The seven-month mark of Michael’s absence slipped by yesterday with no fanfare. While everyone else is posting videos of their little crawlers with first words, first foods, first thises, first thats, I am finding I’m more up than down. I’m finding I’m more calm than anxious. I’m more peaceful than turmoiled.
These are good things. I am happy more often than not, though the social awkwardness of interactions fraught with talk of children remains.
At work the other day, three women with new babies were clustered together, talking about their labor and pregnancy experiences, and it made me feel like an outsider, because I struggle to feel valid. See, every mother who wanders around with a child in tow has 100% freedom to talk about their pregnancy, their labor experience, their joy upon seeing a first ultrasound, but women who were unlucky in the draw? Not a bit. There’s this unspoken hint to be quiet. Even if you have good things to say (I could talk for hours about how much I loved being pregnant, and you know what, I even enjoyed being in labor), even if you are policing yourself to not inadvertently scare someone with cold, hard, facts, it’s like — since you don’t have a child tottering along behind you, you have nothing of worth to say.
And it makes it even rougher, some days, because at seven months out, Michael is disappearing. I struggle to remember what he looked like, what he sounded like when he cried immediately, I fight to recall how heavy his little body felt in my arms. He is completely intangible and far away, and on days that I feel so “up,” the mind begins to play tricks: Was I really a mother? Couldn’t it have been all in my head?
I begin to see why so many women cling to their grief. When you’re grieving, your child is as tangible and close as they can be by virtue of your tears and the ache in your heart. While you are grieving, the world is quick to reassure you that yes, you are a mother, and yes, your story is as valid as the ones that pan out the way we’re told they should. When the grief becomes managed, however, when you are no longer visibly hurting, all that disappears. You’re left to handle day-to-day life, awkward and alone, and then chastised by society’s rules when you don’t know how to handle things like the dreaded, “how many kids do you have?” and “when ARE you two going to have a baby?” or when mothers are complaining to you how much of a distasteful trial it is to care for their children. Life after the worst pain of grief has faded is tricky. I get chastised because I’m not “my old self” yet. But who was that girl, anyway? I look at myself in the mirror and I can’t see her anymore — I just see me.
Wounded, yet healing, me.
And even though I’m not bouncing-off-the-walls-bubbly anymore, there’s still a sparkle in my eye. Though the poignant notes of the song resonate more powerfully, now, there’s still a joyful lilt underneath it all.
You may just have to be patient enough to hear it.