A flashback to this past June, I guess this should have been part 1. But that’s not how I roll.
This past late spring, a peculiar thing started to happen. My physical symptoms of the losses and trauma I had endured started to wane while the “typical” on goings of life became less of an abrasion to my nervous system.
Whispers of normalcy shone through as if they were new inventions. One day while food shopping, my first reaction to a baby crying on and on in Whole Foods was an internal affectionate “aw, someone’s having a fussy day”. It was only 20 minutes later I started to become mildly triggered, which was hardly noticeable in the face of the absence of the gut wrenching feelings of death and despair a baby’s cry used to incite. And there I stood at the head of the checkout line, hardly recognizing myself as I stared blankly at the colorful holistic magazines, varying in their creative outward expressions yet internally sewn together in their attempt to sell the duchy illusion of control over one’s life.
I was able to leave my windows open for 45 whole minutes one evening as our backyard neighbor played with his grandchildren who are the age our children should be. It was miraculously tolerable.
And I even, even thought of finally introducing ourselves to one of our across the street neighbors who moved in about 4 months after we lost our children. We were sad to see our former neighbor go. He was a single late 50 something divorce who was friendly, quirky and downright amusing. Oh, and we knew he was not going to become pregnant. This was, no doubt, his finest quality. They who moved in after him seem like lovely people, actually, the kind we’re grateful our neighborhood attracts. But in spite of our gratitude over not being surrounded by gang bangers, anyone who has been through infertility knows that people with young children the age yours should have been is a trigger in one way or another, and although no one is to blame there is nothing that will change that either. Even if it was Mother Theresa and Gandhi who moved in across the street. But I’ve digressed. I decided not to make a move yet, as when I returned to my PTSD senses I realized that, as parents of a three year old they’ll likely be pregnant again soon. Being forced to watch this unfold before our very eyes in ways and at times out of our control will require a buffer. A buffer that does not include a pattern of verbal communication. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but for those who are new to this crazy train I offer you this newsflash – MY NEIGHBORHOOD IS A RABBIT LAIR. I am perpetually treading water in a vast and unforgiving sea of procreation. And I’ve digressed again. I have not yet introduced myself to them. That I entertained the notion at all, however, was groundbreaking.
And then, the occurrence that sealed for me that times really were a changin’ – I felt blatantly off and it was a full moon. Life’s harsher brutalities have a way of presenting themselves in such a fashion that they scream louder than anything else. In the wake of trauma, loss and especially untimely loss, the vast majority of life has a way of becoming, well, irrelevant. Holidays become hurdles. You start responding “who gives a shit?” to questions like “what day is it?” and “are you looking forward to spring?”. And if someone dares to share with you an improved planetary alignment, such as Mercury coming out of retrograde, you are beyond tempted to finally regurgitate “That’s nice. Funny, I didn’t feel a SINGLE SHIFT in the pain over LOSING MY CHILDREN, but yeah hey thanks for sharing!” while instead you muster your usual unenthusiastic “mmmmm” (translation – I’m so NOT resonating with you) as you sigh hopelessly and aim your passive aggressive eyes off into the distance.
But this time something was different. I felt funky. I looked up at the moon – and no, not only did I look up at the moon, I looked up without my first thought being “Fuck you, moon. You stupid, fucking pointless moon”. Early on in my process part of me had started to feel that anything that couldn’t bring me my children, which is, notably, everything in existence, was thoroughly useless and deserving of my complete and utter disdain. And then I saw it was full. I felt off, the moon was full. It had been years since I experienced such synchronicity.
But then there was this other thing. SOMETHING was pulsing through my veins. An unsettled, frenetic ball of sadness and horror the source of which I could not name clawed its way to my surface. It brought all my other functions to a grinding halt as it continued to remain faceless. I found myself, as we often do in grief, overwhelmed by a wave of whoknowswhat as I ceased to be able to move, returned to intermittent sobbing and after a couple of ok months had to revert to giving myself credit for showering and eating.
You’d think that my ptsd symptoms waning would be a good thing. But that was just the confusion. My mind had been celebratory, relieved even, that this cumbersome neighbor was, if but gradually, vacating the premises. Because this was creating space, you see, and my mind, like everyone else’s I suspect, is like a kid in a candy store in the presence of more space. But we really are so much more than our minds, aren’t we?
So in spite of the happy dance my mind was involved in, the rest of me stalled. And clung. Like a stubborn child stomping its feet mid tantrum, I did not want to move on. I noticed clearly the presence an impassioned attachment to my pain that I thought had so tormented me. An element of my suffering was evaporating and for some reason a part of my being was experiencing this as unequivocally violating.
The other oddity is that this trepidation is not my usual MO. Sure, I’m cautious in my own right and would classify myself as a calculated risk taker. However, layered amid my common sense is a combustibility of sorts. I’m also a cart before the horse person, that race horse that goes nuts when held behind the gates too long, that bird who dives out of the nest before being truly prepared to fly. My passion and curiosity getting the better of me is well within my spectrum of normal. When something is over in my life I’m normally ready to be done with it, the past already fading in the distance as I strike out for the new prospects that lie ahead. In the greater scheme of life, change is not something to which I’m generally averse. Getting stuck on any level is not something I need to pay much worry to. We all may have our tendencies, but I believe we also possess the capacity to be Every Person.
This time, I was the hoarder.
I’ve found the majority of grieving and healing is organic and the process often does not benefit from naming and labeling and the cognition of excessive analytics. But the jolting contrast between my mind and my more visceral parts needed some understanding. In other words, someone or something sure had some ‘splainin to do.
So, I mulled it over. Something so powerful yet so invisible had brought me to a virtual standstill, so there was really nothing else TO do. I put together that I had been forced to, for the sake of both my physical and mental health, operate this way for more than three years. I hadn’t realized it had been so long. Due to panic attacks and other physical symptoms I had no choice but to steer clear of triggers as much as possible, be it sights, sounds, mom speak and other people’s pregnancies. I took pride in my self – care and got high marks from my therapists for it. Having my edges soften a bit was scary, as I dealt with mild concerns over making decisions in my best interest amid these new shades of gray. After all, what I could and could not tolerate had been black and white for so long.
But that wasn’t really “it”.
Had my pain become my identity? My therapist gently helped me explore this aspect.
“Describe the person who handled this crisis and is getting you through this”, she prompted.
“Well…” I thought a moment and then, through my mopey tears, barreled down the list. “She’s persistent, she’s passionate and she’s scrappy.” I paused. “Very very scrappy. Impatient, flawed. Intense and sensitive. Blunt. And steadfast, like, she won’t accept anything long-term that prevents her from healing. She just won’t.”
We covered that this is who I was before infertility and that I’m fairly secure it’s who I’ll be moving forward as, more or less, for better and worse. A worthy exploration, but the true nail was still yet to be located and struck.
And then later that afternoon it came. Such a weighty and intense truth, suddenly floating around innocently like a cloud in the sky.
My pain and suffering – my panic attacks, my heart palpitations, my nervous system’s slicing absence of tolerance for all things baby and young kid – was the only evidence I had that my children were real. We never had a live child or a body or a heartbeat or a positive beta or got to see the double line on the hpt. Couple that with no societal acknowledgement for our loss and value for the four years of treatments and everything else we endured and sacrificed to try to bring them into existence. The result of all this is a nothingness so desolate and soul stopping it eclipses the realm of bone chilling.
You see, my children were very real to me, and with my pain as their only other witness, you can be damn well sure I was going to hang onto it. Like a woman desperately clutching her child amid feisty overpowering flood waters, I vehemently protected what was the last, and possibly only, evidence that my children were indeed real.
Helplessly feeling my children dissipate from my grasp, I recalled a phase in my friend’s grieving process where she was experiencing the horror of the memory of her husband fading coupled with the knowledge that she would need to let go to an extent and in a certain way in order to move forward.
“What torture,” I remembered thinking, “that you have to a degree move away from the thing you love the most in order to preserve yourself and have a chance at living a healthy life.” As it turned out, I was now in the middle of the childless after infertility version of that.
A much under-reported truth of grief is this: Where there is grief, there is much love. Hanging onto that pain was the only way I could defend the honor of my children at that time. A childless mother’s last stand for the children no one ever saw.
I don’t dream much about babies. But on the rare occasion the dreams of my children meet me in my sleep, it is not a traumatic thing. At least not so far. On the morning of January 31st, the one year anniversary of losing our children, in the mysterious and undefinable expanse that exists in the hours before one fully wakes, I heard a plain voice. “And what great words is Mama going to write today?” someone or something affectionately and playfully asked. To be acknowledged as a Mama and a writer in the same sentence was unequivocally glorious. But, this is not my real life now, not what happens in my waking hours.
And then, in the middle of all of my pain in progress muck, I did a strange thing. I asked the universe to show me my children before I drifted off to sleep one night. I hadn’t asked in months, or maybe in over a year. I don’t know what I believe now, but I used to believe that they were floating around out there somewhere. But having my cries go unanswered time and time again was decimating, and provoked me to wonder if there really is just nothing out there but space. However I felt as though I was missing a limb and I thought seeing them in some dimension would maybe help. And really, I don’t know if these things are a process of the mind or an out of body experience, and furthermore I have no motivation to try to define them. But it went something like this:
I don’t know where I was before. I found myself emerging from an endlessly wide ocean, looking down at my arms in wonderment as I found a daughter in them. Making my way towards an equally broad sandy beach, my eyes are only on her. Though we are coming forth from an ocean, we are not wet. She is wrapped firmly in those hospital towels with the faintly stitched blue and pink stripes down the middle and around the edges. Striking to me is the density, the blissful weighted density of having something solid in my arms. I revel in it as I make some shifts and marvel at how perfectly we fit, just as if we were made for each other. All I can feel is gratitude. “We almost didn’t get to do this” I whispered to infinity. For a flicker, my current life became a nightmare from which I was emerging. For an all too brief flash, things actually felt like they made sense. And then I woke up.
We move forward, we make efforts, we may even experience sprinkles of contentment. I may have not built my new life I didn’t ask for, but some of the parts have been ordered. A few architectural designs have been sketched out and are pending approval based on who knows what. It’s easy to become numb to the pain, to the nightmare, to the fact that the loss of our children still takes up every part of my being, because, let’s face it, it has all become so normal. So normal that during this phase I found myself forgetting to process the truth that if things were different, I’d have a ten month old right now, and maybe a toddler too. But whether I remember it in my cognitive mind or not, the children and the life I wanted are still playing out in some part of my being, living right beside my physical life in phantom form. Right now, in spite of my progress, it seems my measure of peace still exists in my dreams only.
We take the in betweens for granted. Skaters work incredibly hard on jumps, but transitions to and from jumps and other moves are just as much a part of it. They take skill and there is much nuance. And, they are often unsung as when they go smoothly they are practically unnoticeable. When they don’t, there is much chaos. Whoever would have thought that progressing away from my pain would make me feel as though I’m losing my children all over again.
About a week or so after this realization I found myself lying on the acupuncturist’s table for a long over due “tune up”. Now, I mock acupuncture and I have my reasons. Like most holistic modalities it does not have a solid sense of its limitations, and its diagnostic impotence and absence of general medical knowledge can make life very confusing, draining and prolonged for an infertile trying to conceive. But I’m also certain it’s not nothing either. I experience the existence of my energetic body through my yoga practice, and I feel its maintenance is important, especially for someone in the midst of a grieving process.
The third needle or so went in on a spot on the outer mid side of my right foot I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. A jolt of electricity shot up my leg and I felt pain like I had never felt before from an acupuncture needle. And needless to say, I’ve had more acupuncture than most. As the next couple of needles went in I felt a pool of grief in my heart and nausea in my mid section as tears filled my eyes. Normally, it’s not until the acupuncturist leaves the room that I turn my inner eye to feel any shifts that might be taking place. Sometimes, they aren’t even perceptible. But this point had caused a major shake – up that was internally bombastic even before all of the needles were in.
These days, I try to keep my distance from these things. With the wounds from recent pursuits both fruitless and ineffective, my intent is to lay back and roll with the mystery. Easier said than done. As usual, I had some internal detective work to do that I could not resist.
“Uh, that point…..what does it connect to?”
“Well, it connects to a place here (she touched my forearm) and it’s about, well, it’s a point that relates to the holding on of things….”
I assure her this makes sense without getting into it, as this is what works for me these days. I’ve had ample and consistent experience with holistic practitioners of all kinds taking too much creative liberty with their interpretations of my being. Enough already.
And there I lie on the table, in the form of a corpse absorbing on odd cacophony of truths. I had come into the appointment feeling a tad out of sorts but ok and responded with my usual “hanging in there” when asked how I was, my voice a bit more sunny than usual. And I had many good physical things to report; my digestion is good, I’m finally getting my appetite back, sleep is decent, and in the past month I’ve noticed a major decrease in nausea (In my preinfertile life, when others complained about foods that bothered their stomachs, I was always that annoying person chiming in with “actually, I could probably digest a pitchfork!”). It recently dawned on me that I’d been nauseous for the past three years off and on, no doubt due to the stress and pain of trying to conceive, going through many treatments in a short period of time, trying again in the face of diagnosis after diagnosis only to grieve the loss of my children all while having to educate my loved ones as I walk out into a world that is oblivious. I venture to say that would make even the best of us feel incompatible with life.
So as I feel my being quake inside of me I’m met with the rest of the truth – that in spite of any improvements, the loss of my children and everything else that was annihilated along with them is likely still present in every one of my cells. It rests in my most tender places and creeps around and finds ways to speak until I listen.
As I continue to lie there, still yet forever morphing, bits of wisdom easily drift in and out of my head.
“You know, you CAN let the pain go”, the voice says. “But not a moment before you’re ready.”
I relax into the sensation that only I can really know when it’s time. There is no invisible power that knows better, I am no pre-destined plan’s marionette. I remind myself that my children don’t have to be about pain and that moving forward from the harshest bulk of it doesn’t mean they won’t emerge as some other form of expression. And then, the truth arrives, gentle in its luminosity.
“This is a part of you. Your relationship with this unfulfilled dream and the children you never got to meet will go on for the rest of your life. This is just the first of many transformations.” I observe the notion of this seemingly eternal intertwinement with curiosity.
I come to a place of rest. When I get up, my now cold tears that pooled just inside my ears slosh around. A reminder that I still have no clue what healed looks like, perhaps, but that for today, my “hanging in there” is good enough.
If you’re looking for logic within the grieving process, I suggest you look elsewhere. In the connect the dots holistic modality world, one might assume that after that acupuncture point was hit, my holding on to my children cleared up and I skipped on, buoyant and unshackled. Not so fast, cowboy.
What followed as summer took hold was an undeniable sadness. I missed my children. I missed my children in summer and all I would have shared with them. I missed them in the way one would miss a truth so basic its absence could only create a gaping violation.
Not that the acupuncture was pointless, not at all. It’s that healing from a life altering traumatic loss does not unfold in such a quaint little cause and effect straight line. No. It’s as if you’re doing a puzzle, final picture unknown, receiving the pieces a few here and a few there. Some have a place they can snap in with the other pieces you’ve salvaged, in the beginning many don’t.
I find direction in listening to myself. And I find comfort in the eyes of kindred spirits, the healing facilitators, those who have experience succumbing to the mysterious pull of their own underbellies. I find comfort in those who, rather than analyze, tweak, nudge, judge or profess knowledge that they don’t really have, know this place just “is”, and offer their presence as I bravely stand in the space of my own being – struggling, ethereal and accepting.