Grief in Action
This chapter is devoted to actual, practical steps you can take to either retrieve a diminished sense of self or stay ahead of the condition I refer to as maternal intrapersonal anxiety (MIA): that is, if you're missing in action, let's find you! And if you feel secure in your sense of self, let's keep it that way. This chapter consists of six goals, or strategies, to keep in mind as you move forward in your journey. The strategies encompass a range of issues. You will likely identify with some of these goals more than others. That's fine. However, try not to skip right by any one of them because each one has value, whether you need to hear it now (and implement it) or someday down the road.
Listen to intro
When a significant other transforms reality through his or her death, a “survivor” must adjust from a life that was to a life that is. When a baby transforms reality through his or her birth, women must adjust from a life that was to a life that is. On opposite ends of the spectrum, each experience yields a transforming moment, a moment that provides avenues for learning, growth, and, for some, a sense of peace. Realizing this, I wanted to take my opportunity, my transforming moment, and become more. Staying stagnant, in distress, was no longer an option. I was in a new world and it called me to move. However, as I mentioned in Chapter 5, in order to move, that is, in order to access my power of choice to act, I had to have a healthy sense of self, which I didn’t perceive myself as having at the time. So how could I choose a better way of coping? How could I choose to move into a better place emotionally, physically, socially, etc.? How could I choose to change my experience of the life circumstances around me? How could I choose health and happiness over my existing distress? I needed to make choices and take action, and yet I didn’t have the healthy sense of self that spearheads those choices and actions. This paradox plagued me until one night when the answer came to me as I lay in bed crying. In that glorious and enlightened moment, I realized this:
Grieving is an action in itself
The word “grieving” suggests that something is happening, and behind every “happening” is an action taking place. To promote grieving as the full range of our coping responses is to offer mothers a useful paradigm that can empower them to act, as it may for all those who experience loss and grief. It’s a concept that defies the powerlessness and helplessness that mothers often feel as their sense of self wanes. A feeling of helplessness/powerlessness or lack of choice (feeling trapped) causes much of the symptoms mothers describe, especially depression, anxiety, despair, and the inability to act on their own behalf (i.e., paralysis). Grieving as coping reframes the process and puts the locus of control in the hands of those mothers who battle these intense symptoms. Grieving as coping inspires mothers to respond actively and invest the energy necessary for redirecting their lives; they do this by accepting the fact that they have a voice and can make the choices that support their values, boundaries, and sense of self. In this way, they break loose of helplessness, resist the potent and sometimes compelling grip of grief, and create a new posture geared toward making the changes they desire through the choices they make.
The critical choices available to mothers include but are not limited to:
how they deal with the various challenges that present on a daily basis
how they respond to the losses they perceive
how to reshape, reinterpret, and redirect their lives
how to find their sense of self
how to sort their needs, options, and preferences
how to define the next chapter of their lives
how to change their internal dialogue, and last but by no means least,
how to start making these choices
I have found over the years that oftentimes we are told what to do but not precisely how to do it. At least that was my dilemma as I struggled to find my way out of the crater of despair that had become my nesting spot. At the time, I read article after article looking for material that might suggest ways to help me adjust to a reality far different from anything I had ever known. I perused books on motherhood, childcare, and mental health (I thought I was going crazy), all in an attempt to “figure it out.” I couldn’t find one book, not one article, not one television show that comforted me with information that directly addressed all the feelings and thoughts I was having.
As I saw it, my “problem” was that I did not adopt a total posture of “mom” as soon as my baby was born. I mothered my daughter and cared for her in all the ways she needed as my love deepened, but in many ways, I remained postured as I had been prior to Leigh Ann’s arrival. Subconsciously, I perceived myself to be the same person who was able to live the same kind of life in the same way. In short, I desired the impossible (e.g., former freedoms, relationships, autonomy, lifestyle) knowing full well it was an impossible reality given my new circumstances. It was a dissonance that lay dormant for years. In the meantime, I gave birth to Laura (sixteen months later) and Daniel, who came along three years after her. By this time I was deeply entrenched in the world of children and becoming more and more incapable of denying or ignoring my desire for the autonomy, self-confidence, self-esteem, and sense of self I once knew. I felt completely out of sync with a life rhythm I had always known and enjoyed, and this feeling was making me increasingly angry, depressed, and frustrated.
I loved your advice to ask someone who loves me to describe me. I have been battling some issues around confidence. I just think so many moms look like they're doing okay and I'm not. When I'm not, I'm like really on my kids and I probably shouldn't be. They're good kids and not really doing anything bad. What should I do?
You are not the first to struggle this way, and certainly you won't be the last. Yes, when you're tired or feeling down you're more likely to lose your temper, feel irritable, or get "on" your kids quicker than you might otherwise. This is a great signal to you that you need to take a break. Look at your own needs and see where there's a gap in what you need and what you're getting. Once you can identify that, you'll be able to take the necessary steps to "recharge your batteries" and perhaps not get so down on yourself. Come from a position of strength and I think your confidence will rise along with your tolerance!