A few months ago I wandered the halls of a familiar children’s hospital with my daughter. She had just had her eyes dilated in Ophthalmology, and we had some time to waste before heading back for her annual exam.
This hospital was not only familiar, but it had become a second home to our family after my daughter came into the world over nine years ago in the midst of a traumatic birth experience.
Born purple and in respiratory distress with a serious heart defect that had been diagnosed in utero, Evalyn was whisked away into a sea of medical professionals only seconds after leaving my body.
She was intubated and stabilized and rushed into the Level 3 NICU leaving me stunned, devastated, and wounded on the delivery table.
Not long after, I was informed that my newborn daughter would be transferred to a children’s hospital – this children’s hospital – without me.
Now, many years later, I walked the same halls with my strong girl as we waited for a routine eye check-up.
I made a mental note of the extensive changes and renovations that had taken place over the years, and pointed out things I thought would be of interest to my unimpressed tween.
That’s when I saw something that shook me.
In front of me was a large sign proclaiming “Advanced Delivery Unit”, and my heart dropped.
How wonderful that the children’s hospital now had a place for expectant mothers in the same position I had been to give birth and remain with their newborn under the same roof!
But I was not filled with a feeling of joy. It felt more like…jealousy?
No, not really jealousy.
I was just not sure how to identify the emotion that overwhelmed me. I paused, took a deep breath, and continued on my way.
I carried these feelings with me throughout the rest of the day, feeling like an awful person for not being happy at such a positive change that will help so many. I thought about it for a long time; the feeling of jealousy not sitting right with me.
And then hours later, it hit me. It was not jealousy at all.
It was grief.
I knew I had lingering feelings surrounding my daughter’s traumatic birth experience, and that remembering that day stirred up a flurry of emotions every time it came to mind.
Just thinking about the events that took place in December 2010 brought me back in time and caused me to relive every second, complete with an emotional roller coaster vacillating between fear and joy and back again.
I knew I still had underlying anger about how that day had played out. It was so different from what I had planned.
It was not how it was “supposed” to go.
No. I was supposed to snuggle my baby to my chest and have a bonding moment as soon as she entered this world. I was supposed to have newborn photos taken in my hospital room to look back on years later. I was supposed to be happy, not helpless. Not scared.
It was just not fair.
I knew that I still felt heavy sadness at times when reminiscing about that miraculous and terrifying day.
Waves of heartache continue to wash over me from time to time, though less often now, hitting hard but never staying too long.
I knew that I still went through brief periods of guilt and blaming myself for what happened and how things could have been different. What if I had skipped the epidural? What if I had researched other hospitals? What if? What if? What if!
But, what I guess I never realized was that this was all part of the grief process.
Now, almost 10 years later, and seeing this new delivery unit at our children’s hospital brought it all back once again.
Grief. Yes, grief. So simple and so complicated. Maybe I did know this on some level, but never truly allowed myself to believe it. Perhaps I had let the time limit for grief in my mind expire long ago, not realizing it was still with me.
The fact is there are no time restrictions on grief.
Being able to put a name to my feelings is freeing in a way.
It doesn’t take away my pain, but it allows me to make sense of it. It gives me permission to feel the range of emotions I still go through without feeling like a terrible or ungrateful person.
It’s true that naming these feelings won’t change the past, but I believe it will help me continue to process what I cannot change.
And, for that – and for my beautiful, strong 9-year-old daughter – I am thankful.