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Parents of lost babies and potential of all kinds: come here to share the technicolour, the vividness, the despair, the heart-broken-open, the compassion we learn for others, having been through this mess — and see it reflected back at you, acknowledged and understood.

Thanks to photographer Xin Li and to artist Stephanie Sicore for their respective illustrations and photos.

parenting after loss > flexing the grief muscles

I have to say, I never thought I would turn up in this thread, but after many years of trying and failing, I find myself here with a beautiful six month old daughter. As so many of us have found, this is an emotional time, obviously, and I have been working through it as best I can with the little mental capacity that remains after a day of baby wrangling. Grief continues to amaze me. It is so resilient. Feel like it hasn't been around for a while? Look out, here it comes.

Because it took me what felt like an eternity to arrive at parenting a living child, I must tell you, Grief and I were pretty tight during all of those horribly empty years. I spent a lot of my mental time and space forging a deep relationship with it, and with my dear daughter Marlo, who I miss now just as much as I always have (only now there is guilt, too). I really devoted a lot of deliberate attention to "healing" (ha), through all sorts of creative outlets, seeing a counselor, attending a group, and being an every-day-visitor here at Glow. All of these things helped me immensely, I came to feel strong. I went through my subsequent pregnancy with blinders on, still focusing on myself, and still on Marlo. Then our new daughter arrived. My attention to grief and to Marlo all but evaporated, as did my time, caring for a new baby. I couldn't spend as much time thinking about Marlo and feeling all the feelings I had gotten so used to, and Grief started creeping up on me. I would realize I had forgotten to wear my locket with her picture in it one day, and erupt into tears in the car when my hand would absent-mindedly meet with my bare collar bone.... I would miss my monthly group and not even realize it til two days later, then berate myself for forgetting. I would visit her garden, a place I used to be able to pour my love into maintaining -- and feel despair at seeing it overgrown and shabby with weeds. And every time some minor thing goes wrong, I am quick to compound my self-pity with the fact that Marlo is not here. It makes me sad that my new happiness must be counterbalanced with this negative, angry darkness, just beyond reach.

Anyway, I find myself terribly out of shape, and ill-prepared to handle these sneak attacks from Grief, and all the guilt and sadness that reverberates after them. Sometimes it is days before I realize why I am feeling the way I am feeling. And it is taking a familiar toll on my relationship with my partner (again), and on my basic outlook toward other people and the world (bitter). Don't get me wrong, life with this baby is a gift and a joy beyond all imagination. I eat every moment up with her, and, though exhausted at the end of one day, can't wait to wake up and see her smile the next. But the black holes are still out there, and I am just not as adept at seeing them coming, before I have gone and fallen in. Any strategies for dealing with this? Any way to flex those familiar muscles so that the pain of using them again is less?
September 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLi
That first year of mothering is exhausting. With each and every child. It is nicer to be exhausted with a living child, but there is also a ton of worry and fear with a child who is alive. With the child who has died, there is less worry and more pain.

If Marlo had lived, Li, you would be adjusting your relationship to her because the family has changed. You would be feeling guilty for ignoring her and worrying that she won't feel as loved. She would be experiencing some benign neglect. With good parents, in a loving home, this would not hurt her at all. In fact, it usually does the child some good. Just because Marlo died does not mean that this benign neglect will hurt her. You are not ignoring her, you are not loving her less, you are not missing her less. You are probably missing her more.

Life has changed. Your grief is changing. Your ways of grieving are not meeting your needs at this time. That is not unusual at all. We change and grow and get distracted or other grief can bring this one back hard. One of the things I have found helpful when my grief changes is to go back and tell myself the story of my daughters life and death and the aftermath. We see things differently after awhile. We get a new perspective and our priorities change. At first, maybe you needed to concentrate on survival and healing enough to live and now it is something else you need. Maybe you need ways to remember Marlo that are different than before. Maybe you need a way to memorialize her that you didn't need two year ago. I don't have a clue, but maybe you don't either right now. That is why I go back over it all, in detail and see what strikes me now.

My daughter died shortly after birth in 1991. This grief is not the same year to year. It is not the same decade to decade. This grief comes and goes, rises and falls. The love and the loss remain constant. So does the need to be gentle with yourself and not judge yourself too harshly, especially when the grief hits hard.

Wishing you peace as you move through this part of life and grief.
September 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJill A.
Li, the best advice I can give is just to live your life. In my experience, there are times I find Shelby constantly on my mind and then months where life just consumes my every waking moment and she isn't at the forefront (I have 6 year old plus 3 year old and 10 month rainbows).

I have a wonderful counsellor and she pointed out to me once "your level of sadness isn't related to the love you have for Shelby". And it was a light bulb moment for me. When my first rainbow was born I fell into a pattern of grief again and although I couldn't recognise it, it made me feel better that I felt so depressed and sad because I felt like it meant I was still missing Shelby, that I loved her so much I couldn't move past that all consuming sadness.

But the bottom line is that I wanted to. I needed to for my own sanity, for my kids to have me present, for me to be able to enjoy life without feeling guilty.

There will be times you think about Marlo a lot and feel sad and there will be times she is further from your mind. But she is in your heart , she is missed and loved by you the same. All the time.
September 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterShelby's Mum
Lightbulb moment, indeed. Thank you both, Jill A. & Shelby's Mum for these perspectives. I started to feel better the instant I even wrote my post, let alone read your responses. Thank you, Jill, for the reminder of the re-structuring of family in light of a new arrival; I don't know why it is still so hard for me to think of our small unit, with the missing child, as our "family". Still unable to shake the notion that "real" families only contain living members... The concept of benign neglect being a normal, even healthy thing is so rational and true... for goodness sake, just ask my poor dog! Before this sweet baby arrived, she was our only "child" for quite a while. It is indeed true that my grief and longing for Marlo will morph and evolve as the years go by, and certainly in light of these changes. Jill, I am so sorry for the loss of your little girl. I totally understand the need and function of replaying the events of birth, death, and aftermath. It has long been an exercise for me, and will continue to be.

Shelby's Mum, the words of your counselor ring true as well. Why is it that we feel we must do this penance of sadness in order to feel as though we are loving our babies enough? Why? You are right, of course she is in my heart; I know this. How do our psyches allow us to forget? And worse, how does guilt manage to squeeze through on top of everything else?! It is a minefield, for sure.

Now that life is settling into something of a routine after the tumultuous newborn days, I do sense a new era of grief and coping. I wish I could know what to expect, but the trick, as always, is to not waste my strength trying to anticipate what comes next -- but rather to just live it and be a bit more forgiving. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.
September 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLi

I have not been here for a long time, but the joy in finding you here and the news of Marlo's little sister has brought me to tears I have a million questions and a huge belated congratulations!
February 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGrace's Mom