When my daughter died I became a shell of the mother I was supposed to be. I was depressed. I was hurting. I was anxious. I was bereft. I was left to parent my surviving twin and I knew I couldn’t give him everything he needed because half of my heart was in heaven. Those early days and months were such a fog and I don’t know how we survived it. Looking back on it now, those first two years were really not at all how I would have hoped my son’s first years of life would’ve been. It makes me sad thinking about how distant and distracted I was. I did the absolute best I could in those moments and that’s all any of us can ask for. I know I can do better now.
Since our rainbow baby arrived almost 10 months ago I have really tried to be better for him. I have compiled my list of the things I want to do better with him. Some of them I’m improving on, some I struggle with and some are still mainly a hope. I know that parenting after loss is difficult but I have found that this list has helped me to narrow my focus on what I can do now to be better for all of my children.
1. Start saying “yes”. After Mary died I didn’t want to go anywhere, see anyone or do anything. I was constantly turning down invitations simply because of the immense social anxiety I had developed. I was also terrified to see a super pregnant woman or a baby girl. They just made me jealous and sad. I was already filled with a million emotions, I just didn’t want to subject myself to anything unnecessary. I’m trying to slowly start allowing myself back into the real world. It’s almost been three years and we’re just now starting to get out and see people a bit more. I want my kids to have all kinds of experiences with other people and that means that I need to let them and let me.
2. Take a breath. It’s ok. You’ll be ok. I know that losing a child is never “ok”. But I am trying to remember that through all the trauma and all the disappointment, we’re making it. I am trying to focus just a few seconds to take a deep breath and remember that we’re alright. This isn’t what we had planned or hoped for and the every day gets pretty crazy but we’re doing it…one breath at a time.
3. Learn to let go a little. Since the extremely premature arrival of our first babies, quickly followed by the death of Mary, my husband and I have been insanely protective of our surviving twin. He was fragile and so were we. We had just lost his sister and there was no way we could go through that again. We kept him close and kept away everyone and everything we could in fear of him getting sick. I am making a conscious effort now to loosen that hold a little. He’s never been away form either of us for more than a few hours (and really that was just when his brother was born). I have signed him up for preschool–which I am terrified of–but I know will be good for him. I’m letting him ride in the car with someone else. It takes everything in me to not scream “nevermind, give him back!” But every baby step we take gives him more freedom and helps me handle the anxiety of him being apart from me.
4. Be silly. This may seem like a silly one but I’m finding it to help me bond and relax more with my kids. So much of these past few years have just felt very dark and I didn’t want to do much. I was often fine to just sit in the despair. When I get like that now, I tell myself to make my kids laugh. Hearing their laughter can always bring me out of whatever funk I’m in. I hate that I’ll never get to hear Mary’s laugh but I can make her brothers laugh extra hard for her.
5. Continue to honor her memory. There’s nothing that gives me more pride than doing good things in her memory. Every donation made, every smile, every heart touched by her life has brought me so much joy. Creating a legacy for my beautiful daughter has brought me more peace than anything else. I feel like a much better mom when I am doing something for her. It doesn’t need to be anything big. A random act of kindness, a message to another bereaved mama, a donation in her name; these are the things that help to lighten my heart.
6. Be present. I have talked about this in a previous post, but I am trying hard to just embrace the “now”. For so many years I have been either trying to conceive or pregnant…both making me constantly focused on the future. I am trying to embrace this moment that I have with my children right now. I have two in my arms and one in heaven and when I sit and focus in this moment I feel better. I can’t keep regretting and replaying the past because, as a Danny Gokey song says, “You don’t live there anymore.” I live here. I live in this moment with these beautiful babies who need their mama in the best form I am able to give them today.
7. Take a little time. This is a tough one for me because I have a lot of separation anxiety being away from my babies. I don’t like to “get away”. That just makes me nervous and fearful. I have learned that I need it–Just a little break. My husband needs it too. I have been trying to force us to dinner at least once a month for a quick little date night. We drop the kids at grandma’s for an hour and sip on fruity drinks and half price appetizers and we feel happier. We feel more connected… And that is what my kids deserve.
8. Really watch them. Some of the sweetest moments that I have had in the last few years have been since our rainbow baby boy arrived and I have witnessed tender moments between brothers. I’m home with them all day and I watch them all.day.long. But when I take just 10 minutes here or 5 minutes there to just sit without any other distractions and watch them, I feel a sense of peace. My mind isn’t racing, worrying, planning… I’m just watching and I feel Mary with me.
I know these are not sure-fire ways to make anyone feel like an awesome mom. I know most days parenting after loss are filled with so many challenges and emotions that most moms never have to deal with. I just want to be the best mom I can possibly be to all of my babies and these 8 ways are the things I want to focus on as I trudge through this after-loss parenthood. I hope that maybe one or two of these can help give you a direction to feel better too.