Sensitive Content Warning: This post contains one mom’s experience with infant loss and may be difficult for some to read.
It was a few days after the birth and loss of our third son, Max, that I was walking around in a Target. I wandered aimlessly. Foggy from all the grief, worried the tears would come streaming at any moment. I was there partly to do something normal and partly to buy a head of cabbage to help comfort my swollen chest that had no baby to feed.
I walked the aisles and felt stunned that I seemingly blended in well with the general Target population. Does anyone know what just happened to me a few days ago? Don’t I look like someone who hasn’t slept or eaten in days while distraught with grief and sorrow? I didn’t seem to catch the eyes of anyone in particular. But just as I almost escaped my first experience out in public, alone and still standing–it happened. I saw a mom-to-be walk by, half smile and say hello.
I was in shock.
I stormed out of the store with my head of cabbage and lost it in my minivan. Salty tears streamed down my face and I screamed through my overwhelming cries at God, “Why? Why today? Why did I have to face someone I wish I still was–growing a healthy baby?” I settled down, started the car and sobbed on my way home. I called my husband and told him what happened. I shouted how unfair this all was and how I am just trying to survive, and not be triggered into a panic attack every time I see a pregnant woman. He was patient and listened. Until I said, “She would never understand what we went through!”
He stopped me. He softly stated, “We have no idea what her story is. Everyone has something; how do we know she doesn’t understand? We have no idea what she has been through.”
That statement has stuck with me and really changed my perspective on how I approach others and the assumptions I make about their lives and experiences. There was a much broader significance in his words that laid the foundation for the way I approach and judge others.
Everyone has something.
They could have a beautiful home, nice cars, and a very perfect life on the outside. Their Instagram and Facebook photos often display the best, but very rarely the worst. Let’s be honest here; no matter what amount of money you make, the things you have, or the people in your life, some things will not go your way. Tragic events happen, and no one has a perfect experience.
However, since we rarely get peeks into the raw and uncut versions of peoples lives, we live under the assumption that they are out-of-touch or unaware because we only get to see the wins–not the tough losses and the grief. People may often be envious, even curious about how “easy” life has been for others based on those snapshot encounters. But I promise you, everyone has something.
Human nature is predictable. We feel envious of the apparent lack of life struggles others want us to see. Struggles with mental health, suicide, chemical dependency, alcoholism, and debt are so private and often well-hidden. I have tried my best to remove those biases of what I think versus what I know based on what I see. It’s hard, but it feels freeing.
I have seen time and time again the struggles, demons, and secrets people have shared. Many times we are in disbelief and immediately say, “Oh my, I had no idea.” Just because I have developed this understanding from my experiences, however, does not mean I never feel jealousy. It happens all the time. But I have learned that comparing does nothing and again, no one has a perfect life start to finish. I have done my best now to stop comparing myself, my family, and really everything. My middle might look like the shiny keys of success to someone that is just beginning a journey. But I promise, when you stop comparing and focusing on yourself, it’s liberating.
Level the Playing Field
It took awhile for the fog and depression of grief to subside, and slowly I started living a more typical life about 6 months after Max died. Also around that time, I found out I was expecting again. It felt like deja vu. I was pregnant with a due date within 2 weeks of my due date the previous year.
That pregnancy was humbling and emotionally very tough, but it leveled the playing field. I led with grace and compassion and really became transparent about our story. I never wanted to be that lonely, grief-stricken mama walking aimlessly through Target thinking no one could understand the grief I was dealing with. I love sharing Max with others and he brings out the true humanity in my life.
I think others started to realize I embraced my “not so perfect” life. Over the years, sharing Max has moved me to surprise when I hear, “us too.” A lot of people have lost people in their lives they so dearly loved, even their children that they wanted so badly. I have come to see the heartache and weight of grief and disappointment that I know most people are dealing with. I get it now, and I no longer feel that others are on a different level than me because of it.
While everyone’s life journey looks so different, my hope is that we all continue to lead with the equal parts grace and compassion. During a time where we have dealt with more chaos and turmoil in 6 months than some of us have ever seen, it is so important to be considerate of the starting points and struggles for peace and happiness that people are dealing with. Remember, everyone has something and we may never know what it is. But I promise you, it’s there.