The tears fall staining the front of my dress. Sobs rack my body and I struggle to catch my breath.
There’s pain deep in my chest, twisting knots that feel like my heart is tearing. This is grief. Grief that needs to be acknowledged and felt.
It’s not grief because I’ve lost someone to the arms of death. I’ve experienced that too. This is grief of other losses. I grieve that I have been touched by trauma. That I have had a difficult upbringing that has left me with scars. I grieve that love has been a difficult road and that I struggle to find the closeness with someone that I desire. I grieve that each day has its own battle I must wage, that seems to hold on to me. I grieve that the demons I carry have marred my life, limited what I can do and robbed me of happiness, family and being me.
What I have learnt it that we cannot run from grief. But instead we need to embrace it. We need to acknowledge the pain and feel it. It’s hard to do so and it can take time to walk the path that grief lays. Emotions evoked such as anger, sadness, frustration even despair are the kind we wish to run from or push away while we try to pretend we are ok. Grief can be like the darkest night, heavy and consuming without light to lead the way. But we must pass though till dawn returns because it is part of the healing process that is needed so we can cope with the things we have been through or lost.
What kind of things can or should we grieve?
Birth is not a thing we associate with grief, unless of course there is loss of a baby. Yet for many birth can be a difficult experience. We may plan from being very young for the day we bring a baby into the world. Our wishes for that day are varied and individual. We make birth plans, attend classes and wait with eager anticipation. Yet if the day arrives and birthing our baby is difficult, thwart with complications or doesn’t happen how we planned, it can profoundly affect us. Many will say ‘a healthy baby is what matters’ but the emotional impact on a women and indeed her partner, greatly matter too. Often women feel that because their baby is here and all is now perceived to be ok that they should be grateful and move on, trying to forget how they feel. But trying to bury feelings that accompanies a major change in our life can lead to struggling.
Instead we need to know that it is ok to grieve what was lost. Not having the birth of your baby go as you wished, even in some cases being a traumatic event, needs to be acknowledged. Grieving the loss of an experience you wanted, allowing the emotions that that brings up and having time to feel them and process them will allow you to move beyond it and help you find ways to manage the pain. When birth is traumatic there can be so much that is lost.
With my first daughter I never got those firsts, first cuddles, first feeds, instead I was separated from her while she lay in neonatal and I lay in HDU. It bothered me, ate away at me, inciting guilt and consumed me. Every time I thought about it I had physical pain and I struggled to hold back the tears. I needed to let go of the tears and the feelings and grieved what I had lost. I let the feelings be raw, I felt anger, frustration and overwhelming sadness. I let the tears fall and let the grief at what was lost free. What followed in time was relief, and while I can’t change the fact that my baby spent her first few days of life without me, I can accept that it wasn’t my fault, and I don’t have to pretend it’s ok, instead I can look back with sadness but also find some good.
One of the big areas women often talk to me about is caring for baby and particularly when it comes to feeding. Many women have desperately wanted to breastfeed their babies. Sadly due to many reasons they have found the journey not possible and this in turn often turns into guilt. Here again too grief is important. Grieving the loss of a wanted experience that we desired, but didn’t happen, matters. Allowing the emotions free and feeling them is hard, but also healing. Yes your baby is fine regardless but you and your feelings matter. Being able to voice disappointment and loss rather that holding it deep in our hearts gives much relief. Grieving too allows us to see that there is much that we did do that we haven’t given ourselves credit for. When we allow feelings to be felt we often find along with the pain we find there are moments of light however fleeting.
Despite our separation when I was finally well enough see my daughter I put my hand into her incubator and she grasped my finger tight. My first precious moment with her. It wasn’t first cuddles or a first feed, they did eventually come later. But just that tiny grasp was so magical. In allowing my grief I found there was joy and new memories I could hold on to.
Giving ourselves time to grieve what we wanted but lost isn’t wrong but part of taking care of ourselves.
It is also important to grieve change. Especially around becoming new parents. Our whole life maybe different and we may struggle to accept this. When we become a parent our life changes forever. We become responsible for another person, they are completely dependant on us for everything. Before we have children we may have had a career where we worked long hours or traveled. Along with this came social interaction, we could go out whenever we wanted to, stay up late, enjoy lazy holidays and meet up with friends. Now to get out the door is like a military operation. Your staying up late has turned into walking up and down rocking your baby, praying for sleep. Lazy holidays now include a energetic, little person that demands to be entertained. As for friends it can be hard to find the time, carefree lunches have become more difficult, with shopping trips spent looking instead for those perfect shoes, baby changing rooms. You know what, sometimes it sucks.
So grieve the changes. You will miss the things you once enjoyed, this does not make you are bad parent, but it makes you human. So grieve it, feel sad, cry and lament that things have changed. Not only have things in your life changes but you have changed. You have become something wonderful, a parent. New experiences wait to be had. There will be many stages, many new challenges and you will continually be learning along the way. This doesn’t mean you can not grieve your old life or miss what is lost.
Giving ourselves time to grieve what we wanted but lost isn’t wrong but part of taking care of ourselves. Talking to someone we trust or finding others that have also shared loss provides support and reassurance. In time we find ways to cope with the loss and sometimes we are even able to find the good. Grieving will be hard, it will mean facing feelings we may have tried to forget. It will take time and also support for us to be able to find our way. How we feel matters and never should our feelings be denied the time they need.
Life is hard. Along we way we suffer loss sometimes small, sometimes big. Sometimes it’s loss of an experience, loss of a relationship, loss of something precious to us or loss of a loved one. Each matters and each has a right to be acknowledged and felt. Allowing the darkness to sit with us for a while is ok because it enables the light to return. We do not have to be brave all the time, we can allow the tears to fall and the pain to be felt. Healing does not mean we forget or we pretend that everything is ok. Healing means we find ways to cope, to feel the pain without it overwhelming us and maybe also find memories that give us a little peace.
Grief is as important as love, joy and hope. Grief is individual. Grief is just as much a part of our journey as every other emotion we process. Grief is part of what makes us human and grieving loss is what helps us on the road that is life. So be kind to your heart, grieve what you have lost and with that you will find healing too.