Grief and Gray Days

Today the sky is a mask.

The clouds huddle together so tightly there appears to be no sun at all, just an endless swath of dull white.

white sky day

I cried after dropping Leo off at preschool today. Not because he was crying, not today, though he did say goodbye reluctantly, clutching his stuffed purple bunny close to his chest.

On Tuesday I kept him home. He had the beginning of a cold. That’s what I told myself as we cuddled on the couch watching shows while I worked on the computer. I could have sent him. If I worked, I would’ve had to, but I have the luxury to make these decisions. Sometimes I end up second-guessing them, but not this time, not after he said this:

Chin down, lip out, my little guy said, “I don’t like going to school.”

“Why not, honey? Aren’t your teachers nice?”

Big sigh. “Yes, but I don’t love playing with them as much as you.”

This made me tear up, partly because it seemed overly generous. The truth is, I kind of suck at playing. I think I was better with his older sister, probably because I didn’t have a smart phone. No Facebook to scroll through to break up the tedium of children’s games.

I tried to make up for it by leaving my phone behind when we went upstairs to his room later that day.

We made up a game inspired by his current favorite movie, Inside Out, which I also love. If you’re not familiar, the movie centers on emotions and memories, things that I have intimate knowledge with and interest in.

Using a bunch of small gray plastic balls from a building set, we pretended they were memories. “Core memories,” he called them, referencing the movie, and then we rescued them from the memory dump, over and over again.

That’s the thing about playing with kids. They want to do the same things, repeatedly. Nothing gets old. They don’t get bored of games, and they don’t get bored of you. A gift, really.

At one point I found myself staring out the window at the tree branches moving in the breeze, most of the leaves gone, a few hanger-oners hanging on.

I was reaching the edge of discomfort, the moment when I’d normally grab my phone or reheat my coffee. The kind of moment I imagine happens during meditation or yoga, when you think you can’t sit still or hold that pose a moment longer – but you do, you can.

There is a reward in staying.

I shifted my gaze to my son, staring at the tufts of soft blond hair standing up around his head like chicken fluff. The light from the window turned it translucent, illuminating the lone freckle in the center of his scalp.

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I recently heard about the pregnancies of two friends, well, one is more of an acquaintance, but the other feels like a friend. These are not people I know in real life, but online. Fellow writers, mothers.

Both times I felt a deep pang upon hearing the news. A painful wrenching. It took me a while to figure out what it was.

The first time it manifested close to disgust. Another baby? I thought about what that would mean to me – loss of freedom, inability to write, onslaught of sleepless nights. It seemed like a hideous mistake. Foolishness. I backed away as if I had stumbled upon a sleeping bear, careful not to rouse it.

Then, a few weeks later, another reveal on social media. I studied the woman’s picture, while examining the twisting sensation in my stomach. The luminous smile and bright eyes, her face already glowing with the mystery and otherworldliness of pregnancy.

That’s when I understood what I was feeling. It wasn’t disgust, or jealousy. It was grief.

I have two children. The youngest just turned four and while I assume it’s possible for me to get pregnant again at forty, I don’t want to. That phase of my life, new motherhood, which encompassed the entire decade of my thirties, is over for me.

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Never again will I hold the secret of pregnancy inside my body or feel the let down of milk fill my breasts.

There is grief in this realization. My son stopped nursing in late June, a week before my fortieth birthday, days before I left for a writing retreat, leaving my children for the first time in my life.

He asked to nurse one last time, on the phone during Facetime. “I want to nursy,” he said in a small sad voice, using our word, and my own face crumbled for a moment. “When I get home,” I promised. But when I got home he didn’t ask, and I didn’t offer. That part of our relationship was over. Six months later, I wonder if he remembers.

Motherhood is an endless cycle of letting go, a constant reconfiguring of rules and boundaries. You have to be flexible, quick to shift and shed. These are things I struggle with in regular life, and as a mother, even more.

I wrote my congratulations, my mazel tov, with genuine love to my online friend and her growing family, while simultaneously tending to myself, as I move out of one realm and into another.

 

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29 thoughts on “Grief and Gray Days

  1. Oh Dana, you are an astonishingly beautiful writer. I can really connect with this. My husband recently had a vasectomy (that might be too much information but, hey!) because we’re certain we don’t want more kids… but I felt SO emotional about the fact that I will never be pregnant, nurse a newborn etc again. I even felt nostalgic about giving birth! I felt I was grieving the passing of my youth because I’ve moved beyond that stage of life. And I’m only (just) 38! I thought I was being ridiculous but now I feel maybe it’s just normal. I’m not alone. The stage of life involving pregnancy and young kids is so intense and exhausting but it’s amazing too and I guess we have to grieve a little when we move beyond that phase. Thanks so much for sharing this. xxx

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    • Thank you so much Maddy! I kind of wish my husband would get a vasectomy (too much info? maybe, ha!) but I know there is a sadness to the end of anything, and perhaps especially childbearing. It’s not just about no more babies, but saying good-bye to our past, our youth, and memories. I don’t think you’re ridiculous at all. It’s pretty much where I am right now.

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  2. I love how you relate this loss to grief, Dana. A moving on, a letting go – never to return again. While I never wanted another child or regretted not having anymore, I know that feeling you experience in so many other life events. We say so many goodbyes as mothers, but I am also discovering so many wonderful hello’s. The first time my son could bike to school alone. The first time I could enjoy watching the same movie with my son – especially the ones I grew up with as a tween. The first time my son told me he likes a girl and wanted my advice on how to ask her to walk into town for ice cream. The first time my son got a job and asking how his first day was. The first text from my son from his new cell phone: “I love you mom. Mwaa!”

    I hope you have many more hello’s than goodbye’s to grieve, Dana. 🙂

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    • Oh, thank you Sarah. It’s an endless cycle, and just when I heal from one, there’s another. As for graceful, I’m not sure that’s how I’d define myself, but I appreciate the sentiment 🙂

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    • Kathy, thank you, that means so much. And I’m still Inside Out obsessed, too, despite having seen it almost a dozen times! At least the ending doesn’t make me sob anymore 🙂

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  3. So beautiful. I have felt these feelings as well. I love the comparison you make to the movements of discomfort when you would heat your coffee or check your phone being like yoga. I too have such a tough time staying in those moments of discomfort. Those moments that often nothing more than boredom. Thank you for sharing these thoughts with us!

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    • Stacey, thank you so much. I am the worst with discomfort, the moment I feel the first itch, I’m out of there. But it really helped not to have anything to run to, and to be forced to stay. I know I won’t do that every time, but I’m going to try for more often.

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  4. Love this, Dana. I too experienced the same thing for about two years after my second was born. I didn’t call it grief, but now I realize it was a kind of grief.

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    • Thank you Claire! I don’t know if I would’ve called it grief if I hadn’t just listened to that great Rob Bell and David Kessler podcast. I wasn’t thinking of it consciously while I wrote the post, but I think it was definitely in my brain.

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  5. Yes the sky IS a mask. That is November in New England to me – it’s so hard to see the light coming through, even though sometimes it even radiates. Ugh.
    I had an IUD on Monday (is that TMI?) and the joy I felt from it makes me realize.. I don’t want a baby right now. Have I reached the point of grief and knowing it’s really, really over? No. It’s all very confusing, I guess.

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    • It’s so dreary, right? Sometimes you just really just need to see the sun.

      I have an IUD, too, and I think they are a great way to put off having to worry for 5 years or so 🙂 And maybe you just know that a baby is not in the cards for you right now, but the fab thing about IUDs is that you can take it out anytime.

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  6. Love this, Dana. Yes. So much grief. And even though I stopped at one, I too had grief. I think we could each have a million babies and yet is the one that we don’t have, that forces us to lean into the grief of what might have been. This one will stay with me a while. xo

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    • Thank you so much Kristen. I think you are absolutely right – we all have grief when childbearing is over, no matter how many babies. I am guessing women who don’t have any children and perhaps wanted one earlier in their lives also feel a loss. Endings are hard, aging is hard. Life is beautiful and messy, and fleeting.

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  7. Dana– I have felt this recently . . . this feeling of panic at the idea of a baby (Bryan has been campaigning) and the idea that maybe down the line I will regret that I didn’t go for it. I’m almost 39. I’m right there with you. My “baby” is four. I don’t think I could manage those first years again though.

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    • Thank you Nina, oh the campaigning! My husband mentioned the idea of another baby a few times, but the look I gave him made him clam right up. The thing is, if I was younger, if my kids slept better, or were “easier,” then, maybe I would consider it. But circumstances as they are, it just doesn’t seem like the right choice, and as almost sure as I am, it doesn’t make it any easier to accept.

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  8. This says everything: “Motherhood is an endless cycle of letting go, a constant reconfiguring of rules and boundaries. You have to be flexible, quick to shift and shed.” So glad to have landed here and catch up a little. xx

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