I went to a baby shower at the weekend. For the first time in a very long time, I actually sat and joined in with stories of waters breaking and labour pains. I laughed. I felt normal. Stella was on my mind, but not in the gut wrenching, “how the hell can I get out of here” kind of way she normally is during these types of discussions. I talked about my eldest child’s birth. I laughed at how his waters broke while we were having dinner at a friends’ house. I nodded knowingly at the discomfort of late pregnancy. I laughed at how bizarrely primal and animalistic labour is. I bit my tongue when one mum told the heavily pregnant guest of honour that she was “in the safe stage” of her pregnancy. I kept it to myself that in pregnancy there is in fact, no safe stage. I stayed quiet about the birth of my second child, and didn’t talk about my third.
My second child, Stella, was stillborn. Just out of the blue, she died. It was an ordinary Wednesday back in 2012. It was August, and we had the in-laws staying with us. It had been my husbands’ 40th birthday and I had thrown a surprise party for him. All his family from Australia had come to New Zealand for the celebrations. It had been the most joyous time, and I was revelling in the success of all those months of covert party planning. And then I woke up. It was a Thursday morning. There was an ominous stillness in my belly. My baby was dead and nothing would ever be the same.
In the 20 months that have passed since Stella died, life has gone on. I have woken up every single morning and gotten myself out of bed. I have cared for, and nurtured my son in the best way I know how. I have continued to be a good wife to my husband. I have carried my precious third born to term, and delivered her, alive and kicking, into the world. That I survived the anxiety and fear of my third child’s pregnancy still astounds me. Nothing can prepare you for pregnancy after such profound loss. In doing all these things, I have continued to exist every, single, day, since the day that my daughter died.
Moving through these months, I have felt like a mere approximation of myself. I lost the easiness that I have always had with people. I became tense and anxious. I dreaded meeting new people. People who didn’t know about Stella scared the hell out of me. I was fearful of what they might inadvertently say, and more so, about how I might react. Simple discussions with strangers in supermarkets about how many children I have could send me off to a very dark place. With my friends, when I wasn’t aloof I was intense. I felt tainted. I was awkward and uneasy. On certain days, it was almost debilitating.
Recently, there’s been a welcomed shift within me. I’ve been feeling a bit less like a cheap imitation of myself, a bit more like the real deal. I’ve found myself meeting strangers’ eyes on the street and smiling back at them. Conversations with the other mums at my sons Kindy have been coming more easily. I even had coffee with a new mum yesterday. These are the types of things the old me would have done, without even a second thought. The me before grief took hold.
I’m certainly not saying that my grief is done. It is liberating to feel some sense of forward motion, but I’m still not as accepting of my daughters’ death as I would like to be. I suppose grief is something that I will never shake off, and maybe I don’t really want to? It is after all, the vehicle that enables me to continue to parent Stella. By taking care of my grief, I am in some small way taking care of her too. I am not yet whole, but for now though, this is good enough.