One of the things about Empty Arms that is most helpful is realizing that the feelings and thoughts you’re having that seem crazy are really perfectly normal from the perspective of a grieving parent. It’s been awhile since I’ve felt crazy because of my grief thoughts. But, here I am, confessing, in hopes that someone else will tell me I’m not crazy, ten years in.
After our first loss, I was overcome by the sudden conviction that something terrible could happen, at any moment, to my child. Ethan, my living, perfectly healthy child. Not the normal level of parental fear that I’d always had, but a scarier, much more real fear. Because now the knowledge that bad things happen wasn’t an abstract possibility. Now it was real, and true, and awful. It had already happened to us. It could happen again. We weren’t immune, we weren’t infinitely lucky. Bad things couldn’t just happen, they had.
We ask each other at Empty Arms, “How do you go on to have other children? How do you make it through another pregnancy? How do you live with the fear?” There isn’t an easy answer to that question. It isn’t an easy thing to do. But you just do, because it’s worth it. I feel a little like I’m the only one who ever asks, “How do you let your children out of your sight?” Again, you just do, because it’s worth it. But sometimes it takes a colossal effort.
I’m not a hovering helicopter of a parent. I’m really not. I let my children play with friends. They cross our little cul-de-sac by themselves. Ethan walks down the street to the bus by himself. They run free at the family farm with their mother only occasionally indulging in bouts of panic. But, tonight, I’m feeling crazy over a Girl Scout skating event.
When the information came home about this event, I thought I was merely a bit annoyed at the fact that here was yet another thing of which to keep track, another donation for a service event I had to remember, another alteration of our regular schedule. I am not the best Girl Scout Mom. I’m not a leader, I hate the fundraisers, I’m not crazy about the time commitment, which has turned out to be more than the bimonthly meetings I was expecting. But I know it’s a good thing for Elanor, I know it’s something I still regret missing out on as a little girl who lived too far out in the country and whose mother couldn’t afford the time or the gas to allow me to be a Brownie. So, I hock the cookies, deliver her to meetings, and juggle the schedule of events. But I wanted to skip the skating event. It’s on a Wednesday night, a half hour drive away, and would require Chris to take her before I got home from work. It’s inconvenient, and not something I felt was essential for her to attend. I talked myself out of my initial mother guilt of ‘making her miss something fun’ and told Chris I thought we should skip it.
Tonight, dropping Elanor off for Girl Scouts, they handed me a permission slip for the event. I explained she wouldn’t be attending. They told me Chris had already paid the fee and she was signed up to go. (I can only assume, since he doesn’t remember and neither do I, that he paid for it weeks ago when it was first mentioned, before we’d even discussed it.) And, that they had plenty of leaders to drive, so we’d only have to drop her off at the regular meeting site. So, mother guilt having been reinitiated, I filled out the permission form and accepted that she’d be going. And proceeded to come home in a panic, feeling on the edge of tears. My baby, my tiny, helpless, three-weeks-early, nearly-lost-to-a-terrifying-placental-abruption baby (never mind she’s nearly nine) will be going on an outing, traveling in a car with virtual strangers, in December, in heaven only knows what kind of weather, to strap wheels to her feet and spend hours rolling around on them in a building where neither of her parents are present. I’m petrified. I’m aware it’s totally irrational and over-the-top, but I’m petrified.
I no longer feel crazy for the sudden crying jags that hit me, sometimes expectedly, sometimes unexpectedly. I no longer feel crazy for needing my husband to be present during the yearly decorating of the Christmas tree. I don’t feel crazy at all for grieving the three tiny people I lost, or for needing to talk to others who have suffered the same loss on a regular basis. But I feel a little crazy for being so very scared of such a benign thing as a roller skating trip. Even though I’m nearly positive that I’m not the only one who’s ever felt this way.