I wrote a few weeks back that our youngest has just turned one year old. Two days later, our eldest son turned eight. In the middle of our two boys are two girls: one who is six and a half and another who, were she still here with us, would be two and a half.
Welcoming our youngest son a year ago was a wonderful healing balm for us all as a family and the more I look back over that year, the more I recognise that without his presence, I would be struggling far more than I actually am with my grief.
Retrospect also allows me to see that, whereas with my other three babies I was sociable, ‘out there’, always at some mummy and baby group; this time around I have been a virtual recluse. It’s been an unfortunate symptom of my grief and the attached Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that for the whole of our first year together I mostly spent time avoiding any social activity.
I didn’t even hole up at home because that also posed problems. Alone at home on a ‘bad day’, my mind would drift into areas I didn’t want it to go. I could easily convince myself that my new baby might suddenly fall ill and die – that if Something Happened, I would fall to pieces and not be able to cope. I did not want to be alone at home with the unwelcome contents of my mind and my new baby son. So I sought solace outside, in populated areas. Where there were plenty of strangers but no one I had to interact with.
Sometimes we would go and sit on the beach together or at a pavement café while he slept. I shrank from any contact with well meaning strangers admiring my baby; perpetually terrified that I would have to explain that he is actually my fourth child but that I only have two older children.
I have had to accustom myself to being the reticent bystander at groups and gatherings; so unlike my former self. I am not standoffish or rude, it’s just that sometimes I just can’t muster the energy to appropriate a version of my story that fits with every situation. I am well aware that not everyone wants to hear that one of my children died. It ruins their day; they have no idea how to cope. It becomes awkward, the elephant in the room.
Once the baby began walking at ten months I realised that he probably needed more stimulation than I could give him alone; that hanging out with other babies would really help his development. So I gathered all my courage and joined not one, but two, toddler groups and got myself back out there.
During my first visit, a momentous thing happened. For the first time in over two years, I introduced myself and my son to a new person and had a ten minute conversation without once mentioning Romy. At first it felt liberating and free, but once I got home, the guilt struck and I felt awful for not having mentioned her. Was I airbrushing her out now? Have I put Romy to one side, as if she never existed? Of course not. I am re-becoming the mother that I need to be for my surviving children. Romy is in my heart and will always be in my life, but I am starting to learn that she does not need to be in everyone else’s.