I am exhausted. My pain, my grief, my despair takes so much of me. Just feeling it is more than I can bear. But there’s more than just my pain that overwhelms me. I also watch my husband suffer and try my best to support him, but I can only do so much. He is leaning on a broken leg, and it hurts. I try to take care of my sweet Elbow, my darling girl, Bug’s twin. I’m grateful for her every second of every day. She brings me joy and amazement, but being there for her, being the mom I want to be is just sometimes too much. My body is starting to let me know I need to take some time to take care of me. Even that idea going through my head hurts. I feel selfish. I feel like I am ignoring the needs of my family. How dare I consider my needs! That sense of selfishness comes from my own head and nowhere else.
When Bug was in the PICU, my husband and I had to wear hospital bracelets to identify ourselves as her parents. After we lost her, neither of us could bear to remove them. Elbow kept asking, in her sweet baby voice, “Wassat?” We always replied, “That’s my Bug bracelet.” As the days passed, we saw Bug’s name starting to fade from the bracelets. So we made a decision to cut them off. We couldn’t watch her disappear again. The same day that we cut off our hospital bracelets, my sister gave us “Bug Bracelets” she had made for us. The were simple and beautiful, just her name. I have worn it every day since.
In the last month my hand has started going numb. I saw my doctor and she thinks it could be the bracelet. As I sleep and as I type on my computer at work, the bracelet is hitting this one spot that pinches a nerve, making my hand go numb. After I learned this, I was sad. I had to remove my Bug bracelet. I shared this with one of the most amazing people in my life. I said, “I guess my little Bug is tugging on my arm a little too hard.” My dear friend’s beautiful response was, “Or maybe she is saying ‘Mama it’s time for you to take a break.'” I cannot explain how this perspective reverberated throughout my body. I never would have seen it that way. She made me see this as my beautiful Bug telling me to take care of myself. Then my dear friend gave me a big long hug as the tears welled in my eyes.
Last night, and again tonight I have broken out into hives. For the first time in my life, my face and neck are covered with itchy blotches. My eyelids are swelling up like I’m Rocky Balboa. While at the doctor’s office today, asking about my numb hand, she determined the hives were coming from all my stress. I shared with here a quick break-down of what had happened in my life, just in this week. She said, “Well it’s no wonder you have hives!” I love my doctor. She knows my whole story and has been such an amazing support for me through all of this. What she made me see is that my body is talking to me and I need to listen.
I am full. I am maxed out. I am redlining all the time. I have no room for more. So even though I want to take care of everyone I love, I just can’t. I need to take care of me.
“In case there is a loss in cabin pressure, yellow oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling compartment located above you…..Please make sure to secure your own mask before assisting others”.
This feels wrong and strange to most parents. We are so used to sacrificing everything for our children, our family. We save nothing for ourselves. We are last on our own list. A very wise woman, many years ago, asked me a very simple question that I have asked myself again and again. “Who takes care of your needs?” And the truth is, if we don’t, no one will. How can you take care of anyone if you don’t take care of yourself?
Women are raised with the gender role that they must nurture and put everyone ahead of themselves. At times this is truly gratifying and exactly what we want to do. When my girls were born, not only did I not mind the chores and tasks that came with them, but I was happy to do them. I cherished it. I felt lucky. I loved my sweet twin girls so much that I wanted to do everything I could to keep them happy, healthy, and safe. And then one of my beautiful baby girls died. Everything changed in one horrifying moment.
I am struggling with this, but I feel it in my bones. I need to think of me. It still feels wrong, it feels selfish, but I need to try and help myself. I need to put my oxygen mask on first. I need to try my best to find peace, even if it seems impossible. I need to do what I can to listen to my heart, soul, and body, and do what I must. I can’t be the wife, the mother, the friend, the person I need to rebuild without giving myself time and space to do this. This is so easy for me to say, but feels impossible to really do. That’s where my survival toolbox comes in. The people in my life who think of me, who listen, who offer help, who are just willing to sit with me in the quiet, who cry with me, they help me, remind me, they show me how I might be able to be a human again. So for those of you in my toolbox, I need you more than ever now.
All the books and websites and groups talk about the “Six Month Breakdown.” This is when parents start to really feel the lasting impact of the loss of their child. It is when the shock is over and the pain becomes so impossibly real. It is also the time when other people are thinking we should be starting to “be OK” that we should be “getting better.” Fuck that!! It is harder everyday. And for that reason, for my sake and the sake of my family, I need to put my mask on or I will be useless forever. I feel like I am falling apart, but I have everyone fooled because I appear so put-together. I fake it well.