“I’m not sure you were ever normal, even before Matthew died,” a baby loss mom friend recently texted.
“Thanks,” I replied, unsure as to whether this was a compliment or criticism.
“I mean, I don’t know that I was either… It’s not a criticism. Maybe it’s even a compliment,” she clarified.
“I’m taking it as both,” I replied.
And then the conversation meandered somewhere else, and I forgot about it, until I pondered later, “What was I like then?”
Maybe I was a little quirky, but, overall, pre-tragedy I feel like I actually was relatively normal. Or, dare I say it? Basic. I grew up in a middle-class family in a medium sized town, played a sport, met my high school sweetheart who played another sport, went to college, married him upon graduation, moved to the big city to start our big-kid jobs, bought a house and a boat and a goldendoodle, vacationed once or twice per year, attended church most Sundays, went on friends’ trips to the lake and to wineries, and had coffee dates with girlfriends (think pumpkin spice lattes, in the fall, dressed in boots and leggings, discussions surrounding who’s going to be the next Bachelor – just living the hell out of our adversity-free lives…). We even waited until 30 to have kids – the average age of a college educated person to start a family in this country. Need I say more?
Of course it wasn’t all this simple. But, on some levels, it also was… And it was nice back then when problems were small. As some friends and I now joke, “Basic is great. Can we please be more basic? Nothing ever bad ever happens to those basic bitches.” I mean, I guess it did, at least once. To each of us. But a basic life from here forward would be welcome – please and thanks.
Facebook was my only form of social media then, though I didn’t do much on it. I was a private person. If there were such an award called “Least Likely to Start a Blog,” I might have won it…
And then Matthew died. I remember shortly after his death coming to the realization that I’d never known of this to happen to anyone like me – young, healthy, fit, etc. “Who the fuck does this happen to?!” I screamed at whoever was listening.
I took to the internet to find out. Apparently, it happens to thousands of people, I quickly discovered. The stories were everywhere. On forums and blogs. On day two I started reading these stories. And though I don’t read them as often now, I haven’t stopped since.
On day three, by the time I’d arrived home from the hospital, someone had texted us the link to a blog belonging to a woman who’d lost her first baby in a similar way a couple of years prior. As I was too helpless to login to a computer, Mark printed each of her posts so I could read them start to finish, which I did, and it was comforting and helpful. To know she’d survived. To know she was on the verge of welcoming her “rainbow baby.”
So much of what she wrote felt familiar or it seemed that, down the road, it might at least become familiar… Weeks passed and, I think it was on the eve of her welcoming her rainbow baby, or close to this date, she concluded, “I know that everything will be fine. I know now that this was God’s plan for me – for my daughter to die and for my son to live,” and though I was so happy for her and thankful for the comfort she’d provided to me, it was at this point that I just couldn’t follow anymore.
And this is how it goes most of the time, I think. In the beginning I connected to every story, saw myself in each of them, but then some weeks passed and grief quickly started to complicate, and this became increasingly less true, and maybe instead of feeling the depths of despair 100 percent of the time, it became 85 percent, and perhaps it was during this 15 percent that I felt compelled to, in addition to reading others’ stories, tell my own.
By this time it was late September two years ago that I decided I’d start my own blog to speak in my own voice – not a better one or a worse one, but a different one, not that it was extraordinarily earth-shatteringly unique, but it’d be mine nonetheless, and I could say whatever I wanted to, in whatever way I wanted to – I would be the only one who could tell Matthew’s story, my story, our family’s story. And by this time, I was bursting with things to say, vent, ponder about my new life, and also by this time most of the initial support had dried up, and I could only burden the few friends left standing with so much of my grief.
So I finally launched this blog two years ago today, a little less than three months after Matthew died. Almost immediately it gave me a new focus, a hobby, some purpose where it felt like all had been lost. Sometimes it gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning, a reason to live, even.
For some amount of time I intended to keep it a secret – my secret online journal that maybe only strangers would find. I gave the link to it to just a couple of people and told them I’d murder them if they shared it with anyone else. I used hashtags though, so strangers could find it, thinking maybe it could help someone or educate someone or whatever.
I became fascinated by blog statistics and some mornings they were the only thing that drew me out of bed. “Wow,” I thought, “Twenty views, seven from Canada, one from India.” They’d draw me out of bed the next morning too, push me to write again.
I shared Matthew’s story. I shared my grief and despair and anger honestly, sometimes recklessly, even. Sometimes I’d rant about the people who hurt me, using f-bombs liberally. Sometimes it felt as though, although not in the way I expected, I was parenting Matthew in a way I didn’t in the first few months after his death. I was telling his story to some, giving him new life, purpose, an identity, raising an awareness and educating others on grief in his name. Although he was still dead, perhaps he wasn’t as dead as he was just days ago. This thought provided me with renewed energy.
Eventually I started sharing my blog with more people. It just got exhausting – to tell the same stories, answer the same questions, provide the same education. If they could only read and follow, I reasoned, it’d be easier on everyone. Each time I shared I’d still threaten to murder the recipient of the link if he or she passed it along, but some of them didn’t take my threats seriously, and eventually everyone I knew had the link, and I’d officially lost control. I didn’t know who was reading.
Though in the very beginning I was worried that lack anonymity would cause me to censor myself too much, I found that my knowledge that those who knew us were reading didn’t influence my writing. I continually reminded myself why I was writing, for myself, for Matthew. Though things were simpler then – the loss was new, the grief raw, most friendships already irreparably damaged. When I’d contemplate potential consequences of publishing anything I’d written, the answer was always, “Well nothing can be worse than having had my baby die.” And this was true. So I’d hit the button without a second thought.
Though I had one conversation that sticks out in my mind as sobering… A dear friend said about our former church small group, “They’re all reading.”
“And?” I asked.
“I think some of them are a little surprised. I mean, I don’t know if this is what they expected,” she explained.
I didn’t much care though, didn’t view this sentiment as anything more than simply interesting – I felt hugely entitled to each one of my feelings and thoughts and writings, and I think I was. (To some extent, I think I still am.) So I wrote and wrote, sometimes for days and nights on end. Sometimes I forgot to eat and sleep, but it didn’t much matter. Because the writing helped me.
For months my blog was one of my few connections to the outside world – I eventually connected to others with shared experiences or kind souls without shared experiences and some other kind souls from my past life took an interest in reading, and it was really this and this only that got me through my darkest days and continues to, actually.
But two years from the anniversary of starting this blog so much has happened – time provides some level of healing and non-healing, but, most of all, it guarantees things will be different and will grow more complicated. In many ways, it’s much easier to write from the depths of sorrow, the vast sea of nothingness that becomes your life after your baby dies. People understand your feelings more in the early days too – now the continued complexity of emotions, I can imagine, can be jarring to some who haven’t experienced this unique loss, who were under the (false) impression that because Joel is here now, everyone is healed and all is well.
There’s more to ponder now too, about what I write. How honest can I be about complicated grief and PTSD and anxiety and depression and post-partum anxiety and depression? I still struggle with these things among others on the daily but it’s been two years, and mental issues such as these aren’t even well understood to begin with, so what will people think now if I’m truthful about my darkness, my continued anger and struggles?
Sometimes I think I don’t much care, but other times I think I care some. I’m not fully reintegrated into society, but I’m more so than I ever have been, and I can only hope that this trend will continue. Do I share my blog with new people I meet? What will they think? Regardless, will they find it? If so, what are the potential ramifications of this?
For quite some time this wasn’t the case (I checked periodically), but now it is – if you google search me by name, my blog is the first search result. The first one. I think it’s because enough posts were shared widely, and enough people from my past discovered my blog to search it along with my name enough times for this to happen. I’m both thankful and concerned. Not because of anything I’ve said or will say.
But because of everything I’ve mentioned above – the sheer complexity of it. I want to continue to be honest. (Because without honesty what is the point?) But I’m finding the need to use more discretion too, as the passage of time brings only more complexity. Before someone I know finding it without my sharing it was simply a remote possibility. Now, in this google day and age, I have to always consider it a very strong probability, which is quite a shift from the early days.
Of course there’s also the flip side. If someone doesn’t know about it or find it, will I be asking for the rest of my life, “Does this person even know me at all?” Perhaps my desire to be understood by everyone will wane as even more time passes. Right now, there are still more questions than there are answers.
Also, sometimes it’s difficult now to balance everything. I’m thankful for all of the other emotions that have entered my life to coexist with the grief, but it makes the writing more difficult. Like how do I talk about all of this? Sometimes it’s easier to write from the lowest of low points than it is to incorporate the totality of it.
And sometimes I’m in a lowest of low point, drowning in a wave, but my increased responsibilities with Joel and with work and around the house prevent me from documenting it when I need to, and then when I go back to do it, the wave has passed, not completely, but to a level that I can no longer effectively articulate what I was experiencing. It works with this way with my highest of high points too. Sometimes, in this life after loss, emotions can be both so fleeting and so conflicting, it’s difficult to capture them or feel them at their intensity hours or days after the fact, because you’re in a new, unexpected place once again.
I guess, in summary, on my two-year blogiversary, I wanted to write about writing, and this is WAY too long and yet doesn’t say enough, so to wrap it up, I can’t begin to explain how writing has helped to save my life.
And there have also been so many other unexpected consequences and surprises to come from this blog too – it’s damaged some relationships, but created many, many more valuable ones, offended some and excited others… I’ve been told that my writing is too negative and also that it’s so inspirational and validating. I’ve wanted to write a book and also wanted to give up writing all within a short time span. And I’ve definitely struggled with how to continue with it, where to take it, as my grief has evolved. And it’s also taught me that the internet is powerful (like VERY powerful) and that if you think your creepy, male-version-of-Gladys-Kravitz-type person in your life (insert emoticon that symbolizes me waving), whose brain is a space where you live rent free as though you’re Kylie Jenner, will never google your name and find it and send you a disgusting, stalker-ish comment that you’ll have to take to the police, you have another thing coming.
This blog has taken on a personality of its own – we speak of it as though it’s a family member sometimes. “Today on the blog…” But mostly, it’s Matthew, and I hope to keep writing in whatever capacity I can, to the best of my abilities, for this reason.
I continue to be thankful for everyone who’s taken the time to get to know him and us and for all those who will continue to follow along with my amateur-writing shit show as I continue to process all the feels. ❤