Mothering Through Grief by Amy Molloy
As the mother of a newborn, at least three times a week someone peers into my pram and says, “They grow up so fast. You’ll blink and they’ll be a teenager!” Every time I hear this sentence, or something similar, a wave of fear sweeps through me, as I have visions of my son going to school, leaving home and getting married - his younger years flying by before I’ve even had a chance to acknowledge his presence.
I’m not the only parent to feel this way. I also have a daughter, who is nearly two-years-old, and every member of my mother’s group mourns the day they pack up another clothing size which their baby no longer fits into.
If you’ve faced any kind of trauma, time can become distorted. A child with separation anxiety will count the minutes until their mother picks them up from the playground. A three-day wait for a test result can feel like a lifetime. Yet, 90 days goes by in an instant when that’s your predicted life expectancy.
One of the side effects of marrying a man with only three months to live is that I now have a constant feeling that time is running out, especially the amount I have to spend with the people I love.
It had been over a decade since my first husband, Eoghan, died of Malignant Melanoma which spread to his liver, lungs, pancreas and brain. In July 2007, I became a widow at the age of 23 when he had a stroke three weeks after our wedding day whilst sleeping in bed beside me.
Every mother (and father) who has faced loss of any kind may be surprised by how grief impacts their parenting experience - how we conceive, when we conceive, whether we can conceive, and how we raise our offspring.
Eleven years after watching my husband’s breath stop, I have created a toolkit of strategies to counteract that loss – and have a wonderful new husband who embraces my history. But grief has still been a positive and negative force in my motherhood journey. Here’s what I’ve learnt:
Fear & Fertility Don’t Mix.
I didn’t have a period for seven years after my husband died. My last period ended on the day of his funeral - and then nothing. I tried everything I could to ‘force’ a cure, but every medical test came back inconclusive. On some level I knew that, until I allowed myself to feel safe and loved, my body wouldn’t release the trauma that was blocking it. At the age of 28, I signed up to hike 140km across the Tarkine rainforest in Tasmania as part of a charity expedition. My new husband - the father of my babies - was one of the other participants. A week after we met, the morning we stepped onto the trail, my period came back.
Control your Catastrophist.
It’s easy, when you’ve been to a dark place, to let your mind stray there again, especially if you’re faced with triggers. If my husband is late home from the park and doesn’t answer his phone, my mind spirals (‘They’ve been in a car crash. It’s over!’). In the past, I’ve been reduced to a shaking ball on the floor, but my life coach taught me to stop and ask: ‘What’s more likely to be true?’ This question grounds me, until he stumbles through the door with a story about lost shoes or a toddler tantrum.
Birth Can Cause Relapse
After my daughter was born, I suddenly developed an intense fear of the ocean. When she was six weeks old, I tried to go swimming – an activity I love - but ended up standing in the shallows, sobbing. I’ve previously explored past life regression and learnt that in a past life I died by drinking contaminated water. Now, those old memories were resurfacing. Whether or not you believe in past lives, the transition to motherhood can uncover old triggers. I’ve learnt to ask, ‘Is this a real fear or an old memory?’ This question grounds me in the present.
Love Can Feel Like Sadness
Love can feel like sadness. That’s the greatest lesson I’ve learnt from motherhood. Or, it can be so closely intertwined with sadness that you can’t tell them apart. The guilt I feel when my daughter is hurt – that is love. The frustration I feel when I can’t match her joy – that is love. The grief I feel when I think about the day we’ll say goodbye – that is love too. One of the reasons I’ve put off dealing with my condition – Postnatal depression - is because the effort feels exhausting and the energy of ‘fixing’ something feels too stern. But it all feels gentler when I can see my distress as a side-effect of love – the love it took to create my baby, birth my baby and devote myself to his care. Now, that love just needs to be smoothed out and thinned out – in a good way – so I can breathe again.
Amy Molloy is a journalist, Hay House author and mental health storyteller who produces uplifting content for the biggest names in global publishing. Her book, The World is a Nice Place: How to Overcome Adversity Joyfully sold out in twelve weeks of being published. It’s follow-up, Peace, Instead of This is free to read on Instagram. Her Storytelling for Healing Online Writing Courseshelps people share their stories in a way that raises their profile and fulfils a purpose but protects themselves.