This post is a reflection on my sense of self before baby loss and after and the effect that Freddie's death has had on that. I was a stay at home parent of young children before I had him and my life therefore revolved around the trappings of that life. There is some mention of how I was shaped by ordinary pregnancy and birth as well as infant loss. Please bear that in mind before reading if you are in a sensitive phase of loss.
Once it defined me, my knowledge, my experience, my hoard of stories, grim and detailed.
Once I huddled in gaggles of mothers and gossiped - heartless midwives, empty threats of dead babies. I thrashed through birth trauma, postnatal depression, botched, unsatisfactory deliveries. My ill-used body, caught in the nets of a harried medical system that sucked me in, processed my heaving body, signed me out alive, with scant regard for my soul or sanity.
Those things, the worst that could happen, consumed the centre of my wounded being. All encompassing, damaging, poisoned.
All talked out, gradually growing around and through the pain, I became something new.
Once it defined me, my knowledge, my experience, my hoard of stories, gritted teeth and battles won.
Once I huddled in flocks of mothers engrossed in motherhood - failed breastfeeding, sleepless nights, babies born with challenges (I will not call them small, not even now) to be overcome. We loaded laundry and knew not the value of the little people in our care. The minutae of the tedium was our currency of connection.
I had no idea how lucky I was. I do not hold myself responsible for that.
And, all talked out, we grew, moved on. Stories rolled and rubbed and took on the sheen of a well fumbled pebble, soft, smooth, snag-less.
I became something new; lacking nonchalant patter, I formed an armoury of parenthood, my tales the scales of my skin. A persona grew, I became the mother people love or hate, who fought the battles, won and lost and emerged confident, skilled and with all the answers I needed. I believed in me.
I do not begrudge myself that confidence. It was good while it lasted.
And it all came tumbling down. In the screaming silence of the birthing room without a cry, I lost every opinion I had ever had about birth and babies. In the humming heat of SCBU, I lost everything I knew about parenting. I couldn't help him. I didn't know the language, couldn't do the procedures, couldn't choose when to hold him, might hurt him if I did.
No time to learn.
My outer shell smashed and washed away, all my conversation, all my wrath and passion, all my innocence and ignorance. I didn't know I had that.
When I lost my son, when I crumbled him to dust, consigned him to a memory, I also lost myself, my role, my place in society. A core was left, naked and bruised.
No one wants the baby lost mother. We are not welcome. We are the spectre - festering and infectious. Who would want my knowledge? It is tainted by Freddie's death, despite the four before him. I would run a mile from me. Who would chat to me about birth and babies, fearing to see me cry, hoping that "please god, she doesn't mention HIM again!"? Who would believe my nappy choice might be right when I let my baby die? Who would believe I had knowledge about breastfeeding when I couldn't even tell he was sick before he lived.
I see the recoil even if it never comes. I see the blank weariness as they wait for me to find a reason to mention him. I see myself, hovering in their joy and deserved naivety, spoiling the thrill of the moment. I imagine myself tainting their hope, excitement. I imagine them making the opposite choice to mine, hoping to ward off the devil.
I cannot ever re-enter that world. I will distance myself even from my daughters when their time comes, hoping - irrationally - to not remind them of the brother who died.
So, crone like, my gift is to the girl I once was, to all mothers who never walk a harder path than tired out drudgery.
I will try not curl my lip at those with no reason to know better. I will not belittle them because their path has not been strewn with ashes and they know not that ashes can arrive in a tiny box with an etched brass plate. I will not deride them for a merry life with smaller hurts and smaller mountains to climb.
I envy them. I'm glad for them. With gritted teeth I will smile for them and the rose-tinted life they lead. I do not want them to know this pain. And I will barter my forgiveness of their lack of understanding for the gift of no future grief in this family.
If I could. If only I could.
How do you feel about the person you were before loss arrived in your life? Do you miss that person? Would you have that person back? How do you feel about people who have not experienced loss and their world view? Has it changed over time, have you become more or less tolerant about ignorance of loss?