Grief is so cruel. It jumps at me when I’m least expecting it, and seems to mock me when I’m poised for it by just waiting in the sidelines – just touching me with the pain but not burning me with it. Playing with me. I either don’t relax, so that it never takes me by surprise… or I refuse to let it make me ill, but then it jumps out of nowhere and knocks me sideways.
Like this morning for example. I saw a heavily pregnant woman on campus. Now, normally if I see a pregnant woman or I see a mother with a baby, I of course get a sharp stab of sadness and grief, but mostly I just feel happy for them, for the fact the baby looks happy, or the mother looks so ready to meet her baby. This morning, though, grief decided to rear its ugly head without giving me any warning, whatsoever.
I saw the woman and within a matter of seconds my eyes were full of unspilled tears. I fought with myself, refusing to burst into tears – apparently at random – in the middle of campus. I couldn’t stop staring at her, and rationally knew how mad I must have looked, if not actually verging on creepy. But I needed to stare. I stared at her bump and gently touched my own, very flat, stomach. I remembered my own baby curled up safely inside me. My bump was never as impressive as hers, but even so, I remember the tightness of my skin. I remember the buzzing sensation beneath my fingers as my baby kicked, and it was my own beautiful secret at school. For once, a beautiful secret… ignore the secret of pain and abuse, no…this secret, sitting in some lesson, feeling my baby nudging me from the inside, and my heartbeat soothing my baby, and my fingers nudging it back.
I stared at this woman and was transported back to that moment, and I wanted to cling to it. When I was pregnant, I loved my body. I treasured it. I praised it and its capacity to keep my beautiful secret safe, for as long as the abusers allowed. Nobody had taught me what to do when pregnant, of course. So I was guided instinctively by my body. What foods to eat, what foods not to eat. The random cravings, and the random ‘cannot even deal with the smell of this anymore’ things. Like brushing teeth. When the taste of mint made me gag (and most times, throw up), brushing teeth became a daily mission. But I didn’t mind. It was a mission me and my baby were taking.
As I stared at the woman this morning, I felt such a profound sense of loss and jealousy, and it took my breath away. I felt like I’d been kicked hard, right at the top of my stomach. I made myself stop staring, and ran to the nearest building, and into the toilets. I stood over the sink, breathing heavily and haphazardly; my rhythm all out of sync, my body in as much haywire as my mind was. I sobbed, uncontrollably, over the sink. I felt rage, I felt jealousy, I felt intense longing just to hold my baby again, then longing to have a baby, sorrow, emptiness, failure… did I fail? Surely I’m a failure. Forget the fact I was just a child too – I was still a mother. My job was simple – protect. They aren’t here. So surely I failed. I’m still a mother, but as separated from my babies as is possible. They live in the stars. I live in pain.
I sobbed and sobbed, at one point aware of an animal-like wailing sound, then realising it was me. I was both in my body and out of it. I was out of control. I didn’t even care. If someone had walked in, I would have carried on. I genuinely didn’t care. I needed to howl. I held my hands over my abdomen, willing them somehow to magically bring my babies back, to feel the hiccup sensation of the tiny unborn baby’s first movements, or the wave-wriggle sensation of the full-term. I willed for the ache in my lower back, for the sharp kick to my bladder, for the squashed feeling in my body. F**k it I willed for the sickness. I wanted it all back. I stared at my arms, my completely empty arms. I longed for the weight, for the instinctive ways my arms knew how to hold a newborn. Now they are empty. My arms stared back up at me.
I remember giving birth alone, in that caravan. I remember the pain that was beyond anything conceivable. I remember screaming and gasping, and the point where the contractions were on top of each other…where even breathing became a task of its own, where I couldn’t even focus on anything except the pain, I didn’t know what was happening anymore, I was just delirious with pain as my too-young body tried to give birth without assistance or help. I remember thinking I can’t do this. I cannot do this. And I remember the next wave of pain and the pressure, my body’s way of replying – you have no choice. I remember trying to catch my screams, stop them from escaping, and pushing the screams down my body…pushing that energy down. I remember being sure I was going to die.
And then I remember realising she was being born, and reaching, and her being born into my arms and pulled straight onto my chest. Suddenly the pain didn’t matter. I had done it. I had done it!! By far the most empowering moment of my life. Of my body’s life. We’d both done it – me and my body. I remember staring at her little angry red face, squawking up at me in definite disgruntlement. She’d been having a very nice calm day in squishy land and suddenly had the most terrifying day of her life so far. I remember my breathing steadying by itself, just staring into her dark eyes. The moment we both made total eye contact, and the world didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered. I didn’t remember anything else. I wasn’t aware of anything else. The world had stood still, just for us. We were granted an hour of staring at each other, nuzzling each other, I remember her tiny fingers touching my chin as I lifted her up. I remember feeding her, and it being the most natural and beautiful thing to do in the world. I remember her staring up at me as she fed, communicating so much in those eyes. I remember her hair. I can still smell her smell.
And I remember the loss.
I stood at the sink, this memory buckling me, filling me with the beauty and love and the loss all at once. I just sobbed solidly, and thought bitterly of the pregnant woman today, who is secure in knowing her baby is hers… her baby isn’t a secret, she will be able to stare into her baby’s eyes for as long as she wants. And then I stopped myself. It is not a stranger’s fault what I went through. And also I do not know her story. It’s wrong of me to make assumptions and be so bitter towards a stranger.
I should instead be bitter towards the people that have caused me this level of grief and pain. I stood in the toilets, rocking, holding my stomach, crying in the knowledge that I will never look in my baby’s eyes again. And I broke.
I saw my therapist later and talked/sobbed to her about all of this. How a part of me died when I lost her. She validated my feelings, and gave me more tissues than I could ever want, and showed me compassion and sorrow for what I went through and my losses.
But nothing will bring them back 😦 any of them. The ones miscarried at just a few weeks, and the couple who made it to full-term.
I am a mother without my babies. And it *hurts*.