Emotions arrive in different shapes and sizes. In years past, I have experienced grief that knocked me from my feet and left me crumpled into a small ball; grief as heavy as a rock, grief that took up permanent space in my stomach and my throat. But sometimes grief and loss are small and have soft edges. Grief can be a crashing wave or it can be almost onomatopoeiac, the small sound made when you remove an unnannounced tear from the corner of your eye with your forefinger. These small losses come laced with the salty tang of guilt, because they are the loss of things you never really held – expectations, hopes, plans, dreams, visions of a certain future. And who are you to hope for these things when so many experience the hard edged losses, especially now? You are so lucky, because you are experiencing real, actual magic. You are carrying life, a tiny, squirmy thing that was born of a conversation and now is the size of a small watermelon. Laid out on a table, this gratitude and love dwarfs the fear, and sadness, of course. And you must tell people that with urgency and severity, lest they think you ungrateful or unnappreciative. You must explain that you know how lucky you are and how silly it is to feel sad that you didn’t have a baby shower, or a last day at work – that you can’t go shopping for baby things with your Mum, or that no one but you and your partner have ever felt the baby kick. You are adept at using caveats and nestling any disclosures of disappointment with apologies, because as I see repeated on Facebook threads, and in instragram comments – you are having a BABY and many people long for that gift, and frankly, none of the other stuff matters.
It feels like it matters. We all have visions of what our most significant life events will look like – in the same way that we envisage our wedding days, or plan the rooms in our future houses, anyone who is pregnant (or has dreamed of being so) has thought about what the birth might be like. Or perhaps painted a nursery in their mind, or allowed themselves a moment of pause in the baby clothes section of White Company, touching the tiny sleepsuits with indulgent furtiveness. As humans we are daydreamers, built to shield ourselves from the drudgery of life with Pinterest boards and holiday plans. We attach ourselves to the idea of things and do not deal well in disappointment. We see families with freckled noses, salty hair and beachfront properties on social media and we dare to dream that we will one day feel that sand between our toes and watch our children paddle in the surf, all wonky toothed and bright eyed. This is how it’s supposed to be, we think. That’s what it will feel like to be really living.
So maybe I was sold the Pinterest dream, and maybe I bought it. In the drawer I have garlands with decorative letters that read ‘baby shower’, and predictions cards – “when will the baby arrive?” – a Whatsapp group where we had it all planned, and confetti still pressed tightly in a plastic packet. I lie awake most nights worrying that Liam will get ill whilst at work and that I’ll have to give birth on my own. I label all of the baby’s clothes in the hospital bag because I don’t know if it will be him pulling them out, or a midwife. I obsessively follow my hospital’s Facebook page to see if the birthing centre I’d like to go to is still open. I wait in the car for my midwife appointments, and she greets me wearing a mask, looking solemn. I discover a list I made of things I will do on maternity leave – get fitted for a nursing bra! go to Primark for a cheap nightie! go to antenatal yoga classes! The spa weekend we booked for last weekend as a little baby-moon is cancelled. The afternoon tea I booked for my Mum and I to celebrate my first day of maternity leave, does not happen. Instead of a presentation and lunch out with friends at work on my last day, I quietly close the laptop lid and set my out of office.
Tomorrow I will be 38 weeks’ pregnant. The baby could arrive at any moment. I had, of course, imagined the moment my parents will meet her, swaddled in a blanket and passed between them for tight squeezes and coos. When will that happen now? Will they miss her first few weeks? Will they meet her through a closed window? I remember people telling me how much I will need my Mum in the first few weeks, how it’s not possible to go through those first few weeks with a newborn without someone to hold her whilst you shower, or someone to bring you meals and make you a cup of tea. I feel anticipatory, abject fear at the idea of Liam going back to work after two weeks, and being here alone with a new baby. I wonder how long this will go on for. I wonder how long it will be before her world becomes bigger than just us – when she will see other babies, when she will meet Bodhi dog, when my friends can come and see her.
I feel scared a lot. I feel excited a lot too. I am enormously grateful for the ‘check-ins’ from friends, and for people who listen to my worries and sadnesses and don’t tell me that it could be worse, or make my concerns feel small. I think that it is valid to feel sad for the things we have missed out on. I think that you can still be sad when others are in worse situations, just as you can still be happy when others have seemingly more reason to be so. I also feel enormous empathy for those who are suffering because of these circumstances – women who have had their IVF put on hold, women who are reading the Facebook posts of women like me and feeling that they would love to have a cancelled baby shower because it would mean they would be having a baby. I have friends with cancelled weddings, birthday parties and holidays. I know of people who aren’t seeing their children at the moment as they’re living with another parent and the situation won’t allow it. I am in a Facebook group where single mothers are asking for suggestions for cheap meals they can cook because they’ve lost their job and their food budget has been cut in half. I hear the stories of those who have lost family members, I see the numbers of NHS workers who have died rise, and rise. A storm is upon us and we are all in different sized boats, trying to get through to the other side. Some of the time we dream of the calm, some of the time the waves feel like they might break us. It is hard for everyone, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also hard for us. I am learning to allow the waves to come and go – some big, some small, all valid.