FINDING INTIMACY THROUGH GRIEF
“I miss you.” These were the words my hubby, Will, and I said to each other through teary eyes with 152 cm of space between us, as we clung to the furthest edges of our queen-sized bed. Because when you fall preggers on your first try, then spend the first four months of your baby’s life fattening her up for (thankfully, a successful) surgery, and then your second healthy salvation baby is born 14 weeks early, the time it takes for you to do anything intimate – passionately kiss, embrace, joke, laugh, cuddle, share, talk – takes a long time. A very, very long time. And for us it had been 4 months, 19 days, and 44 minutes. Not that I ever count the days between any form of intimacy for us, but it had been 4 months, 19 days and 44 minutes since we lost our son, Liam.
When your worst nightmare happens, you’re so destroyed, so grief-stricken, so lost and broken. You can imagine your aversion to anything that could lead to making babies. Kissing, hugging, playful pats on the butt, even grazing when you pass each other in the hallway makes you flinch.
Truth be told, any time after you’ve had a baby is challenging. Both of you don’t exactly feel your sexiest. It’s so chaotic, and such a shock to the system that you forget that you’re two people who feel in love. For weeks your husband has seen you prancing around in white mesh ‘lingerie’ from the Carriwell maternity collection, you’ve worn granny pads from belly button to bumhole, and (though I promised myself I would never disrespect my body again and rather celebrate that it brought life into the world), I have to admit that my belly resembled a day-old flan. Your hair’s in a sweaty, disgusting bun for days, you’re covered in eau de old breastmilk parfum and hubby’s shaving and showering regimen has gone the way of the dodo bird. Add the fact that you’ve both experienced extreme sleep deprivation – a torture tactic saved for war prisoners - and in addition your only words to each other for weeks have been “Dammit, it’s your turn; GET UP for the love of all things!” - you don’t exactly have the perfect soundtrack for a night of Barry White and candles.
I love Will and my compatibility – from the spontaneous McDonald’s parking lot escapades to the ones that start off with his ‘sexy’ dance moves to Tommy Jones – it usually ends up in ridiculous amounts of laughter. But this wasn’t what I missed most. Will and I are an extremely cheesy couple. We laugh at our silly made-up puns, we bump tummies like two Winnie the Poohs, we leave cute, albeit filthy notes for each other - think - “jy’s ‘n miljoen rand werd en jy het ‘n lekker stert" - we still check each other out in restaurants, Will will hand make popcorn boxes and we'll watch movies together - in most ways we’re still the two 20-somethings who are giddy and in love. But suddenly it was gone. All of it. And here we were, staring at each other, two completely different people. Irreparably damaged forever.
When tragedy hits you, your world, your heart, your body, your reality is ripped to pieces. You’re engulfed in this darkness, this blackhole of nothingness that sucks you in and drains the air from your lungs – slowly and painfully. I call it the ‘zombie phase’ – you look the same, but you’re dead, you wander around aimlessly, foods have lost their flavour, scenery around you has no colour and definition, you have no concept of time and parts of you are missing and decaying. And you wonder which parts. The part of your husband that knows the secret to his fluffy French toast? The part that knows how to make you laugh? The part of you that always made him feel better after a tough day? The part that knows the Tom Jones moves? The part that makes him a good father? The part that gets your sense of humour? The part that loves you?
And then out of nowhere something happened. A glimmer of hope that meant we would someday, just perhaps be “us” again. We moved to the bathroom. Will and I met at work and whenever we needed to chat privately, we’d meet in the bathroom. And we still do it 13 years later. We lay there, balancing on the fluffy bathmat, holding hands, feeling the coldness of the tiles beneath us wrap around us. Up until that point, Will had never cried, not one tear, he had never spoken about it, never even mentioned Liam’s name, and for the first time he broke down. We both did. And there we stayed, for hours, crying and rebuilding who we once were.
So my advice to start moving forward?
Take it one day at a time
When you’re at the start of this incredibly difficult journey with its pointy peaks and jagged rocks and boundless valleys, you won’t want to move on. But you should try to. One step, one little foot, one little toe at a time. You’ll want to hold on to the pain for as long as possible and that’s OK. You’ll feel that as soon as it leaves that you’ll forget, that it’ll mean the love for your child will diminish. It won’t. It never will. But if you keep moving, you will one day, some day find new things to smile about. You will once again start laughing at the things your remaining child does. Days will one day be filled with picnics, butterfly kisses and giggles, walks on the beach and sunshine on your face.
Talk, talk, talk and talk some more
Get it all out. Everything. Even the points you think are insignificant. All the pain. All the guilt. All the anger. All the ‘what ifs’ – what if I took two preggy vitamins instead of one, what if we waited to buy that house, what if, what if. Get everything out. Because held inside it will eat you alive, piece by piece until there's nothing left. Your honesty with each other will help strengthen your bond. See someone because there will be things you won’t be able to admit to your spouse or yourself.
Take your time
Grief doesn’t have an expiry date. In fact, most days it’ll feel like no time has passed so continue to check in with each other. Don’t feel guilty if you still feel heartbroken two years, eight years, 21 years from now. This is a very personal experience and each one is different.
Do what you used to do
There’s an old saying that if you always do what did at the start of the relationship, your relationship will never end. There’s truth in that. Become the people you each fell in love with. Go on dates, write dirty notes, bump tummies like Winnie the Pooh, do silly dances, do things for each other, visit places you once loved, woo each other, fall in love again.
It’s never an easy experience, it’ll never be a phase but you’re both strong and together you’ll be even stronger.