I distinctly remember those sleepless nights. I’m referring to the ones that came after my daughter, Dorothy, was stillborn. I would toss and turn for hours, my eyes burning from the steady stream of tears that fell. It was agony.
As I lay there I would torment myself by imagining what it would be like to be enduring these sleepless nights with a baby in my arms. I would stay awake all night if it meant that I could have a crying, breathing, living baby. So many new parents complained about sleepless nights, but did they ever consider the alternative? What could you possibly find to complain about when your child was alive?
I carried this mindset with me throughout the next year and I brought it with me into my pregnancy after loss. As my pregnancy with my second daughter progressed, I found myself incredibly irritated whenever anyone would bring up the trials and tribulations that I was about to face as a “first time parent.” I distinctly remember telling my best friend that I couldn’t wait to be up all night with a screaming baby. I was ready for anything as long as my baby was living.
I was wrong.
The first few months of life with my daughter Frances was a real struggle. She wasn’t a particularly difficult baby, but babies are generally challenging. I felt myself grappling with every parenting task that I faced. Feeding her, bathing her, soothing her; it all felt so awkward and clumsy. It was hard. I didn’t feel like I was enjoying motherhood and I felt so guilty about that.
I did not feel like I was allowed to complain. My wish had been granted, so what was my problem? I had experienced the devastation of the alternative and I felt like I should be basking in the joy of this opportunity. I was finally able to parent a take-home baby. I thought that I needed to just suck it up and be grateful that I finally had the baby I so desperately wanted.
I was wrong.
It is okay that I struggled with Frances. It is okay that I did not love breastfeeding and that I eventually quit. It is okay that I got tired of her throwing up on me. It is okay that I would sometimes hand her to my husband just so I could go to the bathroom and cry.
Not one of those things meant that I was ungrateful. It just meant that parenting, especially parenting after loss, is hard. Just because I had experienced loss, did not mean that I could not complain about the difficulties of parenthood. My “worst” moments with Frances were better than any day I have had to live without her sister, but those moments were still really challenging.
I want other parents of babies born after loss to know this: If you don’t love every moment of parenting after loss, it’s okay.
That doesn’t mean you are ungrateful. It means that you’re human and that you are capable of a range of emotions. You can be happy and sad. You can be grateful for your baby after loss and wish that they would just stop crying. You can love all of your children and grieve the ones that aren’t here.
So, if you are parenting after loss and you are having one of those sleepless nights, it’s okay that you wish you could just go to sleep. Wanting sleep or clean clothes or a ten minute shower doesn’t make you a monster. The people who have loved you and supported you on your PAL journey should not think less of you for feeling this way. Anyone who knows you, knows how much you love all of your children. We know that when you fall asleep it will be with the grateful, loving heart of a parent who is doing their very best after experiencing their very worst.
Photo by Mike Whalen