The hardest thing to admit…

After you’ve lost a child, you somehow find ways to live on. You don’t actively seek ways to help your situation, the adjustment sort of happens by itself.

When people say to you ‘I don’t know how you cope’, you look at them blankly, and most likely simply say ‘I just do’. But it makes you realise you have been coping! Inside you’re thinking how exactly have I coped? Am I a bad mother for coping the way I have? Will I ever feel on top of this?

There are things in my life that have changed for the ‘better’ in the three years since Abi died. We had our first rainbow baby a year after her death. A huge new adjustment on top of the trauma of early grief, no matter how joyful a blessing his arrival was.

There is no doubt at all that he is a blessing and has not only helped us to see hope and feel joy again but has also helped family and friends. This little boy has a clean slate, no trauma or pain or sorrow, no worries or fears, just simple happiness and wonder at what life is. I wish I could bottle that!

We’ve also changed our home in a big way to what it was. We finally have the kitchen of our dreams after years of waiting and dreaming. We have added another bedroom giving us some much-needed space. We’ve had all the manky old carpets replaced and had new double glazing fitted, as well as having most rooms professionally redecorated. Big, expensive jobs that needed a remortgage to achieve but have enabled us to start to love our home again without leaving or eliminating the memory of Abi.

I’m in the final few days of pregnancy as we wait for another baby girl to arrive. We’ve adjusted to our new son and now we know we’ll need to adjust again, through tiredness and worry and fear, through joy and happiness and hope.

I am naturally anxious for a safe delivery and keen to meet her after all these months of getting to know her as she has been growing inside me. I long to see her tiny fingers and toes. To smell her head. To hold her close for a feed. To feel that rush of love whenever I cuddle my child.

But…

…this wasn’t the life I wanted.

Admitting that is hard, very hard, because I know how fortunate I am. But when someone is going through a major trial, saying ‘there are others worse off than you’ often doesn’t help at all.

I know there are other people living in terrible situations and I am thankful for what I have been blessed with. If I died tomorrow, I would be very happy with what I have achieved in my life.

But still… this wasn’t the life I wanted.

I look at my amazing kitchen, the one that replaced cupboards hanging off the walls, rotting wood and a grotty floor. It’s now clean, bright and functional. I like it, knowing it’s new and just as we want it makes my life easier, but the joy of it has never been felt.

Because now, of course, material things don’t matter. It has helped lift my spirits, as having a nice kitchen that looks clean when I’ve cleaned it helps me when I feel depressed. Having a home that I know we have invested in and that has space to spread out helps me not feel so hemmed in. I feel comfortable in rather than irritated by my surroundings. But I’d still switch it all back in a heartbeat to have her back, to be back to complaining about my old kitchen or lack of storage.

It’s similar with our new child and this pregnancy. I can feel at times a sense of sorrow. Sorrow that I’m living on. Sorrow that I’m taking such joy in my new children knowing what I’ve lost. Sorrow that my other children have had to adjust to this too, but live with their own anxieties about illness and death that we have to try and help them with.

I feel love and happiness for my rainbows, how can I not?! The love I feel for them is so deep it hurts. In many ways they have saved us from despair. Yet I can’t ever feel the simple joy of a new parent at the arrival of a baby, because it’s always tinged with pain.

I know people who have lost a child and wanted another, it’s natural to want to feel that rush of love again, but to think that it would somehow replace the grief, or make it less painful, is misguided.

To have another baby or babies after a loss brings up unique emotions. Despite wanting the baby more than anything, you realise that this child is here because another is not. That the grief you felt for your lost child is what helped create this new one. That part of them is in this new baby, when your core is screaming out for your dead child.

It’s an admittedly negative way to reflect on the birth of a child, but it’s essential to acknowledge. Grief and blessing when blended together bring emotions that no one can warn you about. Life is always a complex mix of looking simultaneously forwards with hope and backwards with regret.

I realised that I’ve been thinking thoughts like this recently. I suppose a typical mother’s guilt response to the excitement I feel at having another child after thinking my chances of having any more children were over before Abi died. I also recognise it as typical pre-birth jitters, the fear of the change and of the whole aspect of ‘coping’.

It is my grief’s way of taking the edge off my joy as I marvel at my blessings. Life is not about simple joys any more, there will always be an underlying emotion, a fear, a hankering for what once was…

Yet I am grateful for life.
I am grateful for the people in my life.
I am grateful for Abi.
I try not to live with regret.
I try to move forward each day.
I try to use what I have learned.

I am realising it is possible to cope. That joy through grief is still joy, and that in fact the grief I feel is actually a way of keeping Abi close to me as my life and needs change.

This post may seem somewhat sombre, self-pitying, defeatist but it’s those kind of thoughts I don’t want to keep to myself. It’s those kinds of thoughts that are taboo, that isolate the grieving from others. I have to release them in order to cope.

No. I didn’t want this, but it’s what I have and I will allow the sad feelings to accompany me along with the good. I will remember that my life’s perspective is changed for the better because of what I have been through, even though my perspective on mortality has changed for the worse.

My children have enriched my life, I only hope that I can return that gift by enriching theirs.

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