I have a thing about crying. I find it hard to do. Always have.
Before Abi died, I wasn’t really one for crying at sad films or soppy love stories, although having children certainly made me more likely to have a little cry if it was about them (school plays, dance shows etc). But in general, I usually only cry when my anxiety has built to a point where I can no longer contain my emotions, particularly surrounding my grief. I have waves, huge tsunami-type waves, of grief emotion inside yet I can’t let it surface.
I do let go sometimes, I’m not saying I never cry, but considering that my daughter died last year and I’m a breastfeeding new mum again, I’ve probably only cried a handful of times in the last few months. I find this odd. A bit like someone worrying about worrying, I worry that I’m not grieving properly! That I’ve built such a strong wall up while I was pregnant that it’s now become a permanent fixture!
I cried a lot when Abi died. For weeks the tears drained me. I cried more than I ever have in my entire life. But gradually the episodes of crying decreased. I realised I didn’t feel quite so tired, my eyes weren’t quite so puffy. I began wearing mascara again, albeit waterproof.
I wish I could cry more easily. If I could just let the tears fall when they needed to, I wouldn’t carry around this heavy stone in my chest all the time. I know how important expressing emotion is for mental and physical well-being, but I also know my reaction is not unusual. I’ve heard stories of bereavement councillors who struggle when grief hits them and they block out the advice they’ve been handing out, unable to work out a way to react.
I’ve always had this tough side to me that protects me from hurt, from crumbling, and it’s stood me in good stead over the years. I’m a dust-yourself-off kind of girl, but you can’t ‘dust off’ the loss of your child. Now it means I’m forever trapped between having to carry on for everyone else’s sake and wanting to breakdown. I don’t think I can do an in between.
Crying because I’m feeling hormonal offers a brief release. Crying with grief is an entirely different thing. It’s painful for a start as my heart aches and stomach cramps at the same time. It’s also exhausting. It seems any strength I’ve been holding onto comes out in the tears of grief. I feel utterly drained after a grief cry and that’s why I try to avoid it. I don’t have the time or head space. I have children to care for, a business to run, I can’t start being in a fuzz because of crying.
In April last year, just three months after Abi died, I had an appointment with the consultant at the hospital who dealt with my case when I lost a baby. After losing Bella at 14.5 weeks on 26th January 2013, due to defects, and having lost a baby at seven weeks immediately before falling pregnant with her, we were resigned to the fact our dream of having a fourth child was out of the question. I was convinced these losses were my body’s way of telling me I’d run out of chances and should be thankful for the healthy children I had. I found the whole experience so deeply traumatic and had nowhere to turn. I kept it a secret, as women feel compelled to do with a pregnancy (why?!), and that made it almost impossible to bear. I pushed away my husband and stayed indoors; I pretty much went a bit crazy. Feeling the first flutterings of a new life yet knowing it wasn’t going to last was beyond upsetting. It’s no wonder so many women struggle with their grief when a pregnancy ends.
I remember the day after I lost Bella, Abi was grading for her black belt in Kung Fu. A momentous day she’d worked so hard for. I was on bedrest but nothing was going to stop me sharing the moment with her. I was bleeding heavily and sore, I felt like I’d been hit by a bus, but I put my brave face on and got through it. She was nonethewiser (or so I thought until reading her diary after her death, which showed she guessed I was pregnant but that something was up. She’d even listed a few names down, hence why we later used Bella).
So, with Bella gone, my abdomen feeling strangely empty, I had to quickly get over this loss, the Sands leaflets on counselling still in my handbag for a suitable time…
…11 days later, Abi collapsed and died.
I was snowballed from one level of grief to another, this of course being unimaginably terrible and so unexpected. As I sat in the ward waiting with Abi I felt the blood loss still from baby Bella. I even had to scrounge a sanitary towel as I was so unprepared following the dash from one hospital to another. My world was crashing around me like a horror film.
Yet three months after Abi’s funeral, I dragged myself, alone, nervously to that meeting with the consultant. All of a sudden I needed to know if I could try again. If the doors really were closed to us. It wasn’t that we wanted to replace any of our lost children, not at all, but more needing know that we had hope of more.
The consultant already knew of my loss of Abi before I arrived. I found that slightly unnerving, as though we were being talked about, yet also glad I didn’t need to explain it to him. He was a supportive man who gave me time and privacy. He couldn’t believe my misfortune, yet my heart was lifted when he said there was no reason why I couldn’t try again, if I wanted to. Bella’s case was an isolated incident and the chances of it happening again were minimal. I didn’t cry during our meeting, I wobbled a few times from the stress of the situation but I kept the tears back. I didn’t want to take up his time with my crying as I felt once I started I wouldn’t stop! A couple of weeks later, I received a copy of a letter from him to my GP, confirming that it was OK for me to get pregnant again and that he would happily see me in the early weeks to keep an eye on things.
But the thing that has always stayed with me was his comment in the letter about my grief:
‘The consultation was obviously difficult in the light of these events but Kelly was remarkably stoic (even though I sensed that this was an extremely hard appointment for her to attend).’
This bothered me. Should I have been on my knees in floods of tears? Was my reaction or persona wrong or just plain weird? Did he think I was secretly unhinged? Does that mean that I simply didn’t care enough, that I was emotionally retarded?
When I talk about Abi, I don’t cry. When I think about her, I want to cry but don’t. If I do cry then it’s a big deal as I’m letting it out. So I’m seeking other ways to release the grief.
I can feel the tension in my body, the tension that’s held me up all this time. I’m even too scared to go for a massage in case they soften some of the hard stuff that’s keeping me upright. I believe the grief tension is partly to blame for my constant problems with breastfeeding (mastitis and low flow), my body simply doesn’t want to give anything more away. But I had an amazing gentle cranial osteopath treatment last week which helped enormously (which deserves its own post).
Most of all, I’m so grateful I persevered with my blog; it’s been a source of therapy for me and it forces me at times to really consider my feelings and how they are affecting me and my family. It stops me suppressing my emotions entirely – I’m much more comfortable writing about it. I know that now I’m a grieving mum, the tears will always come, when I let them. And in time I will start the therapy that’s waiting for me but had to be put aside until after my baby was born. It’s been such an emotionally challenging year but I’m not ready to go there just yet. To be honest, I don’t know where to start!
Sometimes I realise I have to give in to tears. I cry when there are no words, when there is nothing I can write or say that will ease the pain. The other day I cleaned Abi’s memorial. It was hot, tiring work and the baby wasn’t happy. When I sat on a nearby bench to feed him, I began to pray but started to cry – I had no words. But even in the isolation of the cemetery I was still self-conscious. I wouldn’t want to make another mourner who turned up feel awkward. It is a frustrating trait!
The tears will still come, when I allow them and when something unexpected sets me off. I’ll always have need of waterproof mascara and large sunglasses, but that’s part of keeping Abi with me and whether I cry or not, my love for her is no less now than it was when she was alive and with me.