"I am convinced grieving a child is like mothering a child...A LIFE-LONG JOURNEY."
~ Lori Spray - Esteve
“When are you and your husband going to have kids?” A client asks me as we chat at the end of a therapy session.
My heart sinks and I quickly envision how this conversation might go with my different answers.
Situation #1 – The Drawn Out Awkward Conversation
“I have a daughter.” I reply.
“You do? How old is she?”
“She’s a baby.”
“I didn’t know you had a baby. Is she walking yet?”
“You must be so excited being a new mom?”
“Umm, no, not really.”
“What do you mean?”
“Umm, my daughter died.”
End of that conversation. Maybe I will try being more straight to the point.
Situation #2 – The “Aren’t you sorry you asked?” Response
“I have a daughter, but she died.” I reply.
And the person feels like a heel and I forever get eyes of pity in my direction. Or, I could try response number three.
Situation #3 – Don’t Acknowledge Your Role as a Parent or Your Child’s Existence Response
“Maybe someday.” I reply.
I choose situation #3.
It was awful. In that moment I consciously chose to not only deny my child’s existence, but deny my role as a parent. I hated it. What I want to do is shout it from the roof tops.
“I AM A MOM!”
I parent my daughter every day. I parent her just like any other mom parents their child, by thinking about her first thing when I wake up in the morning and her being the last thing on my mind at night, worrying about her, wondering if she is safe where she is, and constantly questioning, “Did I do this right?” in regards to her time with us during my pregnancy. But, I have to find other ways to parent then moms with living children.
The other night I was irrationally upset about something with my blog and I called my sister. After about 10 minutes of listening to me say, “I don’t know why I’m so upset?” While holding back tears she finally said, "I'm not a therapist, but do you think you are upset because your blog is your baby, it’s how you connect with Nora?"
She was right.
I use my daily blogging as a way to “parent” and create a relationship with her like in my Letters to Nora section of this blog. I realized that I find any way I can to hold onto my connection with Nora and I am also finding that the connection to her is still growing, getting deeper, even in her absence. It's strange too because it’s as if Nora is so much more of an idea then an actual person. She was a person, a person I will never get see grow up. I grieve that. But in some ways I parent her like I did when I was expecting her; I parent the idea of her.
I continue to do this by trying to help others who have experienced the loss of a child like me, by creating White Signs of Grief so grieving parents can share their love, like I have for Nora on the site. I join causes and take on membership roles within them by becoming a Local Leader for Return to Zero and a Core Staff Member for the Hope & Hearts Run in effort to bring awareness to stillbirth so others won’t have to suffer Nora’s fate and mine.
It’s difficult though, parenting a deceased child. But I do it all the same. I may not be able to put Nora to bed at night or hold her when she cries, but I see all my “projects” and “causes” as a way to still bond with Nora and with other parents with similar experiences. It’s like if I were to go to Nora’s dance recital or join the PTA. I am an involved parent in my daughter’s life. It’s just that my daughter’s life is over and now I am creating her legacy.
Our parenting instincts don’t stop when our children die. We still have a desire and need to be guardians to our children that are no longer with us. I choose to listen to that need and continue to “parent” my daughter after her death. Lots of bereaved mom and dad’s do. They do this by starting memorial walks/runs, making movies, setting aside time to talk to their child daily, or planting and tending a garden dedicated to their child. These acts of continued parenting are a form of attaching, grieving, and healing. I haven’t had time to find much research and resources on the idea of “parenting your deceased child” as a healing technique (sorry), but the act of doing so, I feel personally has helped me in my healing process. I am sure there is research out there on the subject. I will look into it.
In the meantime, I am curious, how do you still parent your deceased child?