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A Former Self

How loss led to a long absence and the turbulent path to discovering the real me

By Jessie WaddellPublished 2 years ago 8 min read
Photo by Vlad Bagacian from Pexels

I knew I was going to lose my first baby before it happened.

I’ve struggled with mental health long enough to be able to tell the difference between anxiety and intuition. Anxiety is an irrational fear. Intuition is instinctive knowing.

I knew. With the 20/20 hindsight I now possess, it’s even more clear.

Pregnancy isn’t always comfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful. The first time there was only pain—back pain, hip pain, cramp pain… followed by heart pain, soul pain and grief pain.

Pain that pulled me further and further away from the person I was before it happened.

When the bleeding started, I wasn’t shocked. It was confirmation of something I had been denying. Pleading with something or someone floating in the Ether that might have the power to change the course before it came to fruition.

People don’t really know how to support grief when they can’t see or feel the thing that is missing. So the only person who feels the weight of the loss is the person who carries the invisible missing piece. I began to withdraw, slowly but surely, morphing into someone that convinced herself “it wasn’t the right time” and that there were “other things I still needed to do with my life”.

We lie the best when we lie to ourselves.

In truth, I felt like a tremendous failure. I was overcome with the urge to do what my anxious self does best—avoid.

I wanted to pack up and start fresh. Leave my life, my home, my husband… and I very nearly did.

Nobody tells you how difficult being physically intimate becomes after you lose a child. At least for me, it was. In my mind, that became the catalyst for pain. Sex = getting pregnant. Getting pregnant = pain, trauma, loss….

That’s anxiety for you.

Does it count as a one night stand when you’re married? That’s what it felt like. After months of essentially being roommates, one night of alcohol fuelled bedroom antics resulted in two obvious pink lines on a small plastic stick.

Of course, I knew then too. Before I took the test. The dates didn’t align. Everything had always been like clockwork for me in that area. And yet, something in the pit of my gut said, “you’re pregnant….”

Ah, intuition. My old friend.

And then the strangest occurrence—instead of panic, anxiety or fear, I felt a wave of complete calm wash over me when I held the positive test in my hands. The gut feeling returned, “you’re pregnant… and it’s all going to work out this time….”

The first trimester was relatively smooth sailing. I was horrendously ill, but that was a good sign. Emotionally, my husband and I were closer than we had been in a long time. Physically… well, you try vomiting 24/7 and see how desirable you feel. Still, I felt positive. I felt calm. I felt blissful.

12 weeks. Perfect scan.

14 weeks. Announce it to the world.

16 weeks. The bleeding starts, as does the anxiety.

They talk a lot about women’s mental health postpartum. But perinatal anxiety and depression are far less discussed. As someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, I was already at a higher risk, but couple that with a history of loss and my second pregnancy became an incredibly dark period in my life.

The final six months of my pregnancy are a blur. Most of it was blocked out due to the post-traumatic stress disorder that developed alongside the anxiety and depression. I remember bleeding often, extra scans, a preterm labour scare, but most of all, I remember no one being able to give me any answers.

“We don’t know where the bleeding is coming from, but the baby is healthy….”

I remember clinging on to that initial feeling of calm knowing that washed over me when I found out. I told myself that was the truth. That was the intuition, and the rest was circumstantial fear made worse by historical events and a mental predisposition.

On the good days. It helped. I managed to function somewhere in the realm of human.

On the bad days, it felt like it would be easier not to be alive than to continue dealing with the constant overwhelming fear that something awful would happen to the tiny person growing and kicking and living inside me.

I shut off, and I shut everyone out. For the last three months, I spoke only to my husband and my mother. I was so lost in the vortex of my warped consciousness I didn’t even realise my grandfather was dying—A regret I will have to live with for the rest of my life.

In April 2020, they locked us down in Australia. It was the peak of Covid-19, and restrictions were at their harshest.

My grandfather was admitted to the hospital a week before my due date.

I gave birth via emergency caesarean after a traumatic induction and lengthy labour at 4 pm on my due date — the 10th of April. They sent my husband home at 8 pm on the 10th of April. No visitors. No support.

They moved my grandfather into the room next door.

For the next 24 hours, I took comfort in the brief sightings of my family, who were allowed in outside of visiting hours on compassionate grounds. I took my first post-op steps with my new baby into the next room and introduced her to her great grandfather.

At 8 pm on the 11th of April, they sent my husband home again. At 8:15 pm, he returned to our room, having been stopped by my mother and grandmother on the way out to tell me my grandfather had passed away.

I cried briefly. Then pulled myself together and looked at my new baby. I pushed the pain as far down as I could force it because I didn’t have time to be sad.

I mean… This should be the happiest time of my life….

But that was the problem. I was floating somewhere in limbo between absolute joy and complete devastation. The result was that I became numb.

I brought a baby into a world where she couldn’t meet her family. I sat in a church with nine socially distanced people that should have been overflowing to farewell someone I loved dearly while my husband and ten-day-old baby watched it at home via Facebook Live.

I wasn’t even a shell of my former self. I was completely lost.

Slowly, the world began to open up again. But I stayed closed for far longer than was reasonable.

I was possessive, over-protective and paranoid when it came to my daughter. The thought of going out into the world was terrifying. I couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to her, and my skewed view of things identified anything and everything as a potential threat or hazard.

But I was also deeply depressed and grieving the loss of my old life. I wanted to go back as far as possible, to before I knew what it was to care about something more than I cared about myself. It was too much responsibility—too overwhelming to be solely responsible for the survival of a whole other person.

I couldn’t tell you when exactly it changed.

Maybe it was the first smile or laugh. Maybe it was the first outing where nothing terrible happened. Maybe it was the first time I reached the end of the day and thought, “Hey… maybe you’re not so bad at this after all….”

But at some point, I came back. I reentered the land of the living.

I stopped dwelling on the past and wishing for things that couldn’t be. Instead, I embraced the right now. I looked in the mirror and started to recognise the face looking back at me in the reflection for the first time in what felt like forever.

It stopped feeling weird when people referred to me as “Mum”. And it felt completely wonderful the day my daughter said it for herself.

I recognised that the ‘old me’ wasn’t worth missing. I thought I was strong and independent, and successful. In truth, I was selfish and arrogant and working myself to the bone to climb the corporate ladder for reasons I still can’t articulate.

Life became exponentially better when I embraced being a mother. And then took another giant leap forward when I made the decision to take up writing—the first thing I’ve done entirely for myself, ever.

The ‘new me’. The phoenix or lotus or whatever other clichés you want to use. She is worth nurturing. She is compassionate, empathetic and balanced. She recognises how much of herself to give and how much to take. She can articulate exactly why she does what she does— Passion, purpose, joy, fulfilment and love.

She is a mother, and she is a writer. My daughter saved my life, but writing saved my soul. It was the combination of the two-selves that formed the ultimate balance.

The absence was long and painful. The two year period was full of more trauma, loss, grief, anxiety and depression than had culminated in the collective 27 years prior.

The reentry was turbulent, and the landing was far from smooth.

But if this were the end result, I’d do it all again. Because for the first time, I can say without reservation, I am happy, and I am exactly where I’m meant to be, doing exactly what I’m meant to do.


About the Creator

Jessie Waddell

I have too many thoughts. I write to clear some headspace. | Instagram: @thelittlepoet_jw |

"To die, would be an awfully big adventure"—Peter Pan | Vale Tom Brad

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