My pregnancy loss was about 9 years ago. My next baby arrived 8 years ago. My next (and last) baby arrived 5 years ago. Lately, I have been grappling with the fact that I am getting farther and farther away in time from these events. Most of the clients I see both individually and in group have losses that were much more recent. It’s not uncommon for me to see someone just a few days after a loss. This recent, acute grief is very different from what I experience now.
Recently, I have been feeling somewhat distant from my pregnancy loss. I think this is normal give how much time has elapsed but it’s not without conflict and guilt. I try really hard sometimes to conjure up the pregnancy to remember what it was like. I know I was devastated but as hard as I try, I cannot feel that level of devastation now. I know I cried buckets of tears. I know I was angry at the unfairness of it all. Sometimes I still cry but when I do, it’s usually in response to hearing about someone else’s heartbreaking loss. Only occasionally do the old triggers still trigger me.
At times I have worried about this feeling of distance. What does it mean about me as a mother or me as a therapist? Does it mean that I am forgetting about my first baby? Does it mean that I can’t empathize with the acute pain of my clients who have had more recent losses?
I have concluded that it means none of those things. I know what happened and if conditions are just right, I will still feel grief. When I hear clients’ stories, I tear up as if I am going through the loss all over again. I feel enormous empathy for my clients who are blindsided by the loss of a baby they loved and wanted. In those moments, I am brought back to the horrifying experience of receiving bad news and being left in charge of a decision I didn’t want to be the one to make.
The passage of time is a reality of life. During the 9 years since my first baby was diagnosed with a mosaic form of Trisomy 13, I have given birth to two healthy girls and have embarked on this journey called parenting. Most days I can’t imagine parenting any children but these two. It has been more challenging than I thought. Parenting my older daughter has been particularly intense lately and I often think of her as more “rain” than “rainbow.” On good days I feel like any other busy, working mother dealing with each new developmental phase. On bad days, I wonder what it would be like to parent more easygoing children. Specifically, I wonder if my first baby would have been easier to parent.. I know that when I start to compare my current reality to my fantasies of what could have been that I am trying to find an escape from a difficult day. What has been important for me is to find time to think about my first baby in those quieter moments when I am not distracted or upset by whatever is happening in the moment. I have become quite skilled at differentiating my true grief and longing for my first baby from the escape fantasy of parenting different children.
When it does occur, my grief is different than it used to be. It is not sharp or painful or disorienting like it was in the early days or even early years. Now, it is like a photograph that has faded. It’s softer and a little washed out but if I squint, I can make out the smaller details. But even if I can’t, I know what was there because I lived it. Even more important than feeling exactly now what I felt then is her legacy. I have grown and changed in innumerable ways because of her. In that way, she still lives inside me.
I try to remember this when I realize that it’s been a long time since I last thought of her. I try to remember this when others don’t remember her or pretend it never happened. I try to remember this when I feel sad about feeling far away from her. And I try to remember this when I feel angry with myself for not recalling the details in high definition but instead in a fuzzy, pixelated way.
How have you dealt with the passage of time since your loss? Does PAL make it easier or more difficult to remember the baby who died? Are there ways in which you are afraid to move through your grief for fear of forgetting?