parenting after loss
I hate bringing up tragedies involving children. I constantly go there in my head, worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. Getting blindsided by these terrible stories have made me want to stop reading social media, and even watching television. So I really hesitate to talk about the most recent tragedy on this blog. But I think it’s important not just because of what happened and the lessons we can learn from it (i.e., you’re never safe from gators in Florida), but because of our reaction: Blame.
Blame Disney for not having better signage — although I agree that would help. “No swimming” to me means “The water is gross” or “There’s no lifeguard here” not “You may be eaten by a wild animal.” Plus, gators could attack people who are at the water’s edge. Why were there even “movies on the beach” when alligators could be lurking on said beach?
Blame the parents — why were they letting their kid wade in the water at 8 o’clock at night? Why weren’t they right next to him? Well, maybe they were right next to him. I couldn’t stop my kid from falling into a coffee table and needing 12 stitches when I was right next to him. I doubt I could have stopped a four to seven foot gator that was faster than it looked. As for why they were out so late, blame the movie night on the beach for that.
But didn’t they think about the gators? They were from Nebraska. Without signs or some kind of literature distributed to guests, how would they know? What’s common knowledge for Florida residents or people who travel to the south frequently might not be on the radar of midwesterners. This is supposed to be a safe place. The happiest place on earth.
But none of this is really the point. We could debate all day long how this could have been prevented. No doubt those parents will be thinking about that for the rest of their lives. Woulda coulda shoulda. Hindsight is 20/20. Disney will make the appropriate corrections, and those parents will replay the night in their minds. “If only we had done things differently,” they will ask themselves.
So why the endless debates? Why, after a child gets into a gorilla pit and a $15,000 Lego exhibit is destroyed by a kid and a child is killed by an alligator, do we — the internet, strangers — feel the need to play the blame game?
I thought it was about sanctimommies. But I think it’s actually bigger than that.
It’s actually not about the parents of the child at all. Like any bullying, it’s not about the victims. It’s about the bullies themselves.
Bullies appear confident, arrogant, full of swagger and self-assuredness. Bullies can be mean, but they are always sure they’re right. Bullies are strong.
Except they’re not. Not at all.
Bullies are scared. Bullies are cowards. Bullies bully because they lack confidence, and bullying makes them feel like they have power over something. Bullies know, deep down, that they are not right. Bullies have no self-awareness. They bully to feel better about themselves.
Bullies aren’t just kids. Bullies can be grown-ass adults who are scared shitless that something like this could happen to them. But instead of facing up to that, they deny it. They say they are sure, 100 percent positive, that such a tragedy could never, in fact, happen to them. That their parenting skills and abilities are so much better than these people’s, or the gorilla mom’s, or the Lego parents’, that they spew all over the internet how they would have done it differently. But deep down they must know it’s not true.
It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.
What’s more, it’s easy to pretend that everything in life happens for a reason. There is perhaps no platitude I hate more. Maybe it works when you’re talking about things that were unplanned but had positive outcomes. But you know what it doesn’t work for? Death.
Death, especially when it affects the young, is tragic and horrible and doesn’t make sense. You can try to look for an explanation, but there is no rhyme or reason to it. It affects good people and bad people. It isn’t just doled out to people who deserve it. It’s chaotic and unpredictable.
Kids themselves are chaotic and unpredictable. Side note: my son is now very into dinosaurs, so I showed him the parts of Jurassic Park that aren’t violent (pretty much only the baby velociraptor being born and the sick triceratops). But watching further in after he’d gone to bed, I realized how much I related to Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) theory of chaos, particularly as it applies to children:
I love kids! Anything can and does happen.”
Dr. Malcolm gets it. You cannot say with total certainty what will happen to your children. This is why parenting is so terrifying. You can watch them. You can try to follow all the rules. You can feed your kid all organic and make sure his car seat is buckled properly and teach him how to cross the street and obey the no swimming sign.
Except maybe one time you make a mistake. You misinterpret the no swimming sign, because that sign is not very clear. And something tragic happens. Because you are human. Because you erred. Because you were not infallible.
For the rest of us, we don’t want to believe that we could have been that parent. So if we can find someone or something to blame, it will protect against it ever happening to us. If it is everyone’s fault but our own, nothing tragic will ever befall us or our kids.
But life — and death — doesn’t work that way. The world does not follow set patterns. Bad things happen to good people. Horrific tragedies don’t make sense. We spend our life hoping and praying that one doesn’t happen to us. But it could, and we have to live with that.
Where is God in all this? Funny you should ask. I have no idea. But I certainly don’t believe there is some big plan that we’re all a part of. Because death is never a good thing, unless maybe the person was old or suffering. How can the death of a child be part of a plan? I’m reminded of a quote from the fantastic movie Rabbit Hole, about a mom (Nicole Kidman) whose son is hit by a car and killed in front of her home. She goes to a support group, and a fellow parent who’d lost a child (funny how there’s no one word for that, like there is for widow or orphan) says that God must have needed their child to be an angel. Nicole thinks this is bunk:
Why didn’t He just make one? I mean, He’s God after all. Why didn’t He just make another angel?”
Look, I’ve been through six miscarriages. I’ve held my tiny baby of 17 weeks gestation in my arms. Like those who can see thestrals in Harry Potter, I’m a member of that unfortunate club that has known death. So I’ve done a lot of soul-searching about what bad things mean in the universe. I’ve tried and tried to come up with an explanation. Brighter minds than mine have spent their whole lives trying to figure that out. So what did I discover?
Nothing. Not a damn thing.
Basically, shit happens. Sorry, but it does. The world is full of chaos, uncertainty and horrible things. As much as the blame-gamers want to find a cause, because then they can protect themselves against it, it just doesn’t exist. We are human and we make mistakes. Accidents happen. Obviously reasonable safety precautions should be made. But beyond that, we’re on our own.
Does this sound really, really negative? Maybe. But for me realizing this was freeing, to accept that I don’t have power over death, that no one does, maybe not even God. So I can just live every day fully and realize that each day is valuable in and of itself. Nothing is guaranteed, so I try not to take anything for granted. And while I still see danger and tragedy lurking around every corner, I’ve come to realize that I can only do my best and spend the time I have here wisely.
Strangely, this outlook has allowed me to see not only the tragic things in life for what they are (meaningless), but the good things in life for what they are (meaningful). I can appreciate the birds chirping and the flowers blooming and the wind blowing while I sit outside and watch my son play. Things that seemed mundane and ordinary are special. Tradition and family and love — these are the things I’m trying to focus on now, not all the negative stuff. We simply don’t have the time on this planet to do that.
I’ve stopped trying to figure it out. I’ve stopped trying to find blame. It’s a work in progress, but I’m getting there.
What do you think about placing blame when tragedy occurs? How do you find meaning in the universe when bad things happen?
A friend recently asked me if I was going to do a walk or anything else to mark Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, which is today, October 15. Even though I had five miscarriages, for some reason I can’t seem to bring myself to “celebrate” this day. I think we are supposed to light a candle at 7 pm. I guess it’s just not my style.
It’s not like I am “over” what happened to me. Not by a longshot. So why can’t I take the time to remember? The truth is, I don’t need a day to remember. I remember it every day of the year.
My losses live inside me like a parasite or tumor. I have held it at bay so far, using my writing as a medicine to keep it in check. It’s always there, though, in the back of my mind. It’s present in how I parent.
So when someone tells me to light a candle, it’s just not something I care to do. If it works for you, that’s great. It’s just not my thing.
Coincidentally, my most traumatic loss, the miscarriage of my daughter at 17 weeks (it seemed like a stillbirth to me, but that label isn’t given until 20 weeks) occurred in October as well. October 28. I don’t remember the dates of my other miscarriages, just a vague recollection of the time of year it was. But October 28 stays with me. It was a couple of days before the freak October snowstorm, which I wrote about last year in The Huffington Post.
The next year, thankfully the only year afterward that I remained childless, I did not want to do anything depressing to mark the day. Some people have a cake, but that seemed too morbid to me. But neither could I handle doing nothing — I couldn’t stand to be alone with my thoughts. So, I had to do something. I decided, against my more pessimistic nature, to try to uplift the day by doing something fun. So I planned a night away in New York City for me and my husband. I found a deal on a room at the Waldorf Astoria. In the afternoon, we drove in and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I needed to be surrounded by beautiful things, priceless things that didn’t know time or place. Things that had existed before me, before my loss, and would exist after I was gone as well.
They gave me perspective.
If you ever visit the Met, be sure to check out the rooftop bar, where my husband and I enjoyed a glass of wine and a gorgeous view of Central Park before heading to our hotel. The Waldorf is another timeless New York institution, where all manner of famous people have stayed. A pianist played in the lobby bar at a piano that once belonged to Cole Porter. Once again, this was someplace that was bigger than my own little life.
We checked in to our luxurious room, fairly sizable for a NYC hotel, and got ready for dinner. We went to a swanky Greek restaurant, crowded and noisy and full of life. I was smiling. I was not depressed. It was amazing.
We made our way home and prepared for the big storm that was to hit the next day. Hurricane Sandy. One year after the freak snowstorm, another weird weather incident was about to happen. The coincidence was unnerving. But this time, instead of it being the worst day of my life, I was buoyed by our weekend away, a reaffirmation of our life, our marriage and the goodness of the world. I felt that life was still worth living.
Two months later, I conceived our son.
A year later in a sleep-deprived haze, I looked up from breastfeeding my newborn and asked my husband, “Do you know what today is?” “Yes,” was all he needed to say. I felt a twinge of guilt that we hadn’t done anything to remember our daughter on the day she was born. But I knew that I hadn’t really forgotten. Maybe, thanks to my son, I had simply found a way to move on.
Fellow miscarriage survivors, how do you deal with your grief? Will you do anything to mark Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day?
It’s my blogiversary! One year ago today I started Foggy Mommy with this post. As is the case with many aspects of parenting, it doesn’t seem like it’s been a year. I can’t believe LM has gone from being a one-year-old who couldn’t yet walk to a two-year-old who’s in school. One year ago I hadn’t yet ventured in the genre of parenting writing, and since then I’ve been published in The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Mamalode, Fit Pregnancy and The Washington Post’s On Parenting. I hope that doesn’t sound boastful, but I’m proud of how far I’ve gone!
Some observations on blogging:
- It’s hard to keep up with social media. I admit I probably don’t have time to tweet and Facebook as much as some of my fellow mommy bloggers. It’s just somehow not built into me — maybe I’m too old. Or maybe I just already feel like I’m too distracted from my son (this is something I’m working on as a mom). I can’t be tweeting every detail of my life. Not that there’s anything wrong with that if you can. I just haven’t yet mastered this — maybe that’s why I still need more Twitter followers. If you haven’t already, please follow me! I’ll try to tweet more in the future.
- I love blogging, and I love freelance writing. I love the flexibility to do it whenever and wherever. But, that flexibility often makes me feel that every available minute I have I should be writing, blogging, tweeting about blogging, etc. It’s not like I just stop working when I come home from the office. I write at midnight. I email during playdates. So I wonder if I just need to turn off sometimes.
- That said, I love that I get to be home with LM. Despite the multitasking, I do feel that I’m able to give more personal attention that I would if I worked outside the home and had to commute. I think our lives would be more harried and hurried. I think LM has benefitted from me being available and around most of the time.
- A note on “oversharing”: After a piece in Slate about the profusion of personal essays, the blogosphere has been abuzz. Are we oversharing? Are we going to regret oversharing? I do try to balance what I say and what I reveal with the repercussions: Is anyone going to be pissed that I wrote this? How will LM feel about this when he’s a teenager? So I do take that into account. But in general, I don’t see what’s wrong with talking publicly about the things one has gone through. I wholeheartedly agree with this comment from XOJane editor Emily McCombs (XOJane is on my writer’s bucket list):
I can’t tell you how often I have encountered the attitude that because these stories are about women’s lives, they are somehow superficial, silly, or unimportant. Women’s lives – our stories – are not unimportant. They often reflect the feminist maxim that the personal is political.
…to suggest that adult women aren’t fully capable of deciding when and where to share information about themselves denies them an awful lot of agency.
I write about my own personal life because I want to lessen shame and encourage connection. If people read a piece I wrote and say: ‘This writer has had this experience, done this thing and felt this way so maybe I don’t have to feel ashamed of who I am,’ it’s worth it.
That pretty much sums up why I write. I want to tell the truth about infertility, miscarriage, breastfeeding, parenting after loss, and just parenting in general. All parents are a work in progress, and this blog helps me (and hopefully helps others) become aware of the things we need to work on. People have said I’m brave to share my story. I don’t think of it that way. I don’t know why I should feel like I can’t share. I’m not ashamed of my story. That’s the point — no one should be.
Give me your feedback on Foggy Mommy, or just drop a note to say happy blogiversary! I look forward to hearing from you.
When I was growing up, I could never leave the house without my mom telling me to “be careful.” I think she thought of it as a counter-jinx, like if she didn’t say it something awful would happen. I would always roll my eyes and say yes, of course I’ll be careful. But now that I’m a mom I understand. Parental worry is never-ending.
I’ve always been a worry-wart. But it’s gotten worse since I’ve had my son. Now it’s not only myself I have to worry about (well, plus my husband and family) – it’s a tiny, helpless little creature whose safety is my responsibility. The weight of it is soul-crushing, as this Scary Mommy post recently explained.
For me, the worry also comes from being a miscarriage survivor. I failed to keep safe all the babies I lost before LM. I know it wasn’t my “fault” – I had no control over it – but that doesn’t matter. It was still my responsibility, and I (or my body) couldn’t do it.
I used to look at rare, terrible events in a logical way. Chances are, those things would not happen to me. But then…they did. My infertility journey was fraught with falling into the one percent chance time and time again – and not in a good way. With these odds, I used to joke to my husband, we should play the lottery. But that would have required us to be extremely lucky. Instead, we were extremely unlucky.
First were my unlucky diagnoses. Then came the losses. Most pregnant women think that once you’re out of the first trimester you’re “safe.” And yes, something like 99 percent of pregnancies are safe past 12 weeks. So when I lost my daughter at 17 weeks, I fell into the one percent yet again. I mourned my baby, but I also mourned life as I knew it. How could I ever feel safe again?
While I was trying to get pregnant I noticed a message board called “Parenting after a loss” on a website I frequented. What could that mean, I wondered. Pregnant after a loss, OK, but what does a loss have to do with parenting?
Now I know.
The grief I felt after losing our daughter has stayed with me and clouds everything I do. I see danger everywhere, from sharp-cornered wooden toys (we spend our time putting foam on table corners but then give our kids a wooden box with a corner just as sharp?) to germs LM has picked up crawling all over the floor. And let’s not even talk about driving him in the car.
My mind skips forward and sees accidents everywhere, before they’ve even happened. Maybe if I think of them first they won’t happen. A counter-jinx.
My husband takes a different tact. He just doesn’t think about it. I’m not quite sure how he accomplishes this, but he is just fundamentally not a worrier. He’s able to shut off that part of his mind that conjures up disturbing thoughts and images. I try to take his approach. Sometimes it works, and I’ll look back at my day and say, wow I can’t believe I went here or there with LM and managed to keep him safe and avoid having a panic attack.
But other times I’m glad not to have anywhere to go, so I can just stay in my house. It seems safer (sharp-cornered toys notwithstanding). But lest I turn agoraphobic, I check myself and appeal to my sense of logic. One cannot live like that. Yes, life can be taken from us at any time. I’ve learned that firsthand. But we can’t stop living because of it. If anything, it should make us live better. Carpe diem and all that. I’m trying to look at life that way instead.
Of course it’s every parent’s worst nightmare to lose their child. But besides reasonable safety precautions, there’s really nothing we can do to ensure their survival. As Dori says to worried parent Marlin in Finding Nemo, “If you don’t let anything happen to him, then nothing will ever happen to him.” And come to think of it, Nemo gives us a great lesson about parenting after tragedy, about letting go of worry and embracing life instead. For me, it’s a work in progress.
Are you a super-worrier? How do you deal with the anxiety?
The other day I took LM for a walk around a lake near our house. It was just about a perfect fall day, warm and breezy with the sun sparkling off the water. I had one of those surreal moments when I asked myself, “Is this really my life?” For so many years I wasn’t sure if I would ever be a mom, and now here I was, not only a mom but a mom who is able to stay home with her son and walk him around a perfect lake on a perfect fall day.
Across from the lake is a cemetery, and as I walked by a funeral procession drove in. When I passed around a second time, the mourners were gathered around the coffin, and I wondered if it was somehow a bad omen to see such a sight on this otherwise perfect day. I wondered who the dead person was. Maybe, I reasoned, this is one of those “happy funerals” in which the person is old and has lived a long and fulfilled life, and his funeral becomes sort of a family reunion, and all his relatives end up talking and laughing and it’s actually nice to see everyone again. Maybe this funeral wasn’t a bad omen at all, but a reminder that life goes on, or that there’s a circle of life, or something kind of corny like that. But corny or not, it’s true. And now that I am a mother, I’ve feel like I am a part of it.
Ever since I had LM, these surreal moments, which I’m not sure I would have if I hadn’t had trouble getting pregnant, because then this would just seem to be a normal part of life – you have a baby and then you walk him around a park – creep up on me, and I’m filled with a sense of peace and wonder at the simple things in life, like sun sparkling off water on a perfect fall day.