Our family is taking a bit of a leap, and our daughter “Stitch” is starting preschool at two and a half. It has gotten increasingly challenging to work from home and give Stitch the attention she needs. These sorts of transitions can be challenging to the most normal of families. But, loss parents often have an extra layer of anxiety (and guilt and fear and other “stuff”) to manage during big transitions.
Advocating for our Needs
I’ve learned since our loss that in order to advocate for myself, which enables me to better advocate for my daughter, I need to let people know where I’m at so they can meet me there. It validates my experience as a loss mom and helps me feel less like a completely neurotic mom. And it gives the other person context that will help them work with our family.
I’ve used this coping strategy with doctors, childcare providers, and even family and friends. When you let people know what you need, it opens communication and allows for a much more productive relationship.
We just recently found this school after discovering our daughter wouldn’t make it off the wait list at our first choice. Since we have only had a short time before the first day of school, I’ve struggled to know just how much to share with the school about our family’s story. I had hoped there would be a spot on the registration or enrollment form to list siblings, giving an opening for that conversation, but there was not.
She’s Not an Only Child
At parenting orientation last week, we stayed a bit after the other parents left so I could chat with the director and her two teachers. It was the first time I was meeting one of the teachers. I wanted to give them a little more background about our daughter’s gross motor lag, and I had intended to share our loss with them, to give them context to my extra level of mama worry.
But, as I said, “I just wanted to go over this with you. I’m a little extra of a worrier because…” the director jumped in with a joking, “Oh, have another! That will make that go away.”
My heart sank. Stitch is the “another.” There will not be “another” after her.
I gave a fake laugh, gathered my things, and we left. We headed to pick up our daughter, and chatted for a while with our dear friends who had watched her during orientation. I was able to vent and share what had happened. I even defended the director a bit. How could she have known? She didn’t mean anything by the comment. It stung, yes, but I try to give people grace. There was no malicious intent.
Triggers and Landmines Everywhere
Unfortunately, life after loss is full of landmines. We can’t lock ourselves in our houses and cut ourselves off from any interaction just to avoid all potential landmines. That’s no way to live.
Honestly, this applies to more than just life after loss. Any sort of hardship comes with landmines to navigate and avoid. Simple interactions in the line at the grocery store can trigger all sorts of emotions and reactions. It’s unrealistic to expect ourselves and others to consider every possible scenario before asking, “How many kids do you have?” or, “What do you do for work?” when just trying to make conversation.
But, I realized with this situation, not only do I need to give the director grace, I need to give myself grace. I’ve developed this coping strategy because it works for me. I need the people I work with to know that our firstborn, our son, died. I feel it’s important context for having a meaningful relationship with our family.
And, so, before school starts this Wednesday, I’ll be sending a quick email to the director and my daughter’s two teachers to tell them about Stitch’s big brother, Patrick. I’ll explain that because of this loss, we have an extra layer of anxiety beyond the typical first-time parents (because we’re really second-time parents, even if does not appear that way). Hopefully, this will give them a glimpse of the leap we’re making to share our daughter with them, to entrust them with her care.
School is a new exciting adventure for our daughter, for us. I hope by sharing our family’s full story that they will understand what we bring to this new adventure. We really like this school, the teachers, and the director, and we’d like to see our daughter spend her preschool years there. So, we’ll work to give them the whole picture of our family, in order to open the lines of communication and have a productive relationship.
Just the First of Many Big Transitions
This experience is really only the beginning of big transitions with our daughter. We want her to thrive. We still have so much to learn about navigating parenting after loss. Just when I think it’s getting easier, we have a new transition to navigate. Hopefully, we will strike the right balance and through this experience we’ll learn the most effective way to share our son as Stitch makes her way through the school years.