As a child, the stillness of shop mannequins scared me. I would quickly look away when walking by shop windows, or cross the aisle in stores. Sometimes I was drawn to steal a glance. Their stillness and vacant expressions were unnatural, like the life had left them. As I grew older, I dismissed these fears as a child's imagination. Now, mannequins displayed an array of outfits in various colours and cuts, always fitting perfectly. They convinced me to buy dresses and skirts that now lie in my cupboard, gathering dust.
Suddenly, when the baby died, the body found itself on its own; the organs functioned optimally to get it to do what it needed to, but the soul had vacated. The body went through the motions, held the baby, cried, and ate, slept and cried some more. The body picked out the clothes the baby should wear and read through the baby’s journal. The body attended the funeral, during which she sat silently wondering where the soul had gone to, missing that part of itself, wanting it to come back. But deep down the body enjoyed the desolateness, it was proof that the baby had been taken from it.
There was blankness behind its eyes that hadn’t been there before; there was a numbness that wouldn’t go away. The body wondered if it were to drive a knife through it, would it bleed. To bleed was to feel and the body felt nothing.
Still some months later, the body roamed the darkened house late at night, often reaching for a second bottle of wine, hoping that if it was filled with oblivion, maybe the soul would return to it. Oh but the body was weak, the pain crushed it and bruised it. Often the body wondered if it would survive another day without its companion and friend, old soul. The body became afraid that it would never again have that connection.
All the while the soul searched, it searched for the baby everywhere, it flew through the cracks and crevices, and it called out for the baby. Come back. The soul couldn’t go back to the body, just yet—it needed answers, needed to find where the baby went and ask her to come back with it. That would heal the body, wouldn’t it? For the body had rejected the soul, that moment when the doctor said the baby had died, the body pushed the soul away. The body was cruel, heartless, refusing to let the soul back in. Surely if the baby was found, all would be well again. The body wouldn’t be so still anymore.
At the end of my 33rd birthday, I scrolled through a lifetime of photos of me wearing my tiara at breakfast, sipping tea with a grin on my face, opening gifts, blowing out candles, cutting a cake. In recent years, I've done it all with a smile plastered on my face, unnatural, my eyes as vacant as shop dolls. I have been posing. I don’t feel the way I look or look the way I feel. I am not that smiling woman.
A month before my son's fourth birthday, Zia died. We went ahead with the party.
There was not the time to grieve, to be sad at the expense of what must be done. In those pictures, the smile on my face did not reach my eyes. I smiled and talked about the weather but felt nothing.
Mannequin Me was called into service more often as the years went by. She went to family functions, shopped for Christmas gifts for everyone else—not for her baby, but it was okay, okay, okay. But it wasn’t okay. It still isn’t. I can admit this to myself now.
Four years on, I can finally confess that I failed myself in those early months. I should have granted myself some seclusion and silence. I should have granted myself permission to breathe. The fact that I didn’t made my journey so much harder. I should have followed my own gospel, as I would tell anyone else: Losing a baby isn’t something one can simply get over. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself time to grieve. I’d forgotten that the same applied to me. Of all the judgement that ever existed, my own might have been the most visceral.
How have you dealt with self-judgement? Where there times when you felt yourself going with the flow, saying yes when you were internally screaming no? How have you cared for yourself?