My story is a little different than many of yours. My infertility came AFTER my firstborn child. And so maybe for me, parenting after loss or infertility is a little different. I was already mothering a live human before life struck hard.
But I really think no matter how we came to this parenting-after-loss-and-infertility gig, there are a few things many of us generally could agree with. And I don’t suppose I have to add this caveat, but I say generally because this won’t be true for every single person, every single time. Your story is your story.
This is mine.
Here are my top 5 truths about parenting after loss.
And sometimes it really is. But not always.
That child you hoped for and dreamed for still has tantrums. There are still days where your daughter takes your expensive foundation and smears it all over the bathroom floor. The days when your son pushes all your buttons you didn’t even know existed.
There are moments where you look around your house, and it’s just chaos. Sheer chaos. Toys strewn everywhere, upturned sippy cups with day-old milk, cheerios minefields under the highchair, and baby food you never saw get sprayed now caked onto your freshly-painted mint julep walls. And seriously. You. Just. Cleaned.
And sometimes in those moments, when you are exhausted and emotionally worn thin from the day, you will remember your times before this child with a hint of jealousy. A hint of longing.
You might not stay there for long. You might remember what it’s like to be childless or remember what it’s like to ache for another child.
But life with any child isn’t all roses and rainbows. And the reality of parenthood might leave you wondering if your happy ever after is ever on it’s way.
I have heard many fit people who were formally fat say that they STILL feel like the fat person. It’s a part of you. Changing the number on the scale doesn’t change some of the insecurity and fear that breeds from a long time of feeling less-than, not enough, or like a failure.
It has become part of their identity.
Grief and infertility are a part of our identity, too.
Maybe the numbers in your house have changed. Maybe you now sport a minivan instead of your once prized 2-door convertible. Maybe you have the tax deductions, and the bookshelves overflowing with nursery rhymes and sensory books, the restaurant table reserved for 3 plus a highchair.
But those feelings of loss, insecurity, frustration, and fear don’t just go away.
Infertility and loss have become part of your identity. Sure, it’s not all of who you are. And sometimes, it’s easier to hide your grief or infertility behind becoming the soccer mom, or the helicopter mom, or the crunchy granola mom.
But it’s still there. It’s always there.
You’re reminded that it’s there when you still jealously spy other people’s pregnant bellies. When you hold your children and wonder what you will do for their funerals. (And then hate how you find yourself thinking this way.) How you will cope when they are gone. It’s sneaks its ugly head up when you just can’t bring yourself to attend that baby shower for your best friend.
Maybe on the outside, it looks like you have it all. You’ve got your children, your arms (and diaper bag) are full — what more could you want?
But the truth is loss and grief are your new normal. And parenting another kid doesn’t cure that.
3. You’ll compare. More than you want.
Truth: We know comparison sucks. Sometimes we talk about how comparison hurts us like we’ve discovered a new law of physics. It’s not rocket science.
And yet it’s a basic fact many of us loss moms still lose sight of.
How’s this one? Comparing your miscarried baby (the one you never got to meet) to the one that is currently trying to claw their way into your opened dishwasher to unload its contents all over your floor?
Or comparing your journey to other moms who didn’t go through the struggles you did to build your family.
Or comparing what you THOUGHT it would be like to parent to what it actually IS like to parent.
Comparison never serves us. And yet as a loss mama, or one who’s struggled with infertility, there just seems to be so much fuel to throw on the comparison fire.
4. Gratitude will not always be your first emotion.
Right after our loss of Olivia, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. I came across a friend’s post about her morning sickness.
“Wow,” I thought. “I would give anything in the world to have morning sickness right now if it meant I had a healthy pregnancy. I would just be so grateful that my child was healthy and I could meet her and have her in my arms.”
And so the silent promise in my heart was sown. If I ever got to parent again, I would just be so grateful.
But while gratitude is still in my heart every day — it is not my go-to emotion when the hard days come.
When Leyla feeds the baby something she shouldn’t, after being reminded about the rules a million times, I’m not initially thinking: “Gosh, I’m so grateful she’s alive.” I’m honestly more ready to throttle her than I am to sing “Hallelujah, thank goodness she’s here!” (Don’t worry. I don’t really throttle her.)
When someone raids my pantry and sprays the carpeted floor with every size, color and shape of sprinkles they could find (I won’t name any names), I don’t immediately say “Thank you Lord for this blessing!”
When all 3 of my children are having simultaneous meltdowns (How do they know to schedule these????) — you guessed it. No hallelujah chorus here.
But it’s always there in the back of my mind nagging at me.
After all the other natural emotions have run their course, discipline has been sliced and served up, and tears have been shed — my commitment to gratitude gently reminds me. Be thankful. Even in the mess. Even in the chaos. Even in the tears — even in your own tears.
Be grateful because you asked God for this. And He gave it to you. And there is someone out there on your newsfeed, seeing your pictures of the mess, and wishing it were their own. Because that would mean they were a mommy.
So yeah. Gratitude isn’t my go-to. But I’d definitely say it’s my lifelong companion I choose to keep along for the ride.
5. Loss doesn’t make you the perfect mommy.
When you’ve spent so much time wondering, hoping, planning and dreaming for a child — you maybe think that you could very well be the next perfect mom.
Subconciously, I thought that all the losses and all the longing would make me a perfect mommy.
When we planned to foster, I read all the books. I could tell you passionately why we wouldn’t spank, and I could recite everything that must be done to help promote attachment. I was the perfect foster parent — who had never really fostered.
And now, I could just as passionately tell you how clueless I really am at this parenting gig. I hate spanking, but it’s the only discipline we’ve found slightly (and I mean slightly) effective at getting a certain child’s attention. Some of my parenting books really might be more useful as toilet paper than as a manual for how to deal with this kid.
But my lack of great parenting happened even before Leyla.
When Maddy was just about 3, we lost Olivia. And since then I have had to parent through 3 more miscarriages. And honestly, sometimes grief made me a mommy monster. Sometimes depression made me distant and cold. Sometimes loss made me lose my appetite for life and all its nuances.
I stayed away from mommy dates for my sake, not my daughter’s. I avoided parks. I secluded us for a while to only family, and an occasional friend. FOR ME — not her.
As much as I would like to say that I am a better mommy for all I have gone through — I’m really not sure that’s the case.
Maybe just one that is more grateful.
At least, when I choose to be.
Cheerios, sprinkles, tears and all.