“But, I can’t complain.”

I use this phrase so regularly that it comes out without even thinking. It feels like it’s the line we use parenting after loss because, after our losses, we should just be grateful. There is this pressure when you have had a long journey to have a living child to enjoy every single moment of your child’s life. Well, yes, I do enjoy Elliott tremendously and I don’t get as frustrated as other parents normally. His waking up early reminds me that he is alive and healthy, but it also is exhausting and frustrating when the early wake-ups go from 7 a.m. to 4 a.m. as happened a few weeks ago. Even then, I would find myself talking about it to explain why I was so tired and then saying, “But, he’s always been such a good sleeper, so I can’t complain.”

baby laughing - Parenting After Loss: "I can't complain

Author’s Personal Collection/Michelle Valiukenas

But, why do we do this?

Does it suck to be woken up by a screaming, crying baby at 4 a.m.? Yes, absolutely, it does. Does me hating that and wishing he would go back to sleep for a couple of hours change my level of love for him or my gratitude that he is home and healthy? No, not at all.

When we were going through our infertility struggles and month after month, finding me not pregnant, I would want to sit and vent and complain to Mark. He immediately would say things like, “It’s going to be okay,” “We have each other,” “We will be parents.” So many times, I would get so mad and frustrated and end up saying something along the lines of, “Hey, Mr. Eternal Optimist, could you maybe just sit here with me for a moment and just wallow?”

Yet, as often as that scene played out, I now find myself parenting with a qualifier.

Sure, my son sometimes screams this horrible scream that hurts my ears and I don’t know why, oh, but he’s clearly healthy so I can’t complain. Sure, my son is teething and has periods of time where all he wants to do is be held and I want to put him down to play just to give myself a moment to do something else, but it’s also finally having what I wanted for so long so I can’t complain.

This happens not only with our active parenting of our living children, but also with the losses and difficult experiences we have had. I cannot tell you how many times I have been with a loss mom who has suffered one or more miscarriages and they will put a qualifier on it—something like, I mean, nothing compared to what you have been through. A loss is a loss is a loss. Having gone through a miscarriage with Sweet Pea and Colette’s death at nine days old, both losses were tough and both losses had things that were easier than the other and more difficult than the other. But, I was changed by both losses and I do not put any loss above another loss. And yet, we all do it, qualifying how our experiences are not as bad as others.

Parenting after loss is a series of parenting with qualifiers.

We have to say things like, well, yes, he’s my oldest living child, but I have another child that was born first. Or I have one child at home. Or no, I don’t need to “try for a girl” because I have a daughter. So, why do we put more qualifiers on ourselves?

I often think that we put the qualifiers on it because we sometimes believe that we do not deserve this, that the struggles and losses we faced meant something was wrong with us. I also think it is our way of celebrating when parenting after loss is so triggering and we spent so much time panicked of another loss, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is our way of remaining grateful for the child we have even when not every day is sunshine and rainbows.

But, taking a moment to say today was tough or I wish he would just shut up and sleep or man I hate teething does not take away from the joy and gratitude we feel. I am making a commitment to stop putting qualifiers on my parenting and I hope you all can do the same. We deserve to have as normal a parenting experience as we can because it was not easy to get here and it is not easy to live here in the moment.

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