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.)
PAL. 3 weeks ago, it meant “Pregnancy After Loss.” If you’ve read anything I’ve written in the last 10 months, you’d also know that the journey of a pregnancy after a loss is no easy road. It was laden with stress, anxiety, fear, detachment… It also had hope, love, joy… It was ride to be certain. And although pregnancy is still this beautiful thing to me – seriously, I love being pregnant – I was pretty grateful when it ended, this time, happily, with a whimpering, breathing, living baby in my arms.
I spent my PAL living day by day. We didn’t really physically do much to prepare for his trip home. We didn’t even install the car seat until hours before we were discharged from the hospital. And if we did so little to physically prepare for what might come next, I know that I, at least, did not do enough to emotionally prepare for the next step. I did little thinking about what having a baby at home might look like. What it would feel like. How it would be. Perhaps for only fleeting moments did I consider what it would be like to really parent a living child. And though I was protecting my heart in the moment, I did not do myself any favours in the lack of preparation.
You see, now, PAL has a new meaning. PAL refers to “Parenting After Loss.” And that’s a whole new journey. Though I’ve never parented without loss in my past, I can bet it’s different from what the other 75% of women who have never experienced a loss might know.
Before we were blessed with the knowledge of Brayden growing inside me, I would pray silent prayers. This was the only “talking to God” I’ve done since Ryan died. Apart from the unspoken “Thank you” I sent to Him when Brayden was placed, pink and squirming, in my arms. When Ryan died I cut off most of my ties with God for lack of understanding and lack of faith in Him. Except for the prayers begging him for a healthy, living baby. I get that that is totally selfish and not at all what real faith is – asking for things when I want them. But that’s what I did. I asked and asked. And I made promises to Him. And to Ryan. That if I could just have a baby here, I’d be the best parent. No one would ever parent like me. I’d be patient. My baby would know nothing but love. I would not take a single moment for granted. I would love the sound of his cries. I would cherish waking up in the middle of the night, because I’d have a living baby who needed me. Relied on me. If I could only have a baby, living, in my arms.
Those moments. Those prayers. That’s where my Parenting After Loss journey started off on the wrong foot.
The past 3 weeks have been what I expect the first 3 weeks to be like for all “new” parents. (Enter another problem – I hate referring to myself as a “new” parent. I’ve been a parent for a year now. I’ve actually done “the hardest thing a parent can do,” bury my child, and yet I’m still considered a “new” parent. Go figure). But these 3 weeks have been full of worry – Is he eating enough? Why am I not producing more milk? Why does he breathe like that? Is that what his bellybutton is supposed to look like? They’ve been full of love – Admiring little noises and smiles. Hours-long cuddles and snuggles. Intense eye contact during feedings. Actually tearing up just looking at him.
But I want to be really honest. Really truly honest because I don’t want other Rainbow Mamas to feel as lonely as I have felt the past couple of weeks.
Parenting After Loss is quite possibly harder than the pregnancy. Because now there’s still the worry and the fear. After all, since losing my baby during pregnancy I’ve met plenty of mamas who’ve lost their babies well after they were born. But there’s the exhaustion, too. And with that exhaustion comes the impatience that I swore to God (literally) I wouldn’t have. I’ve spent nights crying over Brayden in the rocker because he just wouldn’t latch. Afternoons begging him to just stop crying so I could put him down and eat lunch. I’ve found myself having to take a breath and count to ten so I could get my frustrations under control.
That’s not who I promised I’d be.
And that’s when the guilt set in.
That’s when I started to feel inadequate. And like I didn’t deserve this baby, this blessing. Because I wasn’t holding up my end of the bargain. I wasn’t being the Supermom I promised to be. Instead I was a mess.
I was crying for a baby who has been gone over a year.
I was feeling angry at a baby in my arms who is so completely helpless.
I was failing at this “parenting” thing.
And then I started to remember that I wasn’t great at “parenting” Ryan in the days and weeks after he was born. I was a robot. I could barely get out of bed in the morning, let alone do any of the things I do now to be an amazing mother to him. And I am. I’m pretty damn awesome at mothering my Ryan.
And so I know, that in time, I’ll be just as awesome at mothering Brayden here. It’s a different kind of parenting, but I will figure it out.
In the past 3 weeks, I’ve had many people reach out and offer me all kinds of advice on being a parent. But the best was from an old teacher’s college friend who told me that it’s okay to not enjoy every moment. Especially after what we’ve been through. That just because we lost Ryan doesn’t mean I have to love every second of this parenting adventure. It doesn’t make me a bad person, and it doesn’t make me ungrateful. Being a parent is hard work and sometimes some moments, just aren’t that enjoyable, and that’s okay. I repeat this advice to myself in the hardest moments. I remind myself that for every happy, blissful moment another mama shares online, there are just as many challenging moments that she's keeping to herself. A tearful feeding or screaming baby do not make for great social media fodder. This advice and these reminders take some pressure off myself. I spent 2 weeks under this unbearable self-inflicted pressure to be perfect, that I couldn’t even enjoy any moments, let alone some.
Now, looking at this past week, I finally spoke up to some friends, family, some other Rainbow moms, my husband… I explained the challenges I was having. And suddenly I could breathe again.
I can’t promise that I won’t be frustrated or angry or sad anymore. In fact, I’m here today to guarantee that I’m going to feel all of those things again plenty of times in the next lifetime of parenting Brayden. And to accept that as okay.
It doesn’t make me a bad mom.
It doesn’t mean I should feel guilty.
It doesn’t mean that I’m ungrateful for this blessing.
It doesn’t mean anything except that I am parent. A parent of a living child, after the death of another child.
I’m a so-called “Supermom” just by being a mom at all. Any woman who accepts the love for a child into her heart, whether that child is here on earth or existing apart from us, is a pretty spectacular woman. Because it takes courage and strength to take on that kind of intense, all-consuming love.
Parenting after loss isn’t easy, not like I thought it would be. I thought since I had been through the worst, that anything else would be a walk in the park. It’s hard. And confusing. But it’s another adventure we’ve taken on. And I’m going to figure it out. And it’s going to be okay. And I really am grateful for the opportunity to be on this challenging, complicated, confusing, wonderful journey.