Thursday, May 24, 2007

The grief that we know

Rosepetal has sustained more losses this year than anyone should ever have to. She wrote so eloquently today about her grief. How she can't eat, how she feels like a shell of her former self. It got me thinking about one of the subtle, profound experiences of miscarriage and infant loss. It's hard to talk about this without sounding a little extreme, a little melodramatic. But it's worth a try, because there's something here that I wish I had understood at the time.

The process of birth is one of separation (and actually, reunion). In utero, the baby is part of you, made from your very body, and yet it is not you. It's a complex reality. Two realities, really, existing simultaneously. The baby is of your body. In many ways, you and the baby are one. Women sometimes describe giving birth and saying, "You mean, there was another person inside me all that time?" Similarly, when the baby is born, s/he doesn't yet grasp that the mother is a separate person. As the baby grows, so does the awareness of an individual identity. It's a gradual thing. Both mother and baby slowly begin to conceive of the other as unique, separate.

So when that baby dies, doesn't part of you die, too? And not just in the poetic sense (as in, "It's so sad I could die"). The part of you that was one with the baby is dead. You aren't alive the way you were before. You're walking wounded, but worse. Dragging this dead part of you, like a paralyzed limb, everywhere you go.

I was trying to explain this to my sister-in-law, who was trying to dismiss the loss. "Something died inside me," I told her, instinctively putting my hand on my abdomen. "My baby died inside me." And suddenly she winced in sympathetic pain and never minimized our loss again.

That is why this grief is so different. It's emotional and physical. Our bodies grieve this loss, not just our minds/hearts. It's almost as if we live in a liminal state between life and death. We feel like shells of our former selves because, in a sense, we are.

When I was at my worst, that sense of being close to death, of some part of me being dead, terrified me. I feared that I was on the verge of becoming suicidal...that with just a little more stress, something would break and overtake me and make me do something horrible. But that didn't happen. Thankfully, with help, I began to see that it wasn't suicidality, but something else. No less awful, but different. The death I was feeling wasn't some future thing to fear. It had already happened.

For a while after that, I wasn't so haunted by death, but still felt untethered, disconnected from the world. I remember hiking up my favorite hill one day and lying down in the sun at the top. Before my miscarriages, I had always had the feeling there that I was grounded, with the comforting warmth of the earth under my back. But now I felt as if I could just float away. The earth could just shake me off. Adam and my family were the only things that gave me context and tethered me to my life. I held on tightly to them.

Then, with time and help (Adam, therapy, family, Celexa), I began to have glimmers of feeling alive again. Those moments kept me going. I had moments of feeling like I belonged in this world. There would still be dark days, but they would be followed by days in which I felt that I felt connected, even rooted. I began to feel like myself. And then, in time, I began to believe in the future.

I am awed to know that, even after such darkness, life can still come back. It feels like a miracle. In fact, I can only feel safe talking about those dark days now that I know that they can recede. I used to think that resilience meant never falling down. Being unhurt by injury. But maybe that's not it. Maybe it's more about coming through to the other side.

1 comment:

Sara said...

The earth could just shake me off.

I know that feeling. Beautiful, sad post. I just linked to you from Niobe.