I would describe grief as a living, breathing entity. Quite like the embers of a fire. They can sit, perfectly safe, but present for ages. Then a slow breeze can hit them, provide the much needed oxygen, and slowly the flames will reignite. Give it the right conditions, and you have a fire once again. Only time burns it out.
I would say during the later stages of pregnancy, grief in its purest form was just embers. I did not have the capacity to hold grief as well. Grief was only present in other forms – in anxiety, in fear, in desperation and exhaustion, in disbelief and longing. I guess we can call this the ashes – the side effects of the fire.
That said, in pregnancy, I fully expected to experience re-grief following Eli's birth. I expected to be crushed, relatively instantly, by the cruelty of Leo's death once more. I expected that holding Eli – the first newborn that I had held since we gave Leo to our midwife and left the hospital – would plummet me into grief. That seeing his chest rise, feeling him move, hearing him cry would just remind me so vividly of what Leo could not and did not do. His stillness would become… stiller. His silence, quieter.
Yet, hormones, adrenaline and disbelief, together with a rapid High Dependency Unit stay and a week long hospital admission, meant that the comparisons to Leo were delayed. At least in their rawest form. I soon realised the differences of live and still birth – the difference in antenatal care, the end of our 'loss parent' status in the way healthcare professionals looked after us, the appointments and information that you are given. The difference is stark.
However, it hasn't really been until the past week or so that grief has reignited in its purest form. Just plain grief. Not anxiety, or fear. Just grief. Just missing, desperately missing Leo. A deep physical urge to hold him, see him, smell him and be with him. together with the shitty, shitty realisation that this won't change. This is it. Leo is dead. He can't and won't be coming back. He is forever gone. And I hate it. So much.
It's not that I don't know this every single day, and every single minute. It's just that the only way to cope with it all is to accept it on the surface only. I know my reality, I can recite my story. Yet, its only really when the emotion floods in do I become overwhelmed with that reality. That Leo is dead, and that this happened. To us. To our family. To me. My body. My baby. And its that that I still can't fully accept or comprehend. How can this be true? My mind flickers back to the 14th January 2016, and it just doesn't seem like its real. Surely all of this, everything, is just pretend? I'll wake up one day, and we can go back to normal, yeah?
I can tell the difference between grief, or side effects of grief. Grief is powerful, all consuming, physical. The sobs are louder. More vicious. You sit at the edge, feeling as though just one more sob will push you into grief forever – the sobs feel like you are at a point of no return. Its desperation, and its physical. Its also panic – panic of where the emotion will take you, of not trusting that you could ever calm yourself down again. Not trusting that you'll ever feel 'okay' again.
With grief reigniting, Eli is often a trigger. Separating Leo and Eli in my mind can be difficult, especially when they look so alike. In so many ways. Him being here doesn't make grief easier. It makes grief harder. Not only is he a living, breathing example of what Leo missed out on, but he is a new person in this journey of life without Leo. He is missing a brother. And part of my new grief, is grieving for him. Grieving for his brother. Not my son, but Eli's brother.
I so wish that they were together. Here. It is this realisation that will probably shape my grief for years to come. It is unlikely Eli will have a living sibling and I hate that truth. I hate it, because Leo's death robbed them both of each other. I feel that pain for both of them. Eli is another loss to Leo, another thing his death has robbed him off. I don't know how I will ever be able to provide Eli with a living sibling, and that hurts too.
I recognise my grief for Leo also in the things that I do in response. I light candles, buy him flowers, come up with a million and one crazy fundraising ideas, runaway somewhere outside, look at and share his pictures, say his name out loud. They are all things that the physical feelings of grief draw me too. They soften the blow that I can't just pick him up, stroke him, or listen to the quiet hum of his shallow breathing.
Eli is of course a massive heart healer. Yet, the person who said to me this week that they were glad I was "happy again" needs to know, that Leo can never be forgotten. He will always be missed. And that missing him is only greater now Eli is here. Children cannot be replaced.
11 thoughts on “Rainbows aren’t the Cure | Saying Hello to Grief Again”
I had my baby after years of infertility and an early miscarriage. It was a physically and emotionally difficult pregnancy and then an emergency birth, followed by a month of NICU. I was in shock. I had a version of PTSD. I remember talking to another mother who was trying for her second baby when my baby was a year old. I felt this deep sense of horror – the idea of going through any of that again, just no.
Fast forward a year, and I was back trying to conceive. I deeply wanted another baby and a sibling for my child.
I didn’t succeed (more miscarriage.)
But I just offer my story as a way of saying things can change. In ways you can’t predict.
And of course having one child is more than okay.
Oh mama. I wish I could give you, your wife, and your seeet son a hug. This post resonates so hard with me. My daughter, Quinn, my first baby, was stillborn at 38 weeks, 5 days, in October 2015. Then, I went on to have my (living) son in December 2016, and he’s now 7.5 months old. For the first week, I was still in a haze and in complete shock of everything that happened. (Induced early, bringing a live baby home, etc) Then suddenly that fog started to lift and I found myself plunging headfirst back into the rawest, realist grief I’ve felt since my daughter died. I echoed almost all of your thoughts you’ve described, and I especially remember thinking “She’s dead. She’s really gone forever.” Seeing everything she’s missed out on has been agony. It’s also unlikely I will be able to provide her brother with a sibling (different reasons than yourself) and it hurts my heart so badly. I get overwhelmed when I begin to fathom living the rest of my life missing my daughter daily, and it’s another entirely different agony fathoming my son growing up missing his sister. It feels like he was cheated. I just want you to know that you’re not alone. That another mama, miles and miles away in the United States is feeling so similarly to you. I hate to fathom another mother feeling the same way as myself, but knowing we’re connected- knowing that Leo and Quinn have forever touched our and other’s lives is truly priceless. Thank you so much for openly sharing your, your family, and Leo’s journey. Sending so much love from sunny South Florida. Xoxo P.S- Thank you again for including my Quinn on your bike / photo journey. It meant so incredibly much to me. ❤
Oh my gosh. I relate so strongly to so many of these feelings. I’m so sorry it’s been a struggle lately, but it’s so, so understandable that it would be. Massive hugs to you.
I have a four-week old. And this week was the three year anniversary of losing our daughter (and in between we also lost twin boys). I felt the three-year-old loss far more this year, for so many of the reasons you’ve described. It brought everything back, taking home a live baby when twice we’ve walked out of the hospital empty handed. And we have seen all the little milestones that have been missed. But also it’s hard having a newborn and I can’t help wonder how it would have been if we’d got it all done and dusted three years ago. What if nappies and sleepless nights had already been dealt with? Would our six year old have found the adjustment to a sibling easier if she’d have been three? This year I sat sobbing for all we’ve lost in front of our tiny candle, which I haven’t done for a long time.
Thank you for sharing your experiences – I’m so sorry that you have a reason to relate. Although it’s comforting to know you aren’t alone, I wish no one else understood? Feeling like the early days is exactly where I’ve been lately. Much love to you – go gentle xxx
Thank you for this post. I am pregnant with my rainbow baby after my son was stillborn may last year and am so worried about the emotions of meeting this baby (hopeful I will) and how I will react with the memory and emotions of losing its brother. I don’t want to take away the celebration of this newborn but as you say, my son is dead and nothing will ever change that or make it better. Knowing that I am not alone with these anxieties of birth is reassuring and that someone else got through it.
Thank you for sharing xx
Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment, that’s so lovely of you. I’m so sorry that you understand the complex emotions though. You are never alone xxx
I lost my first son at 28 weeks pregnant with him. I developed severe preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome. I lost him January 4, 2015. I almost lost my life as well. I had my rainbow son on November 12, 2016 he is now 9 months old. I often wonder if my lost son would look like my living son. With my second I developed preeclampsia at 34 weeks pregnant with him and was induced and I wound up having him by c section. The preeclampsia was very less severe. He spent a month in the nicu. He helps with my grief but I still cry and think about my other son every day. The one I didn’t get to have any first times with. I still remember his birth. The silence was heart breaking. When my rainbow was born the best thing I ever heard was his cries. I can still have children but having preeclampsia twice in a row is a bit scary. My husband and I will try again one more time. I don’t think my body can physically take more after that. The preeclampsia and HELLP really took a toll on me. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. It helps knowing there are other people who went through a child loss. You really can’t relate until you go through it as well. I was told that I was young and I could have more. That used to angry me because he is my baby. I would love nothing more than to have my two sons growing up together. Anyway, lots of love! 💕
“I know my reality. I can recite my story.” Exactly this… what you’ve written really resonates.. sometimes I feel like I’m telling people about a film I saw, not the horror that happened to me, to us, our family.. it’s only when the pure grief rears its head again that that reality feels tangible. I also feel like we’ll never have another living sibling for Albert, he has been robbed of his older brother.. this morning when I was cuddling him, I caught him staring and smiling at the photo of Freddie on our coffee table. When he reached out to touch the picture and grasped at Freddie’s face with his chubby 6 month old fingers… I was just undone. I want Albert to grow up knowing about Freddie but I also want to protect him from the reality of death and pain for as long as possible. 💔
good experience.. thanks for sharing