Around your baby’s first birthday, you will start to feel time catching up with you. You have been a mom (on duty, 24/7) for an entire year of your life. When you’re a stay at home mom, fatigue and exhaustion may get to you sooner than a year, but for me, it happened when my son was 11 months old. Dealing with the loss of my father a few months earlier made things about 1000x worse.
The Kind of Exhaustion Sleep Can’t Fix
“I can watch him while you go rest.” my Belgian says sweetly one rainy Monday afternoon.
“No, it’s okay,” I respond. “This can’t be fixed by napping.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew they were true, and that this was a big deal. Not only because I am a firm believer that a solid nap can solve most of life’s problems (or at least help you see them with more clarity), but because I had given up on feeling better.
I had been averaging about 7 hours of sleep, which, to a mom of an 11-month-old, is quite a lot. But no, sleep wouldn’t fix this. No matter how much I slept, I woke up every morning and felt tired. I felt stuck.
With about a month before my baby turned one year old, I knew I had reached a point where I had to do something drastic to get me out of this hole. I had been in a less severe funk before (what I now refer to as the “expat rut”) but this was different and much, much worse.
Within the last year of my life, I had taken an emergency trip back to Canada a week before my third trimester of pregnancy, gave birth a few months later, struggled with the typical adjustment of becoming a mom, taken our baby on our first family vacation, taken another unexpected trip (by myself with my son), watched my father die, and dealt with the every day exhaustion of running a home and raising a newborn.
So, when I called my sister crying on a stormy winter night and heard her voice telling me that everything I felt was normal for someone who’s whole world had monumentally shifted not once (becoming a mom) but twice (losing a parent) within the last year – I laughed a bit through my tears in relief. Why had I thought any differently? Why had I thought that I WOULDN’T be exhausted?
What I had been through in that year IS a lot for anyone to handle, let alone a stay at home mom living abroad with no family around and about an hour and a half train ride away from any kind of social life.
Grief and Motherhood
I have searched long and hard for a way to put this into words, and this is what I’ve come up with. This is what it was like, for me, to be a new mom in the midst of saying goodbye to one of my own parents.
THE HALLWAY OF GRIEF
I’m standing in a dark, cold hallway. I have a little ball of light in my arms, but everything else is dark, cold and silent. I can’t see where this hallway ends and looking forward into the emptiness, I can feel the possibility of never escaping it. This little ball of light, when I can wrench my eyes away from the expanding darkness long enough to look at it, fills every crack of my existence with this light. It’s a kind of warmth that gives me a new breath of life every time I look at it.
Most days, I can’t help but be sucked in by the dark expanse. Just traveling down the dark hallway for hours without any hope of it ever ending.
I’m trying to find a way out, but the only way out is through – I know I have to go deeper into the hallway, deeper into the darkness to get there.
And that terrifies me because this hallway is slowly eating away every ounce of who I was. Every bit of happiness I usually had. But the ball of light I’m carrying with me, it becomes my lifeline.
I know it will be my eventual saving grace … when I am ready.
After traveling down the window-less hallway for what seems like decades, I see a few windows. Every so often, my ball of light brings me to a window in the hallway and I’m able to see the outside world – a world apart from this dark and cold place I’ve been brought to. The light leads me on, assuring me there is a way out, assuring me I can be a part of that outside world instead of being stuck in the dark.
For every person, that ball of light is something different. It may be a memory, ambition or dream.
For most parents (myself included), I am going to say most of the time that little ball of light in the dark is your child(ren).
My son was my little ball of light.
And I’m not going to say that he made everything feel fine – because he didn’t. Nothing could. My dad was gone, not anywhere physically on this earth – and the gravity of that was this expanding darkness that filled almost every hour of my life for the first 6 months after he died.
But when I could close my heart to the ache and sadness the dark brought, and just focus on this precious source of light and love that was in my arms… I know it could eventually save me. Over and over again, I was saved from this darkness by my little baby.
His smile, his laugh, his first steps…every time he saved me, it became more clear that there was another side of this.
My dad would always be gone.It would always hurt. But it didn't have to ONLY hurt. Click To Tweet
My life changed the day my dad died, and there’s no arguing that, there’s no wishing that away – but my life, my son’s life…there is still SO much happiness to be had.
Every night now, when I am feeding my son after a chaotic day, his little eyes remind me that the dark hallway is real and sometimes, I am there…but it’s not where I live anymore.
3 Ways to Deal With Grief While Balancing Life as A Mom
- Schedule your grief. This may sound a bit odd to some people, but for those mom’s who have gone full force into motherhood, you’ll know that unless you actually make time to feel your feelings – they kind of get buried in the pile of laundry, dishes and toys. Make time (whenever you feel it) to express your grief.
- Be present in moments that matter. Another part of “scheduling” grief is not letting it steal moments you can’t ever get back. I found that the time when I thought of my dad the most was when I was feeding my son his evening bottle before bed.Everything was quiet and the chaos of the day was done – and it was really the first time my mind had in that day to think about anything – and most of the time that “anything” was my dad. But I was missing those beautiful quiet moments with my son – so I started making myself relive a particularly happy moment with my baby so I could direct my attention to him.The day he was born, his first bottle, his first bath, the first time my sister held him…forcing myself to remember those moments brought me back to my baby and away from the grief so I could cherish that time with my son
- End your grieving moments with ONE happy memory of that person/thing you’re grieving. After I’ve had my cry (which can go from silent tears to heart-wrenching sobs on my bathroom floor), I make myself relive a happy memory from my dad (similar to the ones I make myself remember of my son).A person’s memory is such a powerful thing, and associating your lost loved one with a happy memory allows you to end your little grief session in a way that makes you happy for the time you had with that person. It’s important to feel the hurt, but the hurt isn’t all there is.
If you’re reading this, dealing with grief and/or trying to navigate the early stages of motherhood – I want to share something. I’m not going to say it’ll get better because maybe it won’t.
But what I do know (from personal experience and human nature) is that YOU will get BETTER. You will get stronger, you will adapt. Just as you’ve adapted to motherhood (from the first time your baby fell down and you cried, to now when you assure him he’s okay) – you will adapt to this new life on the other end of the hallway of grief.