Holding Our Angel

Loving After Loss

Body Image and Loss

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I’ve been thinking about this for months, but I’ve been so hesitant to write about it. And even when I started to write, I had to do it very slowly and over time. This hits a very vulnerable and raw spot, and for a lot of reasons I’ve taken some steps back in being completely open about things. But… this is something I haven’t really addressed before and decided it was time.

After Theo died, my confidence and trust in my body was destroyed, and I felt so worthless as a woman and a mom. I hated my body and myself for what it did to Theo.

I think it is a special type of hell when your baby dies inside you or because he didn’t develop correctly. Knowing my body had one job, and it couldn’t even do that shook me to my core. It really made me question what I was capable of, and how else my body would fail me, and when it would happen. I wondered what else would be ripped away from me because my body failed. Would I still be physically capable of doing what I love, still enjoying life if I couldn’t trust my body and health to be there for me? Suddenly I was anxious about things I was never worried about before. I felt fine my entire pregnancy, and yet Theo was so sick, so how could I trust what my body was telling me now?

Though I know rationally I did everything right and I didn’t chose this or have any control on how Theo’s genes formed, I felt like my body killed my son. And I hated my body, myself, for that. How could my body betray me like this? How could I have not known something was wrong? How much of a mess could my body be that it killed my son despite me doing everything right, when there are so many women who do stupid shit while pregnant and their children live?

On really bad days, when my anxiety or PTSD is at its strongest, it’s so easy to take one little thing that goes wrong (like forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning) and have that end with “Why did you think you could do this, you couldn’t even make a healthy baby?”. My “rationale” in these moments is pretty simple: a women’s body is made to produce health babies->my body couldn’t do that-> therefore I can’t do anything right.

Then to have my milk come in was a slap in the face. It was just another way my body couldn’t get it together–it created a baby that couldn’t live but was too stupid to recognize that and so my milk came in despite there not being a baby that needed it. I pumped for a short while after Theo died, and that was helpful at first but quickly turned not helpful so I stopped cold turkey. Which you’re not supposed to do, and I’m glad I didn’t get an infection or anything, but I did find it cruelly ironic that I didn’t get an infection. Like again, here’s my body not doing what it’s supposed to do, even though this time it strangely worked in my favor. It’s weird, and I have weird feelings over this, and I realize it sounds very strange to be complaining about not getting an infection.

There is so much emphasis on having kids in our culture, and tying a woman’s worth to her children. And because my body failed in that regard, failed to produce a healthy baby, I felt like I wasn’t worth much as a woman and a mom. It’s hard to fight against the constant images of pregnancy and babies that are everywhere. It’s in TV shows, movies, commercials, books, and the small talk people make. The #momlife and “Mom life is the best life” sayings that are plastered on coffee mugs and bumper stickers. The picture-perfect Pinterest lifestyle. The jokes about wanting to get rid of your kids. None of these versions of motherhood include the bereaved mother and the children who are no longer on Earth. It’s no wonder I felt worthless–almost everywhere I turned I was being told, directly or indirectly, that I didn’t count as a mom and my son didn’t count. And this exacerbated my hatred for my body because I viewed my body as the cause of my son’s death.

When people kept silent about Theo, it only reinforced my lack of worth and hatred of my body. Because I KNOW they would have talked to me about him if he had lived. They would have asked for pictures and for me to tell his birth story and they would ask me about so many other things. But some people kept silent instead. They treated me as if I was the carrier of some disease that could be caught–like their child(ren) would die because they knew me. They ignored my motherhood, pretending as if Theo was non-existent because it made them uncomfortable. All I heard in their silence was that only the pretty, happy parts of life were worth acknowledging, and the biggest part of me (the most important part of me) didn’t meet those requirements anymore. Theo is perfect in so many ways, but he wasn’t good enough for them. And that crushed me and made me feel even more worthless, because I had failed my son and it was because of me that he wasn’t good enough.

This body trust issue has had an interesting effect on pregnancy after loss. Part of me wants my body to prove itself–that it can get something right, to redeem myself. The other part of me says that in no fucking way am I trusting my body with this, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve almost begged my doctors to take Steam Bun early (and in some of those cases, REALLY early). Because at the end of the day, I want him taken out while I know he’s alive because I trust machines and science more than I trust my body. As Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results”. And yet, here I am, pregnant again, expecting to get a living child out of this when my history has been the opposite.

Loving myself and self-care after my baby has died is really freaking hard. It is a long, hard road up a steep mountain with lots of obstacles. It often feels like there’s no point in trying to be healthy. After all, if I could do everything right and still have the most important thing ripped away from me, then doing everything right clearly didn’t matter. So what’s to motivate me to keep doing what’s best for myself? Being there for Kenny usually does, but not always. I often felt like I didn’t deserve to be healthy, to take care of myself, because of what happened to Theo. During these periods I would not care about what I ate or if I exercised. It’s a dark, dark hole to be in. These are the moments when I tend to hear “I wish you would be happy”, etc. the most and this only made me feel worse. It felt like I wasn’t worth anyone’s time if I wasn’t happy and smiling and looking on the bright side. It felt like Theo and his life and death, and the effects it had on me, weren’t good enough.

There is another extreme I’ve swung to, and that was to be obsessive about food and exercise. To take control from fate and become invincible. I ate “clean” and exercised a lot for long stretches of time and became obsessive about what was in all the products I used, eating only organic, etc. I exhausted myself trying to be perfect in this way and would beat myself up if I ate junk food. I convinced myself that every “slip up” would result in another child of mine dying. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the epitome of health.

Obviously both extremes are neither healthy nor sustainable, and I have evened out in this regard. I still occasionally have that second bowl of ice cream, but it’s usually vegan, organic, hippie ice cream so that totally balances it out. 😉 The majority of what we eat at home is still organic and I’m still super careful about what products we use (don’t even get me started on BPA and all of the signs in CA that state “there are chemicals here known to the state of CA that cause birth defects”. Ugh, I’m rambling.), but I have a much healthier attitude toward it overall.

There are so many wounds that have to heal after you’ve lost a child, so many issues you have to face. You can’t work on everything at once, so some things get shoved down the list. It doesn’t make these issues any less real or hard to deal with though. I’m slowly rebuilding my body image and trust, but it won’t happen over night.

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