We’ve all had that moment; you tell someone that you don’t have living children and you hear “I completely understand, we lost our first one, too”. You feel an instant connection — finally, someone else who gets it! — but then they tell you how they have had more kids, and the connection is lost.
Although well meaning, no, you do not completely understand – because you went on to have living children. You can’t possibly understand how it feels to be a Still Mother every single day, because you have hope and healing: you get to mother a living child.
All loss parents understand the experience of grief, they may even understand the agony of pregnancy or infant loss – but their path is not the path we walk as Still Mothers.
I want to be very clear – I don’t like grief comparison. I have had some very painful experiences of grief comparison in a pregnancy and infant loss group. Women have said things to me and I could only blink as a response because I was too stunned to form words. So let me say this clearly: Having living children does not lessen that bereaved parents’ love or experience of loss for their child. Their broken heart will ache for the rest of their days. The death of a child is the death of a child. However, daily life after the loss of an only child is different then daily life with other living children.
The difference is – and it’s a big one – in addition to battling grief, doing the work of mourning, fighting triggers – we as Still Mothers deal with the horrifying and heavy blow of finality. Not just our baby/babies have died and we will never get them back, which is something all Baby Loss Parents have to grapple with, but we also have to process the fact we will never, ever have that living child we dreamed of. We will NEVER bring the beautiful cooing baby into the world. All those dreams we had of things we would do as a family, traditions we would start – will NEVER come to pass. As we get older, we then deal with the secondary trigger of grandchildren we will never have. The nagging worry of who will care for us in our final years. And the screaming voice in our heads that demands answers to What do I do now?? What do I do with my love? What do I do with my life? What now???
Being a Still Mother is so hard in so many ways. One of the hardest is the cloak of invisibility: You can’t see I’m a mum. Society doesn’t not realize I parent from afar. I appear a childless woman and not a heartbroken, loving mama. I don’t choose to wear this cloak, it is placed on me by others.
For years after Thomas died I held out hope; maybe, just maybe if I could heal – we could pursue surrogacy. Spoiler: I couldn’t heal – and after watching me push myself, punish myself and weep in frustration my husband and I finally had “the talk”. I could almost feel a door slam shut in my heart as I realized mothering a living, breathing baby would never come to pass. Sticky fingers and muddy feet would never mess up my home. Field trips, lunches and assignments would not stress me out. As the figurative door slammed shut, for the first time I also felt the smallest inkling of relief. This internal war, against myself, was over.
But the battle to find peace, to find purpose – it had just begun.