Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son

Gravid Grief


The TLDR version: It sucks. Horribly. No, worse than that. Don’t do it.

Oh, internets. This is the worst dream I’ve ever had. I’m ready to wake up now.
Not pictured: more handkerchiefs

I keep trying to tell myself it could be worse. This might have happened when I was a child. It could have been violent. She might have suffered and suffered — and point of order, people telling me “suffering is over now,” but this is not the same situation as dying at the end of an increasingly painful bout of cancer or similar. Yes, she was sick, but she’d been sick for my whole life, and it’s a bit hard to tell me to think of all of that time as pure suffering. Yes, she’d had some particularly unpleasant migraine and tendon problems recently, but when I talked to her on Sunday afternoon, she said she was feeling much better. Nor did any of that have to do with her dying, though I’m sure plenty of people who don’t know the details basically think, “Bionic’s mom was sick for a long time,” as if that explains it in any meaningful way.

She had a pulmonary embolism. At home, alone. No warning. Given her propensity towards large bleeds under her skin and a fear of stroke, no one would have thought she should have been on a blood thinner (find more info about this type of medicines and troubles they can cause, including class actions – like in the case of Xarelto). Not much narrative satisfaction to be found there, sorry.

(May, please go give H an extra hug for me.)

So, yeah, no warning at all. And hey, there’s could-have-been-worse there, too. We might have been fighting. I think I forgot to say I love you on our last phone call, but at least I’d been saying it pretty often. It might have been the long, drawn out, cancerous sort of death more typical in my family. I’m not sure if that’s worse or not. It might well have been, given her auto-immune disease, some awful series of infections. Cascading, horrible medical interventions. Tubes and wires. Disagreement on the definition of “hopeless.” Soul-rending decisions.

It could have been worse.

The trouble, dear internets, is that it turns out that the Pain Olympics don’t make me feel any better, even when it’s me versus hypothetical me.

Given that focusing on the supposedly positive isn’t doing a damn thing for me (read: I am crying in public, bawling at (mostly) home, and have the emotional reserves and cognitive abilities of a newborn), all I can give you is a list, in no particular order, of things that make grieving while pregnant especially awful. You know, in case you were considering choosing this course.

  • You have to eat. At a time when renunciation of the flesh seems so right, too bad. You aren’t in charge of that anymore, and the very small person who is, is extremely determined. But Bionic, I hear you say, some of us like to eat our feelings. And being pregnant means you can eat as much as you want! To which I reply, hope you like wet sand, because that’s what everything tastes like now.
  • You can’t drink. Yes, I know, I know: plenty of people think a glass of wine doesn’t matter this late in the game. But I don’t want a glass of wine, and I’m pretty sure getting regularly blind drunk is still a no-no.
  • None of the good drugs, either. Sorry, they’re all category D. I checked.
  • You know that thing where you wake up and can’t remember what you were sad about, and then you do remember and it’s like being thrown off one of those 700-foot fjord cliffs all over again? Being pregnant means you get to do that four or five times a night, every time you need to pee or feed the tiny tyrant. See also: crying yourself to sleep.
  • Oh, were you happy about being pregnant? Maybe even enjoying it, despite the discomforts and indignities? Too bad about that. Now you’re not happy about anything. You do get to keep the discomforts as a parting gift.
  • Meanwhile, you’re supposed to “take care of yourself,” which means take care of the baby, even if you don’t feel like it. Vitamins, for instance. Trying not to get listeria. You’re supposed to keep going to your prenatal appointments, even if you’re pretty sure your mother died during your last one, right around the time you started shaking and crying in the waiting room for what seemed like no reason but is in retrospect exactly like what happened when your grandmother died.
  • Speaking of PTSD, guess how much cerebral CPU processing capability is now available for dealing with all that birth stuff you were trying to sort out? What, this isn’t what you meant when you said you wanted to stop obsessing over those fears? Your therapist, who is trying to break up with you*, says it’s appropriate that you aren’t thinking about all that, which makes you wonder if she owns a calendar and knows the basic theory of its use. Of course it’s appropriate, but it’s also a bit dangerous, no, given that this baby is likely to be born more or less on the original schedule? If there were any justice, you’d be allowed to hit pause on the whole gestation thing while you get your sea legs, but if there were any justice, you wouldn’t be in this position.

*Well, what she said was I could keep coming if I just wanted a place to cry and say whatever I feel like, but that doesn’t seem all that useful, really. I’m not working on the birth stuff at all, things being how they are, nor do I need therapizing about the grief in a way I can’t get from people I actually know and trust more. I’m not depressed, per se; I’m just really, really, really sad. Surely I could do something else with the money.
Are those clouds? Hills? Giant, fluffy carrots?

  • Speaking of that baby, whose arrival you were already scared about, how on earth are you supposed to take care of it while you’re like this? Let alone do a better job than you did last time, the way you had promised yourself you would? (You know, so your mother wouldn’t worry so much.) Do a little poking around the Internet on the topic, and find reports of a study showing babies born to grieving mothers have a higher rate of serious illness in their first four years of life, plus the news that you are basically guaranteed to get postpartum depression.
  • For the sake of your electronics’ integrity and not being yourself reclassified as an inland salt water sea, try really, really hard to avoid thinking about how this baby won’t know your mother (and your two-year-old probably won’t remember her). Don’t worry; you will fail in that attempt one thousand times a day.
  • In case you manage to steer clear of that thought for a minute, apparently a cavalcade of perfect strangers — work colleagues of your father, that sort of thing — now feels empowered to stand too close to you at the visitation, the last time you will see her body, and tell you how sorry they are WHILE RUBBING YOUR BELLY. This ranks among the most profoundly inappropriate experiences of your life, and it keeps happening again and again and again.

30 thoughts on “Gravid Grief

  1. love you, jean. be kind to yourself; i promise that will actually make a difference some day. i cannot tell you which day, but it will. (and stop playing the death olympics, nobody wins, except the antacid companies.)

  2. Oh, I am so, so sorry for your loss. It doesn’t matter how it all happened or if it “could have been worse,” it is still extremely sad and you’ve a right to your grief. All those other people who say ANYTHING other than, “I’m sorry,” really need to re-read their Miss Manners. Ditto for the belly-touches.

    Those are definitely giant, fluffy carrots in that picture.

    Giant hugs, and healing thoughts.

  3. I’m so sorry, Bionic. So very sorry.
    My mom died seven years ago today, and like you I’ve always been sad that my children won’t get to meet her. Only now they did, but not in a way I hoped for…
    Thinking of you so much.

  4. So very sorry for your loss, Bionic. I guess the point of ‘at least…’ stupid clichés people throw your way is just a sign of their own fear when faced with such a loss. Of course, it might be plain ol’ stupidity in some cases, but most people have no idea how to make your obvious grief a little bit better. So they say whatever crosses their mind, which is seldom useful, but we can’t take it back.
    Be gentle with yourself. Abiding with you.

    PS – definitely fluffy carrots. The kind that one chokes on every. Time.

  5. All my love, hon. See you very soon.

  6. I have been thinking about you so much. Love and hugs. Wish I could do more.
    PS. Carrots. Freaky giant carrots.

  7. Words are inadequate but I am thinking of you. So sorry for your losses. Agree about the carrots.

  8. Oh, Bionic.

    I have been thinking so much about you. All I can say is I’m sorry, this sucks beyond words. I wish there was something I could do…

  9. It could always be worse (eaten alive in the jungle by a giant cat while spiders crawl over you or something) but I think it’s quite bad enough, thank you very much. I agree with Nicky – manners are for when people don’t know what to do; then they have someone to tell them. Alas that the people who most need this advice are unaware of it.

    I am so, so sorry for this loss.

    (Giant carrots. RUN AWAY!!)

  10. I am so, so sorry. Losing a loved one is never ok, whatever other people tell you to try to make themselves feel better. I wish I could send you love and strength through the interwebz.

  11. oh bionic. I cant imagine being in your shoes. I have nothing useful to say other than, I have been thinking of you and sending you warmth.

    ps. another vote for fluffy carrots!

  12. Oh Bionic, I am so sorry that this happened to your mother during this (what is supposed to be) joyful time. I know your mother will be watching over you and your family. Much love to you all.

  13. I am so sorry for the loss of your mother. We will likely lose my stepmom to cancer during my pregnancy and all I keep saying is that I wish this were a dream I could wake up from. It sucks, beyond words. Love to you and your family.

  14. I am so sorry. Everything you list sucks individually, and together I can’t even imagine. Sending so much love.

  15. I always want to say something to “fix” things, and this is unfixable. I’m so sorry.

    I’m also super horrified that people actually thought it was okay to invade your space saying goodbye to your mom as well as the physical space of your body. It’s such a violation and one you should not have to process on top of your grief. Forget manners. It’s just common human decency and respect.

    • Yes, what is with people?! That they put their hands on pregnant women’s bellies without asking at all is appalling, but this is just beyond belief.

  16. I am so very sorry for your loss. You continue to be in my thoughts. We are hankie people too, and have gone through our own lines-full-of-drying-handkerchiefs times, though nothing so difficult as this. Take care.

  17. I am so sorry. I had a realization a few years ago that when a doctor asked me to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten, with ten being “the worst pain that you can imagine”, I always gave fairly low numbers, regardless of the amount of pain that I was in, because I have a vivid imagination, so I can always imagine a situation in which things could be worse. This resulted in me never getting good drugs, and was a good life lesson in how imagining that things could be worse does not in any way improve one’s actual situation. I’m sorry that people can be insensitive clods.

    Carrots indeed. Strange, haunted, fluffy carrots. Those cows had better high-tail it out of there, pronto.

  18. I’ve got tears streaming down my face. I am deeply sorry for your loss. xo

  19. Not that this is going to help, but my Father died in a car crash when my Mother was 6mths pregnant with me. I was born perfectly healthy, and didn’t have any major illnesses in my first 4 years of life, apart from some ear problems which is a family trait. My Mum coped after my birth, she had her very bad days and she had her bad days and she had her good days. You have a great support network and you will just have to take it one day at a time. I hope your grief eases a little for you soon xx

  20. My dear, I am so so sorry. There is no ‘at least…’. None at all. It’s the saddest, most heartbreaking thing in the world and I am so, so sorry. Hoping you have very gentle, very loving people around you to feed you your wet sand and do whatever you need them to do.

    PS – I wish I could be there, to grab any unwelcome hands descending to the belly and wrench the owner’s arm into a half-nelson. Jeeeeeeeeeeeebus.

  21. Yes, me too. May could do the half-nelson, I’d say in a loud voice: UNHAND MY FRIEND, SIR!

    And if you could leave the platitudes at the door, that’d be sooo helpful. Grr, people. MERCIFUL HOUR, what is the problem?

    Not that there is ever a good time, but it seems so cruel, this timing. I am just so sorry, Bionic, Sugar and Bean.

    I think it is a tremendous advantage to have two mothers, Bionic darling, so I have every hope for your baby.

  22. Oh lovey, I’m so very, very sorry. I wish I had better words.
    (My mother lost her mother while 5 months pregnant with me. In a staggeringly non-linear thought path, she blamed herself that the stress of this in some way (!) caused my uterine abnormality. I happy to reassure her, but I felt her grief, even after so many years.)

  23. Just seeing this. I’m so sorry. I wish I had better words for this, but really, there are none. I’m just so very, very sorry.

  24. I just wanted to give you another virtual hug. I have been thinking about you.

  25. Oh Bionic, so very sorry. Sorry so much happiness has been wiped out so instantly. I hope today’s wet sand is a little less gritty.

  26. This sounds awful in a million different ways. Thinking of you and your family.

  27. This is so thoroughly terrible. I’m sending love. I wish there was more to do. I wish was was there and could bring you muffins and mop your floor.

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