Surprise! It’s… grief?

Surprise! It’s… grief?! Wait… No… That’s not right… It’s a boy!! But why is grief popping in during our happy gender reveal? I wasn’t expecting a reveal within a reveal, but that’s exactly what happened. Let me start from the beginning…  

I had no idea what to anticipate with our current pregnancy given that we have previously suffered an infant loss. With the help of my husband, grief counselor, family and friends, I at least made effort to be mentally and emotionally healthy before we ever started trying. After all, we had experienced grief and we had experienced pregnancy, but never the two combined. Our first trimester had its challenges but overall things were okay. I eventually quit walking on eggshells and committed myself to enjoying the pregnancy, which led us into a more lighthearted second trimester.

Once we discovered our baby’s gender, Kevin and I decided to formally share the news with close friends and family to make the experience both personal and celebratory. The goal was to take a break from the stressors and focus on creating new and beautiful memories. We also wanted to include our best supporters in this significant “peak” as they had been there through every “valley”. We started planning festive ways to do our reveal which became a very heartwarming project. It also put me on a several-week hiatus from grief, which was so nice! I even started to feel guilty for feeling so good but chose to ignore it. Nothing was going to ruin our celebration.

Over time, however, I couldn’t shake it! My joy was now accompanied by an inexplicable nagging feeling. Our second trimester had become a “rainbow” experience, a pleasant contrast to what I initially expected. But the guilt from that was developing. I was worried I was starting to associate Everett as the “storm” and Baby #2 (Bennett) as the fix. After all, the celebration around Bennett had been keeping me uplifted. That thought didn’t sit well with me because Everett has brought a lot of light to my life. I never wanted our good memories with him to be overshadowed or reduced by comparison. As more events unfolded, this sensitivity grew and an emotional reveal was on the horizon.

Things started to crumble for me during our family’s gender reveal brunch. Riding off of my excitement that day, our parents rightfully plunged into details about the baby shower. It was the first time I realized that we were starting to move on without Everett, and I feared the impending plans would only reinforce that realization. On the inside pure panic ensued, but outwardly I entertained the baby shower conversation because I was committed to the joyful tone we had set. Plus, I was good at compartmentalizing. Right?

Questions naturally followed about our shower theme, nursery theme, and registries. I was certainly not ready for all of that but did not slow the pace. Knowing that compartmentalizing has been a useful strategy, I offered different ideas from those we had planned for Everett. I even started browsing through registries and Pinterest ideas to help my hosts. As this went on, that nagging feeling resurfaced and it hit me: I had effortlessly been moving forward and I had done so by separating Everett from the entire experience. I panicked! So far, I was good at giving Bennett the unique attention he deserved without letting grief take over. What I failed to acknowledged, however, was that this process and the coping strategies I relied on were as equally painful as they were helpful!

I relate it to when we first lost Everett. My brain naturally kept looking for a baby since we had carried for two trimesters and then given birth. But I had to remind it over and over again that he was no longer there. Likewise my brain tends to default to Everett  when I feel kicks, see ultrasounds, etc. It’s a mental reflex that now requires correction. The added layer of planning Bennett’s shower and nursery placed even more focus on disassociating new experiences with old. As my mind reiterated instructions to “focus on this pregnancy and this baby because that baby isn’t here now,” the finalization of Everett’s passing intensified. I wasn’t ready to change the nursery, to change the registry, to change the shower… to change our previous hopes and dreams with E all at once. I had no idea how much emotional discipline and energy I was exerting to cope and how painful it had become. Yet even when the warning flares fired, I blatantly disregarded them. 

The emotional “reveal” hit me like a ton of bricks. As a result, I was quite a mess for several days. But eventually, and per usual, I learned a few things…

I still have a tough time with new chapters for other families – live births, baby showers, baby’s first birthday parties, etc. Those are all blatant reminders of the milestones that Everett will never meet. Now that we are moving into new chapters, there are even more reminders. But in almost all instances, my general approach is to power through it so I can be happy for others (and now us). I don’t often allow grief to inhibit my ability to show up for friends, to show gratitude, and to celebrate life. In fact, I do the opposite and submerge myself in the existing challenge while finding other challenges to take on in parallel. It’s the epitome of self sabotage but in the moment it’s my way of proving I’m strong and can handle it all. Regardless of the intent, it’s unnecessary and it’s very damaging.

The healthy alternative would be to create more balance and accept compromises. As evident, this is a particularly tough one for me. But what if I take a break from celebrating and planning? What if I admit that in this moment I can barely handle my own baby shower and events let alone anyone else’s? More globally… What if I pause to ask myself things like “Right now, can I handle this?” or “If this is giving me anxiety, should I really keep doing it?” What if I find other ways to be there for people that are less tolling emotionally, especially when I’m navigating things on the other end? Does that mean I don’t care or I am less of a friend? Does it mean I’ll never be able to show up? No. It just means my abilities are going fluctuate. To some degree I have begun to respect these boundaries, but in very limited moderation as it starts to feel selfish. So I’m going to slap a “Work in Progress” label on this and get back to you.

At the very least I’ve learned that grief isn’t something to be set aside and revisited only when it’s convenient. I’m also working to invest more in self care, because grieving really does require making compromises and accommodations to stay afloat. Giving in to that can only help me to be more consistent for others in the long run. I also hope to become more comfortable accepting and communicating what I need, without guilt. Finally, I am working to incorporate Everett more as we continue to plan for Bennett. Initially separating the two was needed, but at this point it’s time to let them coexist – because they very much coexist in my heart and in my mind. I’m okay with that now.

Despite all of this, I really am overjoyed and beyond grateful for our second child. I am just learning to make time for grief and celebration at a more regulated and gentle pace. I am also learning to balance my love and energy between both of our babies, an honor I don’t take lightly. I’ll close in gratitude to those who continue to keep up with our ever changing needs. This journey is always evolving, but your patience, understanding and support has meant the world. Stay tuned for more!

Blessed and with lovE, Skyler

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