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Grief and Motherhood

I tried to make this a Thursday Paragraph, but it turned into a little more.  Oh well.  I made the rules, so I get to break them.

It was January 8, 2011, and BabyC was not quite 8 weeks old.  After having a continuous stream of visitors at our house around her birth and then the holidays, she and I were finally settling into a routine together.  Her dad was working long hours that month, so it was just the two of us most of the time.  She needed to be held A LOT at that age, but that was OK.  I was prepared to give myself completely to her care, or so I thought.

That day, there was a horrible shooting rampage in our community of Tucson.  Six people were killed, including a 9-year-old little girl, and more were injured, among them our U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  Even though I didn’t know any of the victims personally, I felt overwhelmed with grief and fear.  My heart was knotted inside of me.  How would I protect my little girl from so much evil in the world?  That first day of waiting for more news updates, I held my baby tight and tried to hold back the tears that pushed at the back of my throat.

Photo by Lori Cole

And then, since I wouldn’t, BabyC started crying.  All of a sudden, she seemed to need me more than ever.  Maybe she was picking up on my tension and sadness, but she needed to be held and bounced and nursed, nonstop, for what seemed like days.  There was no space for just me to be alone in grief, and taking a fussy baby out in the cold for a prayer vigil just seemed too daunting.  Maybe it would have made me feel better to go see President Obama speak when he came to console the community, but how could I stand in line all day with a fussy baby?  My normal mechanisms for coping with tragedy weren’t available to me, because I had to care for this baby, and she needed me.

This was the time that I realized that motherhood would really demand that I give completely of myself sometimes (or most of the time), even when I felt broken.  I would need to provide comfort even when I really needed comfort myself.  I could grieve, but for the most part, I would need to do it with my baby in my arms.  Since she seemed to already know that I was sad, I told BabyC how I was feeling, and that helped a little.

A few days later, BabyC and I went to a mama and baby yoga class.  We had only been once or twice before, and I didn’t know anyone else in the class that day.  We always started class by going around the circle of mothers and talking about how we were feeling that week.  Mostly, we talked about physical things – like sore shoulders from nonstop nursing or frustration at our postpartum lack of abdominal strength.  And of course, someone always mentioned sleep deprivation.  When it was my turn to talk, I meant to say, “Oh, my back hurts a little, we’re doing just fine.”  Instead, what came out was, “I’m really struggling.”  I managed to say a few things about trying to meet my baby’s needs when I was feeling so sad, but mostly, I just started crying.  This surprised me.  I don’t cry often.  But here was a circle of mothers from my community, and they all understood how I felt.  It was therapeutic to cry with them, and then we pulled ourselves together and did some yoga.

This was when I learned to grieve as a mother.  Asking for and getting a little help so that I could have a sliver of time for a nap or a walk alone helped a lot.  Ultimately, though, I realized that it would be a long time before I would be able to put my self ahead of my child.  I would have to learn to juggle my internal emotional life with my responsibilities as a mother.  I like the thought of sharing our emotions with our kids so that they get to know us as emotional people and learn to share their own feelings.  But some emotions we have to work through ourselves and with the help of other adults in our lives.  (That is easier said than done if you are a stay-at-home-mom who doesn’t interact with other adults on a daily basis!)

I recently discovered the blog Salt and Nectar, which ran a series of guest posts this week around the theme of “Strength.”  Motherhood and strength.  These are amazing stories, all beautifully written, but they will make you cry.  They are heart-wrenching stories of grief, through which all of these women eventually gain strength.  I have not known grief like they have and can hardly fathom how they survived so much of it.  They are definitely strong mothers and are stronger still for writing about it.  I encourage you to check them out.

How do you handle grief and stress while staying present for your kids?

  1. Thank you so much for this post and the link. I’ve been thinking about a similar idea lately, and this helped me better organize my thoughts and feelings.


    October 15, 2011
  2. Wonderful post about your own strength — it’s hard to be emotionally honest with ourselves and our children especially when we feel the need to be pulled together ALL the time. Thanks so much for sharing our Strength Series, too!


    October 15, 2011
  3. I tell myself that the most important thing for my little boy is consistency in the love and care I give him – he shouldn’t have to worry about how I’m feeling or how I will react based on my mood. I can’t remember the source now but a quote that resonates with me goes something like “You never know what your kids will do, but they should always know what you’ll do.” So when I’m not feeling it for any reason, I try to take a fake-it-till-you-make-it approach.

    Having said that, I think it’s good for Jacob to see his parents experiencing normal negative emotions, and having him witness those has been a big incentive to try to deal with them in a healthy way. Also, faking it only goes so far before I would think it seems false and confusing even to the baby! I guess it’s more about trying to parent him consistently regardless of how I’m feeling, rather than always being chirpy around him.

    Of course, being consistent no matter what is happening is waaaaaay easier said than done…


    April 6, 2012
  4. AV #

    I gave birth in a foreign country and I didn’t have my family nor friends when I gave birth. I only had my husband, who was working long hours and struggling in his new role as a father. I never wanted a baby in my life primarily because of world issues, and although my daughter’s arrival was a welcome blessing, the overwhelming problems of this world still make me worried and sad; especially now that I am a mother.

    During those early weeks, I was feeling everything. At turns, I was thankful, then exhausted, then angry, then loving- – all the while holding my baby who needed so much to be held. When I cried, she was in my arms. I often cried even when nursing her. I knew she could feel my turmoil. I knew she suffered from stress when I could console her no longer as I was overly exhausted, and I would just let her wail as I lay beside her with my hand on top of her tummy during those 3 weeks when she had colic. Several times in our new relationship as mother and daughter, she saw me cry, even angry at her. But through all those times, I always apologize. I always talk to her. I sing to her. I pray with her. I embrace her even when I couldn’t put myself together.

    Our relationship as mother and daughter will last a lifetime. I think it is best to be honest, to be open, but also to show only what our children can digest at their age. I think even parents should know how to say sorry. We should always let our children know that, no matter what mood we are in, the love we have for them is steadfast and nothing can change that.

    I still am learning my way through motherhood.


    April 6, 2012
    • I whole-heartedly agree that it is healthy to show our babies that we have emotions. They can feel it anyway, so it is better to be open with them and talk about how we are feeling than to try to hide it and bottle it up, within reason of course. I want my daughter to know that she can share her feelings with me as well, and I’m learning that really the only way to teach that is by example. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, and best of luck:)


      April 7, 2012

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