This topic is weighing heavily on my mind because just two days ago I had one of my darker days of grief lately due to reading something that triggered me on this issue. I have read many accounts of loss moms who spent several hours with their babies after they had passed, holding and kissing them, dressing and undressing them, bathing them, counting fingers and toes, trying to soak in every little detail of the perfect little human they would have to say goodbye to far too soon. Most of the time, I read those stories and think, “what is wrong with me that I didn’t do all that?” “Why did I give him up so quickly?” “Why, when the nurses asked repeatedly if I wanted to see him again, did I say ‘no’?” “Am I a bad mother for not being able to spend more time with Jacob?” “Does Jacob think I love him less because I let him go after only an hour or 2 of being able to look at, hold, and cherish him?”
When all efforts to improve Jacob’s condition and to resuscitate him after repeated crashes had failed, and he had passed on, and he could be unhooked from all the wires and monitors, and I was able to finally hold him, I just couldn’t stand to do it for that long. I took one look at him and fell so deeply in love. He was literally perfect, the cutest baby I’ve ever seen, and so clearly mine and Erik’s. I couldn’t, and still can’t, believe it was possible to feel so much love and so much sadness at the same time. I still cannot think of that moment without dissolving into a puddle of tears (i.e., right now). I held him close, touched his face, kissed him, stared at him, but that was about it. Though it seems absurd now, I was afraid of hurting this perfect little boy who seemed so fragile. I didn’t remove his swaddle to look at his fingers or toes…I’ve seen them in pictures, but not in person. I didn’t take off his little cap to see or feel more of that gorgeous red hair we love so much. Again, it’s memorialized in pictures, but I really, really wish I’d run my fingers through it. I will live with these regrets my whole life, but I try to suppress them because what is the point? I definitely know I can’t go back.
On a good day, really most days, when these thoughts arise I’m able to tell myself I did what felt right in the moment, and I can’t and shouldn’t expect any more of myself. I had those moments with him, I felt that intense love, and I said goodbye when it felt right. When nurses asked if I wanted him back, I said ‘no’ because I felt I had already said the hardest goodbye I’ve ever had to say and I couldn’t face doing it again. I tell myself it was an understandable reaction to the shocking speed at which all of these events unfolded. I mean, a mere 4 hours before I was heading to the hospital thinking I was about to start a beautiful new life with my son in it, in my arms, eyes open, screaming. I didn’t have time to process and consider what I would want to do after he was born instead with eyes closed, silent, fighting for his life and then ultimately, losing it. I guess it helps me to feel less like I failed Jacob to give myself the excuse of the extremely shocking and short timeframe in which we went from the highest high to the lowest low.
On the good days I also remind myself of my faith. It makes sense that holding Jacob’s body close at that time wasn’t a top priority for me, because I believed his soul had moved on. In the same way, I feel Jacob’s presence around me often, when he sends me a butterfly or a frog, or another sign that he’s there. Although it’s nice sometimes to visit the place where he’s laid to rest, I don’t feel like I have to be at his graveside to know he is near.
I’ve learned many things over the last 7 months, chief among them that often grief is not reasonable, or linear, or subject to logic. So probably I will always have days, hours, or moments when those regrets haunt me. Sometimes I will reason my way out of them, and sometimes that won’t work. And then I just try to be gentle with myself. I tell myself it’s ok to be sad, and to not feel comforted by reason, but also, I did everything I was capable of doing at that time and I shouldn’t expect more of my past self just because of hindsight, or other women’s stories. So if you’re a grieving mom struggling with similar regrets, I offer that same comfort to you. It’s ok to regret. It’s also ok that you handled an impossible situation the way that you did. It’s also ok to sometimes feel like that’s not ok. Sometimes it might help to reason away your grief and give yourself what are legitimate excuses to make it feel better, and sometimes you just need to surrender to your grief and have a good cry. Because even though you undoubtedly did what was right for you in that moment (which also means it was what was right for your baby because I’m certain your little one wanted his or her mama to trust her gut and do what felt the closest to “right” as was possible in that moment), nothing about the circumstances that forced you into making those terrible decisions is ok. Nothing about losing our babies is ok, and it never will be. And sometimes, no matter how long it’s been, or how generally “ok” you have been feeling lately, or how much some friends and family members might just want you to be back to “normal”, you just have to honor your grief and surrender to it.
Sometimes we honor our babies by moving forward, taking positive steps, doing good in their names, and telling their stories, and sometimes we honor them by surrendering to the heartbreak they left behind and acknowledging that a piece of us will always be missing without them. And the best thing we can do for ourselves and our babies is to feel secure in the legitimacy of any of those actions and to know that whichever one feels right for you today is absolutely acceptable.