This post was originally published by Courageous Parents Network on May 22, 2023.
I only had one Mother’s Day with all three of my children alive. I wish I could say something poetic and beautiful about it.
But I don’t remember anything from that day.
I had to look back through my photos to figure out what happened. My husband went back through his, too, because he also could not remember. I found pictures of my mom and I shopping for an outdoor rug for our back deck. He had photos of our medically-fragile baby, Viggo. For weekday care of Viggo, my mom and I worked in shifts. As a result, we hadn’t spent much time together outside of handing off caregiving duties since he came home from the NICU in February. Our family could not travel because Viggo was too fragile, so we decided to beautify the back porch. I can only guess that is why we went shopping at the hardware store together for Mother’s Day last year.
I should have known it was my only Mother’s Day with Viggo. In fact, I did sense this, but I couldn’t hold that thought in my consciousness because it was too heavy. And now here I am, wishing I had taken a photo of myself with my three children on that day. And now here I am, telling myself that it was JUST A DAY, it doesn’t mean anything, and we have plenty of photos from other days.
Judging myself for failing at Mother’s Day.
Judging myself for feeling bad about it.
This is the reality of grief after medical trauma. Trauma affects brain function in tangible ways, and for me, it means that there is so much of Viggo’s life that I don’t remember. Just this spring, I started to organize a 40th birthday party for a close friend, only to learn that she turned 40 last year, and that I had attended the party. Are the memories there, just locked away somewhere? Or were they never written?
This difficulty remembering complicates my grief. I don’t have any more chances. I don’t have any more Mother’s Days with Viggo. When I did have my chance, I was out of my mind with stress, trauma, love, worry, anticipatory grief, and the hypervigilance of caregiving for my baby while also trying to meet the needs of my older two children. I wish I could have been more present for all those moments. I wish I could remember.
The other day, I had a conversation with a stay-at-home mom of three. She described her high levels of anxiety in the early days of caring for her small children full-time. Like me, she also struggled to remember the “beautiful” moments, as multitasking without a break, anxiety, and isolation meant she was barely keeping it together for years.
While our experiences are so different–-some would say incomparable—I was comforted to hear the common threads of mom guilt and mom regret in her story. No matter how tragic, or perfect, our mothering looks from the outside, we can still be swallowed up by these two aspects of self-judgment. Mom guilt and mom regret are especially toxic for grieving mothers, because we have no more chances to redeem ourselves in our own eyes.
We would never shame our sister-mothers for being human and struggling in extremely challenging circumstances. We would never shame anyone for experiencing symptoms of PTSD. Yet we are not always so kind to ourselves. On Mother’s Day this year, my spiritual work was to recognize my guilt and regret as separate from my grief. While I will never stop grieving Viggo, I can stop feeling bad about being imperfect. I can give myself the compassion that I so freely give to others. I can ask for reassurance when I can’t dig myself out of my own dark hole. I can tell other mothers that they are doing an amazing job. I can remember that motherhood, like life, is messy and complicated.
It was dark outside the hospital windows when the little squeezes began. I hadn't felt them in years, but I knew them immediately. And with them, you drew me inside of myself. Inside of you. Inside of us, together. I remember saying to your Dad, "I'm going inside now." It was effortless, automatic, as if I were an expert meditater. I miss those hours of quiet oneness with you. An experience unique in all my years of living, in all my days of motherhood. On the outside, the adhesive and wires connected to my belly began to set off alarms. Our nurse ran in and out of the room, over and over. But you and I, we remained steady. Together, wrapped in a focused embrace, almost beyond the reach of the voice that ordered, "Turn to your other side!" "Get on your hands and knees!" We moved to the commands of the caller, but the dance belonged to us. B reathing in, we oxygenated. Breathing out, we released all fear. At one point, the nurse hit the button and
It's 5:13am on November 18, 2022. The body knows. It remembers, it wakes me up with a tightness in the chest. I search for my inhaler. It can only do so much. Over these past four months since Viggo died, I've experienced my grief as an ocean. My own private ocean. Sometimes it feels like a private ocean on a lonely planet where I am the only inhabitant. Sometimes I can step into the river of grief, that great rushing river that connects my grief to the grief of all the bereaved throughout all of time. The river is overpowering, communal, ancestral, bottomless. I belong there, too. The river of grief gives me perspective because it brings me into contact with the grief and loss of others, it reminds me I am not alone, it pushes me along and does not let me stay stuck in one place. The river is a transcendence. Not a transcendence of my grief but a transcendence into all grief. But this post is about my ocean. When Viggo died, I felt myself suddenly dropped into the middle of a
I longed for a third baby since my second child, Leo, was born at home in 2017. I tried to shake the desire and I tried to talk myself out of it, but it was always there, refusing to stay suppressed, refusing to disappear. First births are often traumatic, and mine was no exception. My first child, Rosa, was born in 2014 and came into this world kicking up a fuss after 36 hours of labor, a failed epidural at the 30-hour mark that resulted in a cerebrospinal fluid leak (aka "wet tap"; summary: worst headache ever), an epidural that worked, and two "blood patches" to stop the fluid leak. (That is four epidurals in total, if you're counting.) She was exactly 40 weeks gestation and weighed a healthy 7 lbs 13 oz. In those days , I was working as a legal aid attorney in D.C. and teaching yoga on the side. I was newly married, living in a rowhouse with my husband, cat, and two roommates, and my bike was my main form of transportation. My last day of work was June 20, a