Aching arms

My arms are aching. In the seven months since Mabel died I have not felt any urge or desire to hold a baby. When an opportunity has presented itself, I have felt panic. I’ve talked with my therapist about what exactly I am afraid of and I’m not totally sure. I’ve been afraid of how I will feel is the closest answer I have. I’m afraid I will cry and be sent back emotionally to the early days and I’ll never recover. I’m afraid I won’t cry and by not doing so would be doing a disservice to Mabel. I’m afraid I’ll really enjoy the feeling, again not honoring Mabel. I feel like holding a baby is a betrayal to my dead daughter.

Mabel was the last baby I’ve held. If and when I hold another baby, I won’t be able to make that statement. Now it’s been seven months and so it’s become a thing you know? If I held a baby soon after my loss, I wouldn’t be thinking much of it.

When I was talking with my sister she asked me “What is a baby to you?” She was asking how old a kid has to be for me to not see them as a baby. At the time I had answered “three.” At three, they are little people, talking with personalities. Though that is not totally true for me anymore. Sometimes seeing a three year old is hard, watching a mom parent her in a way I will never parent Mabel. In that way, all kids can be hard, depending on who they are and my mood.  And sometimes they can be easy.  I’ve held a five year old and cuddled. I’ve held a two year old who did not want to say goodbye to me. These were both ok times of my choosing and they felt good.

Last month, I walked into an exam room and my patient held her one year old daughter on her lap. When she saw me walk in, trailed by the doctor who was shadowing me, she moved to put her daughter down. The stroller was just a few feet away, but I saw her struggle trying to juggle the baby and maneuvering in a paper gown. In another world (like in the “before”) I would have stepped forward to help her put her child into the stroller. Instead I stepped back, as far as I could while remaining professional, terrified she was going to hand me the baby. I reassured myself if she did reach out or ask for help, I could defer to the doc that was with me, but the panic I felt stayed with me to this day. I’m not ready to hold a baby, but when I am, I want it to be planned and my own choice.

Lately I’ve been feeling a strong desire to hold a baby, but there is no baby I want to hold. I want to hold my baby. I want so badly to feel that bottom heavy weight of a newborn, to be overheated by the sticky sweet sweat of a sleeping six month old on my chest. I used to love holding babies- I was a natural, comfortable with their little bodies- and I miss that. How do I balance thee feelings- wanting something to fill my arms but only wanting that something to be my own baby?

Have you held a baby since your loss? How did you feel? If you’ve lost someone other than a baby, do you have any parallels? 

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14 thoughts on “Aching arms

  1. Yes, I have. A few months after Haylee passed away I held my cousins little girl that had just been born. She looked just like Haylee, I could almost pretend I was holding her. It was comforting and excruciatingly painful at the same time. I have a lot of cousins with babies (5months – 4years old) and every time I hold them a get a pang of guilt and sadness. I miss her, but not holding other babies won’t bring her back and I know it won’t interfere with my memories of holding Haylee! It’s a tough road. We do whatever makes it easier for us!

  2. You could try going into the NICU? I know it has powerful memories but maybe being close to where you last held Mabel while comforting a little one would be like a tribute to her spirit.

  3. Even though I’ve lost other family members, I can’t think of a parallel right now. But I do know the feeling of wanting to distance myself from a physical experience for fear of the memories it might bring. A fear of being stuck in certain emotions, terrified that I might not make my way back out- either in a reasonable amount of time (like in a public setting to hold composure), or just in general. I hope it happens on your own terms, and you’re not forced into the situation prematurely.

  4. i’ve held babies but it continues to be an intense experience. I understand why that is frightening, especially as the months pass and it becomes more and more associated with something you don’t do. I remember reading a post (on glow?) from a mother who said she wouldn’t hold a baby until her own next one. i think that is totally fair.

    but if you decide to go ahead with it, i know that for me, it helped tremendously to be with people who wouldn’t freak out if i cried — which i did. Also, i spoke softly to the baby, explaining him what was going on, and how i missed Paul, his cousin.

    • I remember that post too. at the time I felt like I would be fine- I’d hold a baby eventually. Honestly, i thought it would be my nephew, but the timing wasnt right. now, who knows. I absolutely will have to be with people who i’d be ok crying with. I kind of want to do it alone, just me and the baby in totaly privacy, you know? not feel watched. but we’ll see what situation presents itself!

  5. Hugs. I had an easier (!) road, I guess, in that I never held Ander “normally” until after he died – we only held him upright, kangaroo style, and only a few times at that. Plus, of course, he wasn’t “normal-baby sized” and smelled like warm athletic tape :). So I’ve still enjoyed holding babies, though it makes my heart ache (of course, they’re all babies of what would be Ander’s age) and it makes me self-conscious (I can hear people thinking “Oh how sad! She’s so good with babies and hers died!). So that part is hard.

  6. I have no desire left in me to hold anyone else’s baby. I feel like I worked so hard to make a “come back” in this area after B.W.’s death. And I did, over lots and lots of time. Now, after Zachary’s death, I just don’t have it in me. I only want Zachary… and he is dead. I can’t stand to even look at other babies.

    • I feel validated reading your thoughts, as painful as they are. I can work hard to feel comfortable holding others babies and that wont bring her back. i too have trouble looking at babies (getting easier though). but its just so hard. (hugs)

  7. I held a baby for the first time two weeks ago. It was my one-month-old nephew (ex-nephew?). I made a game-time decision to hold him… if he’d looked anything like Sacha, I probably wouldn’t have done it, but he looked completely different. It was awful for the first minute or so, but then it got better because I was able to recognize him as a different individual. Then I cried and cried and cried. Some family members cried along too, and it ended up being a very healing experience. The baby’s mom wasn’t quite as understanding and connected, but others were. It ended up being a great opportunity to share and work through grief together (being reminded that others grieve for Sacha is always an enormous relief for me). I also played with my 9-month old niece, which was both sad and wonderful. It helped that I’d seen pictures of her well before the traumatic part of my experience began, so in my mind she isn’t defined by that part of my experience with Sacha. At the same time, everyone had expected to watch them grow up together, and everyone was sad to know that won’t happen. Sharing the burden of that sadness was a blessing.

    But, just because I did it once, doesn’t mean that I want to do it again!! Two of my co-workers had babies last week, and right now I want nothing to do with them (some of the new parents haven’t been conscientious about the situation, though, and that’s a big factor). My own sister is going to have a baby soon, OH MAN, someone please save me from that entire situation! And random babies? They can just stay away 🙂 Over 2 years old is usually okay with me, but not always (“it comes in waves”, after all).

  8. I didn’t get to actually hold my baby (stillborn). The nurse wrapped her up after birth and placed her in the baby crib. She looked so fragile and peaceful lying there, I was afraid to disturb that by carrying her out (sounds stupid, but that’s how I felt). so I stroked her hair and her cheeks, and bent down and kissed her forehead and lips, and stared at her for the longest time. My sister had her baby girl the week after me, the only comparison I often make is how so much cuter my baby was than the others (I am biased, I know), otherwise I easily carry other babies.

    • Oh, yes! I totally have the same bias. I remember actually saying to Chris after seeing someone else’s baby not long after Mabel died “Mabel was cuter.” We may be biased, but it might also be fact. 🙂

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