Why Your Baby is Healthy but You’re Grieving by Amy Molloy
My son was 11 months old when, as I opened a study guide on grief therapy and discovered an answer. For the past year, both in myself and other women, I’d been noticing symptoms that felt vaguely familiar: anger, guilt and remorse, numbness, preoccupation with thoughts of the past, social withdrawal, physical symptoms like body aches, tightness in the throat and muscle weakness.
Many of the women I met through my work as a journalist and a holistic counsellor were showing signs of grief but they hadn’t experienced a loss in the traditional sense.Instead, they were grieving losses that aren’t as openly acknowledged but can shake your core: a loss of a relationship, a loss of identity, a loss of confidence, a loss of freedom, a loss of direction.
The kind of losses that can arise from disappointment but also be a side-effect of achieving a dream and having to give up something to get it. And, just like traditional grief, it can manifest in unexpected ways.
It’s sobbing in the shower after choosing to turn down a career opportunity to be present with your babies. It’s watching your childless friends jet off on holiday and realising you have nothing to talk about with your husband. It’s admitting your sex life has changed (or evaporated). It’s the moments when you wonder who you are aside from the M-word.
I saw this as someone who has experienced ‘real’ grief (the death of my first husband when I was 23) and I do not want to diminish the pain of losing a child. But, we also need to start talking about the ‘living losses’ we experience as women (and men!) which have nothing to do with death.
Because, there are things we can do to help ourselves:
*Name it + Normalise it. I see the relief in women’s eyes when I put a name to their feelings (“It’s okay, you’re grieving”). In counselling, grief is more likely to become problematic if society doesn’t acknowledge a loss or take it seriously (for instance, a loss of identity). Your partner, mother-in-law, childless friend or boss may not see what you’re missing. So, tell them!
*Memorialise it. As with any loss, it’s healing to find a way to commemorate what you feel you’ve left behind whether it’s looking at photographs, journaling about it, talking about it. This isn’t about comparing yourself to a pre-motherhood state. It’s about the questions: who am I, who am I pretending to be, why do I need to pretend?
*Continue Bonds. While classical grief theory was based on ‘letting go’ and ‘moving on’, more recent practice focuses on maintaining a sense of continuity. So, you don’t have to find accept a stage of your life is over. Instead, it’s about blending the old and the new. How can you still tap into your essence, your passions and your dreams in an attainable way?
*Grieve Together. As mothers, we are held back by the statement “My baby is healthy and that’s all that matters.” We need to start talking about the ‘living losses’ we experience as women (and men!) and realise it’s not a weakness to say you crave relief whether this is from your ‘village’ or from an expert like myself.
I am grateful every single day for my healthy baby(s) but I also see my grief, I acknowledge it and I put the work into (gently!) supporting myself through it. I cry with my grief. I smile with my grief. And, often, just naming it is enough.
Amy Molloy is a journalist, editor and author of the sell-out book The World is a Nice Place: How to Overcome Adversity Joyfully. As an international memoirist, she now teaches mentors to share their own stories through her Storytelling for Healing public writing courses. In 2019, she opened a Pop-Up Counselling Space and supports women across the world transitioning through life stages.