Every Saturday my little family heads down to the local coffee shop and I wonder what we look like to other people. Beautiful four year old running at the front of the pram, cute little Hugo, our cavalier puppy, on his heels. N or I pushing the pram, lightly touching each other around the waist. It must look idyllic. It must look like the perfect family. What it looks like and what it is are so very different.
I felt similarly when pregnant. I wondered if people who had recently suffered loss or infertility looked jealously at my growing bump.
I know in the weeks after Xavier died I wanted to rush up to mothers of newborns and say “Do you know? Do you know how utterly privileged you are?” I wanted to talk to those heavily pregnant and ask “Do you know? Do you know the precious weight of what you carry?” I didn’t of course. But what if I had and she had returned the pain in my own eyes. If she would have said, with a heaviness another loss mother would recognise, “Yes”.
We go about our daily battles and it seems like everyone else’s battles are being easily won. But we don’t know. We don’t know how much pain lies before apparent happiness. Each of us are icebergs, only revealing the tip of our lives. Carefully constructing the image we allow the world to see. We know this of ourselves – why do we presume that everyone around us does any differently?
My personal Facebook feed is filled with photos of Elijah on different outings – parks, various beaches, numerous cafes. As my parents are currently overseas, I am posting daily pictures so they can watch him grow. This no doubt gives the impression of a terribly confident mother – happily out and about with a perfectly behaved newborn. This would be a generous assumption. In truth, I am not a homebody and will always prefer out to in. When I am at home alone with Elijah, the darker thoughts creep in. It’s when I hold him close and beg him not to die. Do I prefer the facade of a mother breezing through parenthood? Of course, but it masks a darker truth.
I never want to be defined by my loss – although I am happy to be shaped by it. But sometimes, I want to scream “Getting here wasn’t easy – the road to this seeming perfection was paved with tears and still, always, there is someone missing”.
But that’s not the image I have chosen to present to the world. There is a large element of choice here. Could I fall apart? Of course I could, in a heartbeat, in an instant. But I hold myself and my family together. Is this a form of lying? Would it be truer to myself to let more of the pain show? Would it ease the pressure on those around me if I was to be more “real”? I am not sure. So much of how I coped with Xavier’s death was “fake it until you feel it”. When faced with something that cleaves your heart in two, people really don’t want to see the full ugliness of it. I didn’t want to be the full ugliness of it. For all our talk of being real, there comes a point of too real. And so I have been play-acting for some time now. Not just for those around me, but for me. I have been play-acting for so long that it might be difficult to tell where the reality and where the acting meet. And perhaps this simply is my new reality.
Being grateful for each and every moment, striving to live in the now and taking advantage of every possibility can seem unbearably Pollyanna-ish. It can seem fake and impossible. But my alternative is impossible and so I take this path and I will smile through the pain.