I cried in a café. It caught me completely off guard.
But that’s grief for you. It turns up when it wants to with no warning – and apparently with no tissues.
As I was waiting for my husband to finish ordering, I sat down at a table with some shopping bags. We were kid free and celebrating my 30th birthday. It was a happy time.
Then I saw a young couple sitting together. The woman was a mother to a newborn. She held her bundle close. The baby was breastfeeding. The pram was adjacent to them. I remembered those early days with my first child. Such a sweet, precious time with snuggles and adoration for this new joy in our lives. But it’s also a trigger as I remember the sleepless nights, hallucinations and postnatal depression. I called the local birthing unit when my son would not stop crying in the middle of the night and I was weeping. I told the health visitor that I wasn’t coping repeatedly. I couldn’t leave the house easily without feeling afraid that I couldn’t manage. I felt like a failure in those first few weeks and months of my baby’s life. Although it was 2017, those memories rise up in me every time I see a post on social media of a mum absolutely smashing it – or so it appears.
As I sat and tried not to stare at this poor woman, I wasn’t thinking too much about how hard those days were. I was realising that the reality of those moments were not for me anymore. The high dose chemotherapy that I had in preparation for the autologous stem cell transplant has most likely made me unable to conceive another baby. The effects of having chemotherapy meant I had to stop breastfeeding. This was an emotional bond I really enjoyed that was hard to accept. Our family planning had been taken out of our hands. I wanted to take the standard treatment that they offered for a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma relapse after agonising over alternatives. There just didn’t seem to be any viable ones. I am thankful that I had a choice to consider different options when that isn’t always possible for cancer patients. But I grieve, like anyone who has gone through pain and loss.
Shouldn’t I just be thankful that I have two wonderful children? Not just two glowing and happy kids, but I have one of each? Or maybe it’s the thought that at least I have children when so many are unable to conceive at all. I understand there is so much to be grateful for, even now. But I can’t ignore my sadness and loss because it looks different to someone else’s.
My counsellor said it could take 3 to 6 months for grief to start to come out. I grieve for the times I have felt inadequate as I struggled in groups of other mums with bouncing babies and toddlers. I just wanted someone to physically help me in my depression as I navigated this new terrain. I grieve over time spent comparing myself to other mums when I just long for a mum friend to come alongside and say ‘I see you’. I grieve for my own Mum not living nearby and missing time with her grandchildren and with me. I am grieving the loss of my Nan who was a dear friend to me.
I am grieving and it hurts.
I grieve for the baby who is most likely my last naturally, and being a mother who couldn’t be there with her in the way she imagined. Being parted from her for over two weeks was so difficult, plus I felt absent even when I was physically present as my mind was elsewhere on all that I had to face. I grieve whilst trying to move forward with the knowledge that planning a bigger family was completely taken from us. Yes, it was to save my life. Shouldn’t I just be grateful to be there for my two children? Yes I am – so much, but trauma is complicated.
Motherhood is everything they said it would be – and more. It’s cliché but true. But for me, it came with additional hurdles that I didn’t read in the mum and baby books. The contents page needed to include:
- How to shuffle chemotherapy, a newborn and a toddler
- Tips on giving up breastfeeding before having a radioactive injection
- Dealing with physical changes postpartum and post-chemo at the same time (I mean, what’s going on in there?)
- How to cope with the death of a loved one during an already life-changing time
- Untangling the negative thoughts about yourself as a mother in an age of social media and the pressure to be the best mum
- Distracting your toddler from the PICC line hanging from your arm for the next few months
- Preparing my toddler for all of the changes – mummy’s absence from home, hair loss, medicines, a newborn… I mean that’s a lot for adults right, let alone little ones!
So I cried in a café. Sometimes there are no words for grief. Just tears. And that’s OK.
To end, I share a quote from a favourite film of mine – P.S. I Love You.
So now, all alone or not, you gotta walk ahead. Thing to remember is if we’re all alone, then we’re all together in that too.
I know I’m not the only mother out there who has had to process trauma in some variety. Motherhood is hard without additional challenges on top of it. Being unable to have children when you long for them is a grief. Losing a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth is excruciating.
Whatever situation you’re in, if you’re grieving in some way, I’m just writing to say, I see you. You matter. You’re loved.
My life is not Instagram perfect. But, behind-the-scenes is where the action and the making of us really is. And it’s difficult to capture because it happens in a million little ways every single day. It’s where we bloom into something beautiful. Tears behind closed doors are watering a bed of beauty. We cannot see the seeds growing in the dark, but they are growing. And so are you.
Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.