devastated.
I tried to include myself in some conversations but the topics became quite intense. One of my girlfriends had just found out that she had success with a surrogate pregnancy after many invasive and tortuous rounds of IVF and devastating miscarriages. Another couple were also celebrating success after many years of infertility. There’s something to be said about timing, a Universal giggle perhaps? My dream had been shattered, crushed, demolished and abolished and that pretty much reflected in my appearance. I was happy for them of course, they deserved it after all the anguish they had endured, but I felt oh so enormously sorry for myself.
I had made it to 24 weeks and 1 day of my pregnancy against all the odds. Long story short I’d suffered from a blood disorder that caused a placental injury that morphed into severe preeclampsia. My darling boy’s growth had been stunted and the medical powers that be determined that he was better off outside of a complicated body that was not so subtly trying to kill us both. After being in hospital for a few weeks he was cut out of my uterus the minute his life was considered viable.
You begin to comprehend how fragile life is when you have a baby at 24 weeks gestation, so tiny and undeveloped and yet so perfect. You also begin to comprehend the meaning of resilience. It turned out that this tiny human was incredibly determined. The fight my boy put up to live with all the odds stacked firmly against him was enviable. But after 15 days he’d had enough. It was just too much for such a little being to endure and so he gracefully left us.
I thought I had processed the enormity of my loss or at least developed some kind of acceptance. I know I felt guilty as hell. Why did I survive and he didn’t? Sometimes things happen that are outside of our control. Sometimes they happen for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent. Sometimes really, really horrible and heartbreaking things happen.
To accept this difficult situation I found solace in the belief that my baby’s short life had purpose and meaning, just as my life has purpose and meaning. It was this firm belief that carried me through the darkness. I just asked to be a parent and whatever that entailed was not up to me but up to the purpose of the child. My job was to provide the vehicle and try not to complain no matter how disturbingly awful the outcome was.
So that night at the restaurant I sat with a few of my friends who I hadn’t seen for many months and I must have scared the living shit out of them.
Thinking back I probably was quite frightening and to be honest, I had every right to be. I watched my husband whom everyone was crowded around and was glad that he was being kindly fussed over and revered. His battle had been immense.
Maybe it was clear to everyone that I too was fragile like my little boy had been and the walls I had built from my grief and sadness where far too high for anyone to jump over. I felt crushed. It was the wrong idea to organise an event so soon and everyone knew it and no one could wait to leave.
One of the couples even left without paying. It was a dreadful night. I had to hold back tears leaving the restaurant but the minute I made it into the car I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I was enraged. The darkness in my heart was putrid. It felt like acid was quickly dissolving my entire being. I was broken and torn apart from the incessant grief that I was drowning in. I couldn’t breathe. It took on a life of its own and I had no defences against it. Then I had to drive my slightly inebriated husband home.
When I was safely within my sanctuary I fell into a jagged edged rubble of pain that I couldn’t escape. I went outside and cried to the backyard. I cried in that desperate primal way reserved only for trauma. I cried for the loss of my son, for the perceived rejection I’d felt that night, for the pain of the two friends who would go on to have successful pregnancies after so many fails, for the gut wrenching heartbreak that is losing a child, for his unrealised potential, for the empty nursery, for the body that betrayed me, for all the things we’d never do together.
Up until that night I had prided myself on holding my emotions fairly well together. So much so that I thought I could handle a night out. Clearly I had just created a pretty little façade. I thought I’d worked through acceptance and sought reason and purpose to justify his crushingly sad death but something inside of me wanted to fall further, deeper and harder and this unseen force was relentless and I was left in a mess.
For the first time since my baby died I wanted to die. I wanted to be wherever he was and away from the disgusting despair that was eating me alive. I would never be flippant about my own death but I couldn’t take it anymore. Couldn’t take the fact that this was it, he was never coming back and I would have to live with that. Live with the emptiness whilst everyone around me rightfully celebrated their lives and their beautiful children and even God forbid celebrated Christmas which seemed like an absolutely absurd and pointless holiday as far as I could tell.
My husband came out to see what on Earth was wrong with his so called strong and sensible wife and before long he became as equally as helpless and hopeless. Seeing me in that state when I had held it together for so long was more than he could handle. I informed him that I wouldn’t be attending Christmas lunch the following day. In fact I wouldn’t be doing anything ever again. He did the most sensible thing he could and he got out of my way.
After exhausting myself, I finally found my bed and prayed for the bliss of unconsciousness to get me the hell out of my own head and to bring me some blessed relief.
We know everything when we reflect back don’t we? Like I now know that I had to get to breaking point and I needed to get that low. It was the low I hadn’t allowed myself to have. Why do we try to keep it all together when we don’t need to? Who cares! Is anyone really judging how we grieve? It’s the one time in our lives when we should pretty much get away with any kind of odd behaviour.
Grief is such a difficult space and extraordinarily personal in its nature, how we deal with it is very individual. There are no prizes for getting over loss in record time and it’s something we will all encounter sometime in our lives. All judgement must be suspended when we grieve especially of ourselves. It’s something that has to be stepped through by any means necessary and not something that can or should be mastered.
I’m sure if I hadn’t of reached that sharp point of sheer darkness and terror I’d still be hurtling towards it every day only stopping short to prevent myself from descending into it entirely. I had to crash because I had to crawl back from it, had to rebuild, had to start over.
The next day I did go to Christmas lunch. I managed to pull it together. I also realised it was time to finally put the finishing touches on my baby’s memorial that I had been agonising over for weeks. My night of darkness showed me it was time. Even though it tore me pieces it also gently beaconed me back towards peace.
Providing hardly any notice I arranged for close friends and family to join us at the beach for a little ceremony 2 days after Christmas to farewell my son. It was simple and beautiful and I felt incredible pain but I also felt enormous peace. I hope my little boy felt it too.
As much as the dinner sucked beyond the telling of it, the truth is it was instrumental to the progression of my grief. I needed to bottom out in preparation to say goodbye. I wouldn’t have been able to stand and deliver my baby’s memorial with the strength that I mustered up if I hadn’t of fallen deeply into the abyss.
Breaking and being honest was the key to moving forward. Knowing that part of me was now gone. Knowing that I would be different from there on in. Knowing that the girl who was always trying to appear well put together had transformed into someone new and having it all together is completely overrated and a bit of a lie and who gives a stuff about it anyway.
Not being in control isn’t always a criminal offence. We are human and vulnerable and terrible things do happen. The gentler and more honest we can be with ourselves will always be our saving grace. Being changed by death and loss undeniably builds strength and resilience but those attributes can wait until you’re ready to fit into them. You certainly need to give yourself time and space, patience and love to grow into your wings before you can safely fly.