Well, life is still just a fucking roller coaster, ain’t it? In any given moment I might be feeling prfound gratitude for the innumerable gifts that Rafa gave us all with his fleeting existence, and the next I’m crying in an airport, surrounded by toddlers. One afternoon I may be indignant and angry about all I’ve ‘been through’ this past year and the next I find myself in a lethargic, depressive state, asking: why I am still here? Through it all, one constant that I keep discovering is the tendency to compare and measure. I’m quite curious about the persistent and perseverant nature of comparisons: why do they appear as part of my daily thinking?
A few weeks ago I found myself thinking about and comparing myself to mothers of living children. I sometimes (naturally, I suppose) find myself feeling envious of them, this faceless mass of anonymous mamas. It’s a deep ache inside me for that which I do not have. Then I realize that I haven’t the slightest clue of what I’m longing for. Having never given birth to a living baby, how would I possibly know? And then I think: I’m sure that moms with kids who live must face many difficulties in their lives. It must be very challenging and sometimes scary to have a little being totally dependent on you and then to slowly witness that person becoming independent and eventually going off on their own. I imagine that it is exhausting and rife with daily challenges. It’s in that thin opening of empathetic imagining that I see my comparisons in a new light. For a brief moment my mind understands the futility of comparing myself to others and of suffering for that which I do not have and have never lived. I realize that one experience is not better or worse than the other.
For as long as I can remember, I have compared. I look at myself in relation to other people and judge if I am as ____________________ (insert appropriate qualifier here) as they are. I don’t know if this is a natural human tendency. Even if it is, it seems to be exacerbated by the incessant plan of “modernity,” with its heavy emphasis on competition, success, “development” and “progress.” I feel like discernment is a quality that many animals, including humans, naturally possess. And discernment inherently implies the consideration of different options in order to make a decision. But the amount of time I spend seeing the world through these lenses seems to be a real hindrance to living in the fullness of my own present experience.
Where else do I play the game of never-ending comparisons? I do it when I am unable to button the once comfy jeans I wore prior to my first pregnancy. When I get on the scale to see that I still haven’t lost even 1kg from the weight I gained last year. I do it when I see a young woman (I might even call her a girl) with a baby on her hip or a toddler in tow on the city busses of Oaxaca. I feel it when I see the signs designating “family” bathrooms or “priority” seating for pregnant women. I do it when I witness the parenting styles of acquaintances or judge people in hospital waiting rooms with their dirty barefoot kids. It happens when I think about “Before Rafa” (B.R.) time, when life that was not fraught with sadness and grief. It happens when I think about my two pregnancies and the many differences between them. It happens when I think about the other people I know whose babies have died in the last months of their pregnancy or just after birth. I may even judge or feel indignant about the way that I perceive someone else’s response to stillbirth or perinatal death.
At some point in this strange and blurry journey I remember sincerely wishing that I could find another person who had basically lived my same story. I even thought about joining some Facebook support group-type thing so that I could post my “Bereaved Mother Seeks Exact Mirror” singles ad. I imagined it would contain a long and detailed list of qualifiers like:
- 44-45 years of age
- Has a loving and committed partner of over 10 years
- Attempted to become pregnant for over 5 years before being told she was infertile
- 12 months later was finally able to release the grief, anger and sadness that accompanied this news
- Had uterine polyps removed which, upon biopsy, were found to be hyperplasic (a potential precursor to uterine cancer)
- Was told that she would have to get an IUD in order to prevent further overgrowth of endocrine lining
- After months procrastinating about the IUD, became miraculously pregnant when she very least expected it
- Baby died in her uterus 1 – 3 days after due date
- Gave birth naturally and vaginally to the body of her stillborn son
- Feels a myriad of diverse emotions on a daily basis: from deepest gratitude to most desperate and suicidal thoughts imaginable
I think I believed that if I could just find someone who had lived through the exact experience I had, I would be able to make more sense of the inner emotional chaos and see how to move forward. Yet, I feel now in my bones that the only way forward is through: no one else will be able to make sense of or guide me on the way. I just have to feel it out.
I wonder if comparisons have value, if they’re useful. One of the things I know is that they just come up; so part of my work is to accept this and soften my self-judgment, to get more aware of this pattern and get curious about why it has been such a pattern all these 45 years.
Even though I long ago realized the banality of impervious labels like “good” and “bad,” and “right” and “wrong,” I find myself unable to avoid placing my experiences upon these exacting and righteous scales. I went to breakfast with my midwife earlier this week. It was a very moving experience for me as we talked about all that was unfolding in her life during the final months of my pregnancy and at the time of Rafa’s death and birth. At some point, I made an offhand comment about not slowing down when I found out I was pregnant the second time and how this was “wrong.” My midwife looked at me and asked in her compassionate way: “Who’s to say what’s right or wrong?” I know that she has a point and that continually measuring or trying to identify the fuck-up(s) that resulted in the deaths of two babies is a pretty big waste of time and energy and emotion.
Nonetheless, I continue to fall into the right/wrong, good/bad trap. I understand that a big part of this pattern comes from my past; from a deep desire to do “well” and perform perfectly and from an even deeper fear of failing and disappointing others. I think that maybe during this dark night of the soul that I am living through, I just want to feel like things are “alright” and that I am going to be “okay.” And maybe that’s why I’m noticing the counting and measuring and comparing coming up so much right now. One of the phrases that has really supported me this past year is: I’m not okay. And that’s okay. (I thank my mom for that one.) It sort of just blurs the line between good and bad in a way that offers some solace.
The past few days, as the unfinished draft of this blog sat open and untouched in my closed computer, I’ve found myself wailing and crying, angry, disappointed and fearful in a lonely Comfort Inn room in the middle of nowhere. Only one person has confirmed their attendance to the first grief workshop I am hosting with my doula today. I didn’t realize how much the prospect of cancelling would impact me. I didn’t know that it would, in a small way, bring up the terrible sadness of Rafa’s death as if it happened yesterday. But in the midst of my sobs I was not judging myself, not even weighing whether what I was feeling was “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong.”
When I get out of my head and drop down into my heart and my body (which ironically is what the workshop is all about), I don’t judge or measure or compare… I just am. Connecting with the pure feeling, the felt sense, and the courage of vulnerability, I soften my judgments and comparisons without even thinking. As always, there is the lesson of not judging myself for comparing or counting and measuring. I know that there is always more room for compassionate curiosity in myself. And, hey, at least I’m getting better and better at noticing these constant comparisons and measurements! Hehehehe!