July 28th-30th marked the four-month anniversary of Elliot’s death and birth. Ben and I have come a long way since finding out Elliot had grown her angel wings. I often think back to the “early” days, when we first went home without Elliot. Thinking about those first few weeks is hard. It stings, actually. We were so numb at the beginning…and then the roller coaster began. I felt so hopeless, confused, angry, scared, helpless, defeated, lonely, and heart-broken. I still feel all of those emotions. Some of them have softened over time, but they are still there.
I honestly felt like I was living someone else’s life. Nothing seemed real. It was all a farce. A cruel joke. I just had to wait long enough and my life would go back to normal. Now I know there is no such thing as “normal” and my old life will never return. I am still learning how to walk in my new life. Some days are better than others and easier to get through. But it’s still hard. Every day is still a challenge. I have learned how to cope. But Elliot’s absence is more obvious with each passing day. There is a gap, a huge hole, and it continues to grow larger and larger.
Lately, I have been feeling tired. I am tired of the challenge. I am tired of the sorrow. I am tired of carrying around a broken heart. Even though I am tired of these things, they belong to me now. I can’t get rid of them. I am learning to live with them. They are a permanent fixture of the new me. They are a true testament to my love for Elliot.
I am also tired of strangers asking me “how the baby is doing.” They mean well and they are trying to be nice. They are thinking about my baby. I like when people think of Elliot. But then I have to deliver the sad news. They usually apologize and try to end the conversation. I tell them it’s okay that they asked and explain that Ben and I were able to bond with Elliot when she was born and it was a very special time for us. They are always shocked, of course. No one ever expects to hear something like that. I certainly didn’t.
I used to feel bad for possibly ruining someone’s morning by telling them the truth about Elliot. I don’t feel bad anymore. Not that they deserve to feel bad about what happened to me, my family, and Elliot. I don’t wish bad feelings on anyone. But they will be okay. Most of the people will forget about Elliot in a few days and continue on with their lives (until they see me again and are reminded that I am the woman whose baby died). I don’t get to do that. Nor do I want to. I don’t ever want to forget Elliot or the impact that both her presence and absence has had on our lives.
No matter how tired I feel, I will always acknowledge Elliot. When people ask me if I have children, my answer will always be yes. Talking about Elliot is easy. It’s her death that is difficult to talk about. Even though I sometimes have trouble talking about her death, it is an important part of my grieving process.
Saying the same thing over and over again is exhausting at times. Grief is exhausting.
“Yes, I had my baby. But she passed away a few days before birth.”
Those are the worst words I have ever spoken. Yet I will continue to repeat them, over and over again. I have no choice. It’s our story. I wish it wasn’t. But we own it now.
Sometimes I do give myself a break. I have to. As long as I don’t feel like I am denying my daughter, or her existence, I will respond however I need to in order to survive whatever brief exchange I am struggling through. When I was at the store yesterday, the cashier saw Elliot’s picture on my phone. The exchange went something like this –
Cashier: Ooh, a baby! Whose baby is that?
Me: She’s my baby.
Cashier: That’s your baby? How long ago did you have her?
Me: About 4 months ago.
Cashier: Oh, I have seen you since then. I didn’t know you had a baby. She’s so cute.
Me: Thank you. Have a nice day.
I quickly walked away from the cashier and the line of strangers behind me. I spared the cashier and the other people within earshot the awkward exchange that would have followed, had the conversation continued. My concern wasn’t really for them. I was concerned about my state of mind and heart in that moment. I just didn’t have the energy to explain that my daughter died. I saved myself from having to deal with another awkward conversation.
It’s okay to not have the energy some days. It’s also okay for bereaved parents to choose not to talk about their babies if it is too painful. Everyone is different. Most days, I find it therapeutic to talk about Elliot and my experience as a bereaved parent. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. This happens to work for me. Sometimes I just need to be able to tell Elliot’s story on my own terms.
Cover photo by Franchesca Cox via Facebook