Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Parenting after Loss

A few weeks ago, I was standing in the kitchen after finally putting Benjamin to bed, and I had the thought, "How did Jen do it?"

My good friend Jen's son Luke died just before his due date. Cord accident.  Six months later, she got pregnant with her rainbow baby, and gratefully, her Bowie was born ALIVE one year to the day before Lydie was meant to be born.  I was thinking about how Jen was pregnant with her Bowie, and didn't have her firstborn to distract her from her anxiety.  I need Ben to help me get through my days, to keep me busy and call me "Mama" and give me hugs and help me live in the moment.  I need him to keep me from completely obsessing about whether my third child is going to live or die. 

Coincidentally, the following day, I heard from Jen, and her email included this snippet, "I was just thinking about how fucking unfair it is that you have to be pregnant AGAIN with a toddler to chase around and take care of... Like, when I was pregnant with Bowie, I was so fucking selfish because WHY NOT? I went out, had massages, slept in...and you had Ben to take care of and THEN lost Lydie and now you're doing it again... and that's just really shitty.

I mean, it's shitty any way you look at it, I guess. But again. You're a fucking badass mama. Remember that."

Well yeah, there's that.  Pregnancy + toddler was exhausting the first time around.  Pregnancy + toddler + grief + being scared shitless is even more exhausting the second time around.

But this badass mama is usually really grateful for her daring, hard-headed, lovable two-year-son.

It should be noted that "parenting after loss" is a whole different ballgame than parenting. While it helps to have a living child to keep you getting up and moving forward, it can be so overwhelming and exhausting to have that someone else completely depend on you when you feel as if you can't even manage yourself.  Grief makes you selfish.  But parenting - good parenting - is of essence, not selfish.

In the early days, it was hard not to watch Ben and see the place his sister should have been.  It was hard to be patient with him when my grief consumed me.  It was hard to watch him hit milestones, knowing his sister will never hit them.

And in addition to the shock and trauma, all my expectations of parenting siblings imploded.  And I was left trying to teach my son about something that I can't even comprehend myself.
Parenting after loss is just hard.

After 9 months, it mostly feels easier now.  I feel like I can be the mom I was to Ben before we lost Lydie.  But I have a strong-willed boy who tests my patience often, and I get frustrated with myself when I get frustrated with him.  Because shouldn't I only be grateful for him, 100% of the time?  How I could I ever lose my temper with him, when I know very well how lucky I am that he's alive?

Selfie with my boy, earlier this summer.
Ben started back to school last week, as I started back to work, and the transition back has been a bit rough on all of us.  He seems to be just fine at school, but he's a wreck at home.  Tantrum after tantrum (and this boy knows how to scream).  He has to do everything by himself ("No, MY do it!") which takes FOR-EV-ER in the morning (and in the evening too, but it's more stressful in the morning rush). Yesterday, it was screaming at the breakfast table for 30 minutes because he wanted more "dip" (syrup) even though he had already squeezed half the bottle on to his pancake and had more than enough dip for his second pancake.  This morning, it was screaming for his green sunglasses which he wouldn't let me grab from him when I dropped him off at school yesterday morning, and of course, didn't manage to come home with us last evening. And then screaming that he wanted to wear his running shoes AND HIS SOCKS even though it's water day at school and he was in his swimsuit.  Which meant I had to carry him (barefoot, mind you) kicking and screaming into his classroom, where he promptly stood up, put on his Crocs, gave me a kiss and said "Love you!"

The kid has really strong opinions. ("Wonder where he got that from?" my husband often asks.)

Often I feel like I have no right to complain about him.  Because you know, he's alive.  I can't stand when other parents complain about their children, because you know, I'd love the opportunity to complain about Lydia.  So I try not to complain about Ben.  

Sometimes I wonder how the hell we would have managed having two living kids in under two years.  Sometimes I wonder how I'd take care of Lydia, when Benjamin consumes all of my energy. Those thoughts make me feel incredibly guilty, as if she's not here because I couldn't hack it. 

Benjamin has also become obsessed with Bowie.  Obsessed.  He now calls me "MomBowie" (without the "and") and wails for us when his dad takes him to the bath ("MomBowie!  MomBowie!  MomBowie!")  Sometimes when we're heading out the door, he asks, "Bowie come too?"  (Yeah, buddy, we'll bring her along this time).   He lifts up my shirt constantly, often in inappropriate places, offering her a bite of his porridge ("oatmeal," for you Americans) and sometimes even his prized "cee-cee" (soother, pacifier).  He seems to think my now-protruding belly button is the portal to talk to her.   He kisses her, blows raspberries on her, and sometimes bites her (of which MomBowie is NOT a fan.)

On his first day of school, when giving him a hug, I said, "I will miss you, Benji!"
His response?  "I miss Bowie."

It's cute.

It's a bit annoying.

And it's scary as hell.

What happens if Bowie doesn't come home?

One of those memories that is forever etched in my mind is when Ben lifted up my shirt the evening I came home from the hospital, after Lydie was born still.  He went to kiss my belly.  And I had to tell him, "The baby isn't there anymore."

There is much talk out there about how to prepare your toddler before bringing home a baby sibling.  There's not much talk about how to un-prepare your toddler when the baby died and didn't actually get to come home.  And so here we are again.  How do you prepare your toddler, when last time you prepared your toddler for what never happened?  And those conversations were some of the most painful you could ever imagine?

Benjamin tells both his sisters that he loves them before he goes to bed.  One sister he kisses in his mama's belly.  Another he looks to the sky.  How are we supposed to help him make sense of that?

Benjamin giving Bowie kisses next to Lydia's tree.


  1. I think you're a great mom to all three of your kids. And even a saint -- a well-rested, well-fed, totally focused saint who does not have to pee -- would get frustrated with a toddler at times.

  2. We always talked to Eleanor about how we hoped the new baby would come home. We used a lot of "if" and "hope" language. I also reached a point where I decided that it was okay to let Eleanor be the positive person that I could not be. My therapist asked if expecting the baby to die would make it hurt any less. Nope.

    And you are totally allowed to complain about Ben! Everyone knows you are grateful for him. It does suck though that we all seem to feel that pressure to not complain when people with a bunch of healthy kids are allowed to complain as much as they want.

  3. OMG, I think Ben and Lena need to get together BADLY. They can be stubborn and hardheaded together.

    You are an AMAZING mama. You're allowed to complain about him as much as we're allowed to complain about pregnancy SUCKING. It's a truth. LOL.

    And I'll stand by my comment that both options are just shitty any way you look at it. They days definitely dragged by a lot slower for me without anyone around asking me for more "strawbabies". (That's what Lena calls strawberries). But I was allowed to let the selfishness take over.

    We do what we have to do to survive, right? I don't know how all of this is going to someday make sense to Lena, but I know that someday, she'll understand, and it'll be such a relief. SUCH a relief. But until then, I know we're going to stumble and trip on our words and cry. And that's OK. It is what it is.

  4. The love he has for that baby sister is precious. Scary, but so sweet.

    Yes, your Ben and my Ben... phew. They're a tough crowd, but mine goes to bed at night, I'm actually really grateful for his tenacity. I love who I have, but when I "complain", it's more like just sharing the crazy. I wouldn't do a thing to change that nugget of crazy. :)

    The socks. The shoes. Trying to steer them in the right direction because YOU KNOW it's in their best interest. Woah, I sound like my mom. Also, my Ben totally calls the syrup "dips" as well. Hah.


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