Angie, the brilliant creative mind behind the blog Still Life With Circles and other related blogs & projects, recently came up with the great idea to have bereaved moms (& dads) write about where they are now in their grief -- how far they've come (or not) & what life after loss is like for them at this point in time.
I have only read a fraction of the 40-odd posts linked to Angie's initial post for this project, but I suspect I am probably further along in my journey than most of the other writers: coming up to 13 years since August 1998.
I have written about this topic before, I think -- most notably on a guest post for Glow in the Woods two years ago. Most if not all of what I wrote there still applies.
Thirteen years later, Katie is still very much a part of our lives. I still miss her, and feel her absence, even though she was never really "here" in the conventional sense, & her prenatal existence less than 7 months.
We still visit the cemetery every weekend. Most times now, I don't cry, unless maybe it's Mother's Day or a special "anniversary" date or just a crappy day for whatever reason. Mostly I just feel sad & wistful about what might have been, & happy to be there, close to her for a little while. She is always with me, of course, but the cemetery is her special place, a quiet place where I can set aside all my other thoughts & obligations, and just be with her and focus on her and think about her for awhile, before resuming the regular rhythm of my life again.
But there is never a day that goes by that I'm not thinking about her in some way -- about my all-too-brief pregnancy and how it ended, about our struggles to conceive again, about how old she would be & what she would be doing now.
In that regard, of course, we have (Not So) Little Girl Next Door, six months younger than Katie would have been, to act as our constant yardstick. Last night, she and half dozen friends were whooping it up for several hours on the trampoline in the backyard, which I can see from my living room & bedroom windows. They were jumping and shrieking and giggling in youthful exuberance, well after dark, even after dh & I had settled into bed with books before going to sleep for the night. I wasn't sure whether to be sad, knowing that Katie would probably have been among them, had she been here, or secretly, smugly pleased, knowing that at least it wasn't MY daughter out there creating a ruckus in the neighbourhood ; ) and that's one thing I will never have to worry about.
Probably the biggest difference between my life 13 years ago and my life today, however, is that I am not a mother (to a living child). I wasn't then either, but I still hoped to be. I am almost 13 years older now -- 50 -- and I know now that the motherhood ship has sailed permanently, that I will never be a mother to Katie's brother or sister. I've had 12+ years to think about this, and write about it and adjust to this reality, but the truth is that I still sometimes feel like the odd woman out, even among other parents who have dealt with loss &/or infertility.
The vast majority of other bereaved parents who lose a child in pregnancy or infancy either already have a child, or go on to have another child, or maybe both. This doesn't minimize their loss in the least, of course (although outsiders to the world of grief might think it does, or should) -- but the fact is, they are still actively parenting and experiencing parenthood in all its joys & sorrows & frustrations (just not parenting the child they lost). The rhythm of their lives is very much the same as most people's -- but much different than mine and dh's. Their lives are full of bedtime stories and temper tantrums, soccer games and daycare arrangements. They will know, eventually, what it is to see a child celebrate a birthday, graduate from high school, leave home to go to college, maybe get married and have a child themselves some day. They will, more likely than not, have someone to worry about them and visit them in the nursing home and leave their most precious belongings to.
I will not.
Already, some of my peers -- my friends & cousins -- are becoming GRANDPARENTS, reminding me that not only did I completely miss the parenthood boat, there is another new, related phase of life that will not be mine to share with them. In many ways, my life (& my life with dh) has continued on exactly as it always has. Their lives have expanded and changed in ways that mine never has & never will.
At the same time, my life HAS changed -- just in more subtle ways, and in ways that parents who have never experienced loss will never know or understand. They may know the joys & pains of parenthood in a way that I never will. I have known grief, and I would never have welcomed it willingly into my life -- but it has brought unexpected gifts and richness to my life in ways I never could have imagined.
I have watched, sadly, as friends & relatives have become distant in the years since we lost Katie. At the same time, we have made wonderful new friends, both "in real life" and online, who have also struggled with infertility & childlessness and who have experienced the pain of perinatal loss, who understand us as perhaps no one else can. We've both developed much greater empathy and compassion for the pain & struggles of others, and not just in the sense of infertility and loss. We have given back to the support group that helped us so much, volunteering for more than 10 years, something that many of the parents who attended (who would also have made wonderful facilitators) just don't have time to do. We know that grief has the power to tear some marriages apart -- ours, thankfully, has survived and become stronger. We spend more time together than most couples we know. We appreciate the good things about our life together.
We have endured subtle and not-so-subtle digs over the years about how "it must be nice" to be able to sleep in late, to afford whatever new purchase someone is admiring, to be able to retire early, as we are planning with hope -- the unspoken implication being that we can have and do all of these things because we don't have children. They don't stop to consider -- will never know -- the awful price we paid to have the life we have now. (If they did, I don't think they would envy us quite so much.) We both know that there are much, much more important things in life than things, or money, or clawing our way up the corporate ladder. At the same time, though, I refuse to apologize for having some things that others don't (both material & non). I would give it all up gladly to have my daughter back, but since that isn't going to happen, I will gladly take whatever advantages & nice things life sends my way.
Almost 13 years later, my life IS better than it was, immediately post loss. I have survived.
But I still wish things were different. I still wish she was here.