Surviving The Turbulent First Year
As I enter the second year into my unprecedented version of motherhood, I am feeling quite reflective. The hardest, most challenging period I have ever faced. I can’t help but wonder what my one year old son would be like now; what would he be doing, what would he look like, would he like going to nursery? Questions I will sadly never get answers to.
One thing I do know for certain is that you don’t hit the 12 month mark and the universe waves a magic wand, abracadabra, your grief is cured! I am aware that this notion seemed quite bizarre, but deep down, I think I did believe that after we reached Billy’s birth date, things would get a whole lot easier, and whilst I do feel some sense of relief that all of the ‘firsts’ are over with, the pain is very much still there. You don’t just grieve for a year and then someone comes along and erases the hurt for you. If only.
However, what we have overcome is all of those painful ‘firsts’. Navigating all of the milestones during that first year is tremendously difficult, you’re in unchartered territory and just don’t know what to expect month to month. The benefit of heading into the second year, is that you have done all of the milestones, faced a whole year living with the heavy weight of the death of your child and you do know what to expect.
I think the uncertainty of the first year is a big part of what makes it so difficult. Not knowing how much worse things could get, not knowing if you will ever start to see any light at the end of the tunnel, ever smile or have fun again. Is this life now? Painful and exhausting. You really don’t know. Those early days are blighted with a darkness that is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced such a devastating loss. The early weeks are like wading through treacle, exhausting and there are no light moments. Intense, raw and unbearable. Just making it to the end of the day is a challenge, a rollercoaster of intense emotions and a racing mind filled with dark, devastating thoughts. You cannot switch off your brain for even a second.
Then one day the mist begins to clear slightly, you find yourself smiling at something, having a conversation that isn’t about the loss of your child. Doing something normal again in a life that has been turn truly upside down. And you will breathe a sigh of relief. Then there will be a day where you go the whole day without crying. You will think to yourself the next day, ‘oh I didn’t cry yesterday’. Then you will probably feel guilty about that and start to cry!! But there is really nothing to feel guilty about. This little bit of healing is a huge step forwards. To begin with it will often feel like you have taken two steps forwards, and three steps back but I think we possess an inner strength that we don’t realise we have until we truly need to draw upon it. Thankfully most people will never have to dig as deep as we have, most people will never know the pain of this type of loss and for that they should be truly grateful.
It is difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t lost a child what life is like following this. There are simply two chapters to your life now; ‘before you lost your child’ and ‘after you lost your child’. This really is life changing and dictates life’s terms and conditions for you now.
One of the hardest things about the first year is the paradox of how different your life should be now. You go from picking out a pram and breaking up for maternity leave excitedly putting on the out of office, safe in the knowledge you will way too busy with a newborn to give work a second thought.
Then suddenly you are thrust into a dark world where your life feels like a soap opera. How on earth do we go from decorating a nursery and folding up tiny, freshly washed baby clothes to signing post-mortem consent forms and arranging a funeral for our baby? It is difficult to comprehend and the first couple of months are extremely surreal, the feelings of ‘is any of this real’ are overwhelming.
I found myself questioning everything, my life felt like a bad dream. There were times I wondered if I had even been pregnant at all, then there were times when I was certain I had felt my baby kicking and this was all a mistake. Or that they should have been able to resuscitate him and save him. I would dream that it wasn’t real frequently in the first couple of months, then be hit with a fresh wave of grief every morning when I woke up. I suffered from very bad insomnia for months and months, just lying awake in bed watching reality tv on loop until I would finally fall asleep for a couple of hours at about 6am. Insomnia and grief do not mix FYI – just like wine before beer. Oh and I probably don’t need to explain the joys of grief and PMT to any loss mums. That’s a nasty little bitch isn’t it!
I fit the stereotype of a grieving mother well and wore the crown proudly in the early days. Dark circles – check, greasy hair – check. Swollen, red frog eyes – check. Looks a little bit homeless – check.
One thing I definitely learned within the first year of grief is that there is no limit to how ugly you are prepared to go out in public looking. I have lost count of the amount of meals we went out for where I was basically wearing pyjamas, no make up and greasy hair covered up with a hat. I always showered though, but realistically only because I’d had a C section and I needed to keep the wound clean, otherwise you could definitely have added ‘stinks like a skunk’ to that list.
In fact, a real turning point for me was the day I got accused of being a shoplifter in, of all places, Aldi. I mean, I know that special buys aisle is the thing of dreams; want yourself a unicorn pool float, knock off Jo Malone candle (Faux Malone would have been a much better name for them to use but I am way too busy being a grieving mother to conjure up Aldi’s marketing campaigns for them) and a pair of thermal slippers all on one aisle? Need a three man tent? I’m in! But I fully intend on paying for any goods consumed. I kid you not dear reader, I was leaving the store, admittedly, looking like something out of The Walking Dead, unwashed seaweed-esq hair, scruffy but comfy clothing, ghostly white face with big red swollen eyes, minding my own business when I was asked to step back inside and let the security guard go through my bags! It was humiliating but also slightly humorous that the once groomed, ‘self-proclaimed goddess’ had been reduced to a scruffy, hobo that looks like she needed to steal a tin of mushy peas or whatever it is your rather unfriendly security guard thought I was nabbing!
After that I decide to give my head a bit of a wobble, immediately washed my hair and started wearing makeup again. Because I’m worth it. *flicks hair dramatically.* I also decided to visit my old pal Asos and treated myself to A LOT of new threads and decided to try and start looking like me again, even if feeling like me would be a long, long way off. But I trotted off into my second trimester of grief with shiny hair and lots of new clothes.
The first three months are utterly horrendous. If you were to time stamp grief in the way that we do a pregnancy, love a bit of irony me, then yes, getting through the first ‘trimester’ is the hardest. The second trimester is still really, really tough, but just as sometimes the morning sickness of a pregnancy begins to subside, you do begin to feel a tiny bit better during that second phase.
Then you pass the six month mark and this is absolutely where I started to have more frequent lighter moments. The intensity of grief begins to fade, the rawness of the deck of cards begins to subside and the surreal-ness and paradox of your life begins to settle down. After this point (which might take longer than 6 months, we all grieve differently and that’s fine) you begin to get a little stronger I guess and you are finally swimming in familiar waters a little more.
For anyone newly bereaved, I would like to reassure you that whilst these milestones are tough, the run up to them is often worse than the day itself. I have certainly found that for just about every milestone. And as the year progresses you find yourself getting stronger and being more adept at dealing with these challenges. It is a very difficult road to walk, unfathomable at times. People will let you down, you will learn that some of the people closest to you are not in this for the long haul. But then there will be the beautiful souls that are and those are the ones to focus your energy on.
You are so much stronger than you ever thought and somehow, you will find a way through all of this. I have no idea how we do it, I guess we are just warriors carrying around a broken heart with no choice but to conjure up that inner strength that we never knew existed. Until now.
Love Hannah x