Today it was 70 degrees in February, and Joel’s babysitter called in sick, so I stayed home with him, and we went to the park. I put down a blanket and placed him on it so he could watch the slightly older kids play. I watched too as some moms interacted with their kids, and I could feel a lump forming in my throat, and it was kind of hard to breathe as the familiar thoughts washed over me, “I will never be like them. I don’t think we could ever be friends.”
To be fair, I’m aware that I don’t actually know them or what they’ve been through, but it’s easy to just assume that they haven’t lost a child, because, odds are they haven’t. I also realize that by shutting out the world I might miss opportunities to connect with those who’ve experienced similar tragedies or possess an insanely high level of compassion, which is generally the reason I share Matthew’s story.
But today, I just sat with my thoughts as I looked on… “I will never be like them. I don’t think we could ever be friends.” And I allowed myself, for a few seconds, to ponder my parallel universe, or remember the old me.
The old me would have looked up and smiled in response to, “Look at the baby!” The old me probably would have walked over with Joel and struck up a conversation. The old me would have discovered that all these people were neighbors and possibly planned to meet at the park again. And it isn’t too far outside the realm of possibility that, at some point down the road, the old me would have invited them over, and we would have grilled something in our backyard and sat around a fire laughing and enjoying drinks.
The new me played quietly with her son and eventually left the park without saying a word.
It isn’t that I’m uncomfortable talking about Matthew or answering the dreaded question, “Is he your first?” Anyone who knows me knows I give zero f#cks about the awkwardness that could result from me responding honestly. If I can educate someone on a new topic or throw a wrench into someone’s day by reminding him/her of the fragility of life, I’ll totally do it.
It’s more that, sometimes, I’m just not in the mood. I’m not the same person I once was. And I don’t have the energy…
And I find that it usually does take too much energy – to find genuine common ground with non-baby loss moms… There’s so much explaining to do, a lens through which I will likely always view things differently because of my experiences.
I should clarify that there are a few non-baby loss mom friends who’ve remained in my life. And by “few” I mean that I can count them on one hand. I treasure them as much as I do anyone, and I appreciate how they’ve tried to understand me and how some of them have seemed to come close to understanding. I’m grateful that they’ve stuck around and loved me even when I’m selfish in my grief and generally undeserving and unlovable.
But, with the exception of these few, lately I’ve felt I can only relate to other baby loss moms…
Of course, in the beginning, you think you will relate to everyone who’s been through something similar (in this case baby loss)… But then months pass and you realize that baby loss is a non-discriminatory tragedy, and, just as in any group, there will be those who process the experience entirely differently (i.e. “It was God’s plan”), so in different forums you begin to put yourself out there, until eventually you build your “tribe,” as I’ve heard others refer to it. And it takes a while, but one day you wake up and realize that these other parents (with their nods in solidarity and sharp wits and dark senses of humor) have kept you, and continue to keep you, alive.
These friendships have a certain ease about them, even when they span huge distances, like from Missouri to Illinois or Ohio or Oregon or Pennsylvania or across an ocean, and even though you’ve never even seen/met them in real life.
We talk about our dead children, but this isn’t our only topic of conversation. It doesn’t need to be, because the understanding is already there – that we need to hear/see their names spoken/written, that we need for them to never be forgotten, that they are just as much a part of our families as any living children, that this is a life-changing, forever pain, that the anxiety and depression and PTSD that come from burying your baby can come out of nowhere, and at any time, thereby incapacitating you.
Yesterday I was walking through our neighborhood, pushing Joel in his stroller, talking to my mom on the phone. I was telling her about how Joel is teething, asking her if certain things were normal, as he’s been extra fussy and tired lately. Any change in behavior always seems concerning to me. I find myself experiencing huge waves of anxiety as I think of ways that, although things have stabilized for me in the present (sort of), all the happiness I have left (which sometimes feels like a lot and other times feels like only a meager amount) could be taken from me at any moment. All of a sudden I found myself screaming at my mom through tears, “But I didn’t even know Matthew was in trouble until it was too late!!! It’s my fault! It’s my fault! It’s my fault!!!” (It was almost like an out-of-body experience…)
I don’t know if many could understand this sort of mood swing unless they’ve been there.
There is a website that I found in my early days of loss. You google “I want to die,” and it basically talks you out of killing yourself, convinces you to re-evaluate the situation later, until one day you find yourself in a different place entirely. (I wonder how many people it’s saved?)
I don’t think many could understand stumbling upon this sort of website and visiting it repeatedly unless they’ve been there.
When someone in my life announces a pregnancy or sends me a birth announcement, I kind of just need someone to respond with a few expletives.
I’m not sure many could fulfill this need unless they’ve been there.
And these examples only begin to scratch the surface.
I know someday I might have to be able to interact with “normal” moms, for Joel’s sake. And maybe when this day comes it will be easier – maybe I won’t have such a burning need for everyone in my life to fully understand every aspect of me. But I’m just not there yet, and I don’t think I have to be, because Joel is only six months old… My social anxiety will be of no detriment to him in the short-term.
But I think, regardless, the connections I have made with other baby loss moms will forever remain an important part of my life for the aforementioned reasons… Because there is never any explanation necessary or any judgment, and there is almost always a “me too,” and there is a lot of power in that.