Today is my first motherhood post on Get Born. I will be writing a monthly column there on the 9th of every month.
Warning: Today's post goes to a dark place. I promise I won't take you there very often. Reposting below.
Today is my first Get Born post. It’s pretty heavy, possibly the darkest post I’ll ever write for this blog, but it’s something that’s been on my mind and I have to talk about it. Maybe you’ve felt this way too. If so, I’d like to hear from you and find out how you handle your brain when it gets stuck in this fold.
Once you get to know me, you’ll see I’m pretty straightforward. So, I’m just going to come out and say it. I’m absolutely terrified of losing my son (and my husband). Note: I’m not putting my husband in parentheses because he is less important. It’s just that the topic of Get Born is motherhood, so I’m focusing on my 15-month-old son, Nathaniel, here. I’m afraid that he’s going to die and that I’m going to be around to experience it. I don’t visit that part of my brain nearly as often since a horrible bout of postpartum depression led me to a much needed daily dose of Zoloft, but I still find myself drifting there occasionally.
When I was 24 years old, my younger brother died in an automobile accident. He was 21. We were very close, and even shared the same group of friends. When he was gone, I lost my brother and one of my best friends.
To this day, that was the most awful time of my life. No one expects to wake up on a Saturday morning and be told that her brother is dead. That the last conversation she had with him would in fact be their very last ever. When my aunt came over that morning to tell me what happened, it was like time froze, and the place where it was stuck was agonizing.
It took a very long time for me to feel “normal” again. To not think that every time my roommate walked out of our apartment, it would be the last time that I saw her. To not be terrified of driving my car. To not feel like part of myself had been cut and ripped from my body.
My life changed forever that day. I no longer felt invincible. I didn’t breeze through days without really giving much thought to death. That’s when my mind started hanging out in dark places. It’s also when I realized the true value of life. That it is precious and finite, and not to be taken for granted.
Now that I have a child, I can’t imagine how hard my brother’s death must have been for my parents. I remember thinking about them and feeling that way at the time, but now it’s even more unbearable to imagine. And my poor grandmother, my mother’s mom, lost two of her children, a son and a daughter. Sometimes when my mind goes to the dark place, there’s a tiny irrational fear that I may be cursed to follow in their footsteps.
What is it that draws our mind to these places? And worse, why do we dwell there? My husband jokes with me sometimes that I have a dead husband obsession. I tend to gravitate toward books and movies that deal with the topic. When I read blogs that have to do with mothers coping with the death of their child, he asks why I torture myself that way. I ask myself the same question. Maybe I find it comforting to see that there are people who experienced my biggest fear and made it to the other side of grief. Maybe I just want to see how people cope. Maybe, in a way, I want to prepare myself for the worst. Even though I know that’s absolutely impossible.
There’s the saying that it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. What do you think about that? My brain allows me to almost always agree. When I think about myself never having experienced the life I share with my husband and son, I see a shell of the woman I am now. That woman wouldn’t have known what it felt like to be literally overwhelmed with love and joy.
When I recall the woman I was before I met my husband, I remember a lost, jaded, cynical-from-divorce soul who walked around carrying an emptiness similar to that of a grieving woman a year after the death of a loved one. When I picture that woman, I think, of course it would be better to have loved and lost. But there is that tiny sliver of myself that still feels like it should be “protecting” me from possible pain. Instructing me to detach, detach, detach, or I will end up hurt.
I’m glad I didn’t listen to that sliver. That I was open to loving someone and creating another life to love. And even though I sometimes hold my son tight, stroking his hair and kissing his soft forehead, while the stabbing fear of loss occupies my brain, eventually I know it’s still true. It’s so much better to have this amazing love, even with the chance of devastating loss, than not to have loved at all.