I haven't been 100% honest about everything that's gone on with me emotionally since Brayden was born. I write sporadically about what's been going on in life. And I write little notes to Ryan still around his milestone days. But real, hard, honesty hasn't been on display much here. Not like it used to be. And honestly, it's because it's hard to talk about.
Today is a day designed to promote open dialogue surrounding mental health. A day to say it's okay to talk about these things. And what's more, that you're not alone. I share what I share today so I can stop feeling alone in the feelings. But also to share with other mamas so they know they're not alone.
Caring for a new baby is hard. And I did not do so well with it in the first 2 months. I know I mentioned in passing here a few times that I was struggling "a bit." Or I'd chat with a few select friends and mention that it was hard or I was having "a bit of a hard time sometimes." But I always used language that probably underplayed my real genuine struggles.
Because how do you admit that you're not 100% happy and joyful when you've been given the gift you hoped and prayed for more than anything?
After losing Ryan and then bringing Brayden safely home, I just could not admit that my days were anything less than a blessing. How could I when I knew so many other mamas who'd give anything for the chance I had been given? How could I when I knew the "true despair" in losing a baby?
But in truth, I just simply didn't feel the pure happiness I expected I'd feel once I had Brayden in my arms. I felt lonely with this feeling. A feeling that felt impossible at the time to share.
But the truth is: I should have shared it then. Perhaps I'd have felt less lonely. Maybe I'd have been able to manage more confidently in those earlier days of my motherhood. Instead of feeling such a strong emotional struggle every single day in addition to the regular struggle of parenting a newborn.
I didn't share it then. But I'm sharing it now. Because I think loss mamas especially feel this need to keep quiet about those struggles. We don't want to come across as ungrateful. We don't want to upset other friends struggling to bring home a baby. We don't want our living babies, who we wished so hard for, to ever feel like they brought us anything but joy and peace.
But those unsettled feelings -- the feelings of struggle and confusion, a bit like you're drowning in this new life you've taken on -- are felt by so many mamas. And as with most things, the burden is easiest carried when carried together.
So today, I'll share that although I've come a long way from those earlier days, it's still not all a piece of cake. I definitely have a handle on things more now. And I cut myself more slack now than I ever did. But I still have tough days. And I've had to work to accept that I'm not going to enjoy every single little moment. And that's hard to admit -- because I want to. And I expected to. But life is about managing expectations.
Lately my biggest struggle comes in the late hours. Brayden has recently started sleeping through the night (*touch wood*). But I still tend to wake up to check on him from time to time. And in those late night hours my mind wanders to Ryan. How could it not when the house is quiet and I find myself with nothing but time? I lay in bed and wish so hard that I had more time with him. I try hard to recall the moments we did have, but I'm finding more and more as time passes my memories are becoming blurred. I wish I could go back and hold him a little longer. I wish I had more pictures to help unblur my memories. Every day I get new memories and new moments with Brayden. And I feel so much more sadness than maybe I ever had that I don't get those memories with Ryan. Lately I've felt especially sad and beat up about losing him despite the year or so it's taken me to feel some peace again.
It's hard to feel so sad again after feeling so peaceful for so long.
A real shock to my system.
The truth is, lately the tears come more freely than they have in some time. It's like now that Brayden and I are settling into life together, I'm slammed by Ryan's overwhelming absence. I've spent so long being only able to focus on Brayden that now that there's room in my brain again, my first born is poking around for some attention. Attention I'm too willing to give him. But it's grief. So it's hard.
And that's the honest truth about how I'm feeling. About how it's been to become a mother again after the death of my baby.
It's hard. But I know I'm not alone.
Faith. Faith is not a word I've used a lot in my writing. It's not a word I've really felt much throughout this experience either, which is probably why it has stayed out of the conversation to this point. But I think today is an appropriate day for some discussion on the topic.
I was raised Catholic. Attended Catholic school. Sang in the choir. Attended a Catholic youth leadership camp one summer. Was a group leader for faith-based retreats hosted by my high school. I am very grateful for my Catholic upbringing. For having the concept of faith instilled in me from a young age. Once I left for university, my involvement in the Catholic church waned a bit -- easy to do when it's not being thrust in your face every day. But even though it wasn't at the forefront of my day to day life, I always connected with the idea that I was Catholic and I had a "Catholic community" should I ever need to or want to participate in that aspect of my life.
My husband was raised Catholic as well. His experiences were not quite the same as mine. But he was baptized. And so when we discussed having children there was little to discuss around the subject of baptism. Our kids would be baptized Catholic. (There's still some debate about Catholic school -- he went to public school [uh oh]), but for the most part, any conversations around children and religion were very easy.
When Ryan died, my already seriously diminishing relationship with God and my faith was rocked. No. Not rocked. Basically obliterated. I had experienced loss before. Loss from illness. Loss from tragic accidents. And in each moment, I had questioned Him. Wondered why bad things happen to good people. But tried to find solace in the whole "trust His plan" mentality.
So then Ryan died. And I more or less adopted a "God who?" kind of feeling. Maybe even something along the lines of the mantra for the Ugandan tribe from The Book of Mormon. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can Google it I'm sure.) Basically it's awful and I quit Him. Screw "God's plan." And I could give two shits about how he works in mysterious ways. What was the point in faith if you'd live a good life and then the worst most horrible and unspeakable things could still happen to you?
I haven't spoken to God more than a few words since then. There might have been a "Please let this baby be okay," when I was pregnant with Brayden. And then a quick, "Thank you," after he was born. But I was (am?) just not totally ready to reconcile with him after what happened that September.
Well, today, I took Brayden to church. We've been talking a lot about his baptism and getting ready for that, and there was this voice in me that was saying how important it was to actually participate in my faith if we're going to baptize him. (Especially if Catholic education isn't necessarily a given at this point -- yes, we still have a few years to go before we have to think about school, but I'm a planner, what can I say?)
For today it was just Brayden and I. And it was fine. It was mass. What can I say? It's not like I walked in and was struck by lightning. Or even the opposite. I certainly didn't have any great epiphanies. The skies didn't open and fill me with the light of God's love or anything. But, if I'm being honest, I had two very serious "moments."
The first came at communion. I carried Brayden with me as I accepted the Eucharist. The deacon (I think that was his title -- there were 3 different men presiding over mass today -- seemed like a lot to my memory of mass), but anyway. The deacon gave Brayden a little blessing before we walked away and I was slammed with the memory of the priest who came to the hospital the night Ryan was born and blessed him as he laid in my arms. It was this totally gutting moment of have my living baby be blessed for the first time while thinking of my dead son being blessed for the only time. I'm not even sure I remember making the decision to have the priest come that night. It's all such a blur. But there was definitely something in that moment that took the wind out of me.
So then I go sit back down. Kneel actually. As the Catholics do the whole stand, sit, kneel thing, this was a kneeling moment. I had done a pretty good job up to this point in the service of focusing so much on keeping Brayden content or sleeping that I hadn't done much connecting with the mass. But this point, the after communion, kneel and pray part, was emotional. I didn't say much. And much of what I did say I guess is between me and Big Guy, but I found myself in tears. (How dramatic to be the lady in the back of the church crying silent tears alone during prayer.) But it happened. I wiped them away and silently shook my head at myself. What the hell was happening to me?
I'm not changed by this one experience with my great return to church. I'm not sure I'll be "changed" at all. I have my feelings about God and all that's happened. I know now that God isn't perfect. And I've said it before, that I'm still trying to forgive Him and accept Him for that. But I'm glad I went. I'm glad that despite my reservations with my faith that I can still be open enough to give these experiences to Brayden. And maybe church will become one more place I will feel comfortable talking to Ryan. Maybe some day, church will be a place that Brayden will talk to Ryan, too.
You never know. God works in mysterious ways. (Ugh.)
Today is my website's one year anniversary. I was surprised when I logged on to Facebook this morning and it reminded me of this fact. One year ago today, I published my first piece here. And I can't believe how far it has come since then. It gave me a moment's pause to think about life then, and life now. What this blog meant then, and what it still means today.
One year ago, as I started writing, I was looking for a place to share my fears, my worries, my hopes, my grief. I was a bereaved mother with aching arms and a deep desire to share my heart with anyone who would listen. I felt I was floundering to find purpose and hope and took to the internet to connect with people who maybe felt the same.
Now, as I continue writing, I strive to share all of those same things, but I'm coming from a different place. Still a bereaved mother, but one with a living baby here in my arms. I'm still seeking to share my heart with anyone who will listen, because one year later, the ache has lessened but a void still exists. I know my purpose now, and I have connected with so many beautiful mamas from all around the world.
So, why do I still write? Yes, because my grief is ever-evolving. And with Brayden's arrival it has deepened and intensified and created a whole bunch of new little nuances that I sometimes need to sort out. But also for a very important reason.
When I started writing, it was because I had read so many other stories from so many other mamas with more experience than I had and it was those stories, those blogs, those mamas, that gave me more hope and courage to move forward every day than I thought possible at the time. I keep writing today, one year later, because I hope to return the favour. I hope to reach new mamas looking for support..
Babyloss hurts, to put it mildly. And it is without a doubt the hardest thing I've ever gone through. Knowing I wasn't alone was the real game-changer for my grieving.
I have written about it, and will continue writing about it, because nothing has helped me more than talking about our loss. Before Ryan died I knew no one who had lost a baby. Or at least that's what I thought, because no one talked about it. And I didn't know it was okay to talk about it until I just went ahead and did it. I was so afraid of everything babyloss-related. I mean, that's why I only have one photo of Ryan. I didn't know what was normal. In fact, I felt that the whole situation was so NOT normal. I know differently now. I know that babyloss is normal and common, and I know how important it is for people to talk about it and to feel that they CAN talk about it. By opening up about it myself, I invite others to do the same. This creates a discourse, and a way of normalizing this very specific kind of grief. The more people talk about it, the more support there is for people who need it.
So a big thank you to everyone who has supported me in this writing and advocating adventure I've been on this past year. Thank you to those who have read and reached out. And thank you to those who read and hold my words in your heart and in your mind. If anything I've ever written has helped anyone half as much as writing it has helped me then every minute spent writing has been worth it.
Here's to another year of sharing, connecting, and grieving together.
It's become a bit of a habit for me to miss writing to you on your exact date, but this month I think there was a special reason you wanted me to wait until today.
I had the most wonderful encounter this morning. First of all, I missed you on the 7th because your brother hasn't been well. A few trips to the paediatrician has revealed a bronchiolitis infection. So he has required a lot of extra cuddles which leaves no hands for typing. But today, while at the hospital for a follow up appointment, I ran into my OB. She spotted me and came over to tell me this:
A few weeks ago she was on call when a woman lost her baby. She and the nurses were able to provide the new mom with the memory box we donated on your first birthday. Together they went through the box and used the items to make memories with their baby. My OB told me how much this meant to the woman and her family. I included some of my social media contacts in the box and my OB mentioned that the woman was hoping to connect with me some day. I hope she does. I'm sad someone needed to use the box, but I'm so happy it could bring such comfort.
It does my heart such good to know that because of your life we are able to help others through their hard times.
I just wanted to let you know that in this way you're not only special to me, but I think, to the world.
Happy 16 Months, Baby Boy.