The person that I was before was pretty sure of herself, so sure in fact that she spent a lot of her previous life worrying about who she would be when she made the huge life-changing decision to become a parent. Every conversation about the potential future included the concern that being a parent might overtake her, the secure identity that she had built up around herself had the potential threat of disappearing in the wake of breastfeeding and nappy changes. Many a conversation began with “I’m worried my priorities will shift beyond recognition and I will become Just-A-Mum.” What if she gave up her degree? What about her career in the charity sector? Who would she be once she was a parent? How might her relationship change?
In my haste to avoid succumbing to my feared Just-A-Mum, I didn’t allow myself any space to consider the immense pride I would suddenly hold as a parent. I certainly didn’t allow myself to dwell on the possibility that I may find myself fighting for my identity as Norah’s Mum. My previous self was right about one thing; life after Norah is beyond recognition. However now I find myself caught in a strange sort of no-man’s-land of parenting without my child present, with any sense of self reduced to a distant memory.
Navigating life after loss is not without its similarities to life as a new parent in the traditional sense; priorities shift, identities are reshaped around new life, relationships are stretched and changed and reformed. But life after loss doesn’t come with the spaces to discuss how to adapt to your new role. There are no coffee mornings with clusters of new mums talking about the strain being a new parent of a baby that died puts on your marriage, or drop in centres facilitating sessions on the practical changes required to adjust to your new life without your baby. If you dig deep enough, you may be lucky to find a blog with experiences that match yours, or a support group for bereaved parents, usually ran by the families that came before you and found themselves without the spaces we so desperately need. Most of the time we seem to find ourselves alone, grasping at stable ground, but what chance do we have of finding stability when everything we were before, and everything we thought we would be now, is so far from our reality?
Which brings me on to the questions I find myself stuck on, who am I and what the hell do I do now? My previous self’s fears of losing sight of my identity have materialised, just not in the way I expected. The irony of the Just-A-Mum caricature I feared so much isn’t lost on me, when all I desire in life now is the ability to be Norah’s mum, to care for her and watch her grow. Norah taught us so much in her short life, but most crucially, Norah taught us just how little everything really mattered. How can you return to a job that means so little in the wake of a life so unrecognisably changed? What do I do with myself now I know just how out of my control and fleeting my life really is? How do we hold our new identity as Norah’s parents alongside who we were and who we are now? Plans, career goals and bucket lists of who we were lay dormant whilst we grasp at stability and try to figure out who we are. For now, I will have to take another step forward in to the unknown, in a move of blind faith, and hope that I find my feet somewhere along the way.