I’m navigating new parenthood as a bereaved parent, and boy am I in pieces. Having lost our first son three years ago, I’m still learning to live life with grief as a companion. I expected that, and know I’ll always be tending to new layers of grief as life evolves. What I didn’t anticipate were the deeply personal issues that would surface as I became Mom to our second (living) child. Like many parents, I thought I would naturally be a solid mother – a calm, patient, sweet, loving and strong foundation for our son. Consider me humbled. While I am those things much of the time, I also battle feelings of shame, inadequacy and anxiety. When triggered, my mind begins to race, I slam things, I throw things, I groan in frustration, I clench my fists and grit my teeth.* It’s ugly and I don’t accept it, because it’s just not me. But I’ve had a major challenge resolving it on my own, which has inspired me to share the following:
What I’ve come to learn is that the cause goes way back to childhood, was later intensified by the loss of our first son, and then reaffirmed in becoming a parent. For starters, I had a challenging upbringing. From a young age I carried a lot of responsibility in a home that was turbulent, tense and unsteady. I became the “fixer” and inaptly learned that if I could handle it all and if I could keep everyone happy, I’d get the affection of some very significant figures in my life. I did that well, it seemingly worked, and so the “pleaser” in me was born. My confidence was propped up by making a messy life look perfect and being able to take care of everyone and everything. Flash forward to my adult life and to my first pregnancy… I was excited to care for our son and I was already proud of being a good mother. Much to my satisfaction, the pregnancy was “perfect”. Friends, family and doctors all praised me for being so healthy and taking such great care of our baby – very validating for the fixer/pleaser/perfectionist in me.
At 27 weeks into that seemingly perfect pregnancy, I walked timidly into the doctor’s office already knowing the news they were about to confirm. The nurse who weighed me in didn’t give the look of approval I was used to. Instead, it was a look of certain sorrow as she escorted me to the back room. That room where those words cut through me like a knife. As I stared in disbelief at my son’s lifeless image on the monitor, I immediately felt anger and shame. A parent is supposed to protect their child, nurture their child, bring their child into this world alive! I was supposed to be able to do that. How could this happen? Why couldn’t I take care of my son? Why couldn’t my body do what it was supposed to do? I did my best, but that wasn’t enough. It didn’t prevent the death of my son. I have failed my son and everyone else who was counting on me. The aftershock of his passing was far reaching. It wounded my heart, it messed with my mind and it awakened those bad beliefs I had just started to abandon. It severely rocked my entire identity and sense of self-worth. That old narrative started to resurge, the one that fostered feelings of shame and inadequacy.
A couple of years later, we were blessed with our second son. We had another healthy pregnancy, but the delivery was very long and traumatic. He was stuck in the birth canal, our oxygen levels were compromised and we were both sick from an intra-amniotic infection. In addition, my placenta likely abrupted and there was concern of a possible cord incident. We thought our son died when he came out blue and stunned. He never cried. He never gasped for air. He just laid lifeless on my chest for a brief second before the NICU swooped in. We watched anxiously as they worked to save his life, and thank goodness he quickly improved. My state of shock, however, lingered much longer. How could I let my son and husband down again? Where did I go wrong? It took months for my brain to understand that we hadn’t lost our baby and for my heart to heal from that trauma. Even then I felt completely inadequate and unworthy. After months of fumbling through new motherhood, I became more anxious, self-critical, fearful and angry. With every challenge I faced, my inner voice kept on… I was able to handle everything my entire life until now. I’m supposed to be able to do this and do it well! I owe it to him, to our family and to our babies to be perfect at this. What if I fail (again) and something bad happens (again)? What if my best isn’t enough? What if I am not enough? How will they ever love me?
It’s well known that grief and trauma will cause you to redefine life. However, I had no idea how deeply personal and damaging the aftermath can be. On the outside, I’m me. Intellectually, I’m me. But emotionally, consider me lost and in pieces. My confidence and sense of security had always thrived on my ability to care for others, to overcome challenges and make everything okay. But following the events I’ve mentioned, my identity came crumbling down and was marred by fear and self-deprecating beliefs. I expected pain and sorrow, but I didn’t expect to also lose myself. I didn’t expect to blame myself, to feel like such a failure and for everything I learned about myself growing up to creep back in and utterly defeat me.
Where does that leave me now? I’m ready to find inner peace and resolve. I’ve learned that simply trying to control my emotional response isn’t enough. Those deep feelings are still there and are still wildly inaccurate. So through counseling, mindfulness and meditation I’m working to reframe the narrative. I’m working to silence that voice that tears me down and replace it with one that truly believes: You are worthy of love and acceptance. You aren’t a failure. You aren’t responsible. You didn’t let anyone down. This happened to you, just like it happened to everyone else. You don’t need to carry it alone. You don’t have to fix it or be perfect at anything to earn their love.
Unlike some of my other posts, I don’t have any direction or guidance in getting there (yet). I’m just starting out but will continue to share my progress in case it is of any use to you. At the very least, I hope it affirms that you aren’t crazy if your loss has totally shattered you too. More importantly, you aren’t inept if you can’t fix it by yourself. I wish someone had told me that well before now. You just have a heart and a brain that are trying to heal in the wake of a ruthless tragedy. It’s okay to be in pieces, but we all deserve to find inner peace. And so that journey begins…
with lovE, Skyler
*Disclaimer: No humans or animals have been exposed to or harmed in the making of this drama!
“What happened to you is not as powerful as what you tell yourself happened to you” – Rebecca Kennedy