The mental load of normal mothering is hard enough. But when you add in loss or infertility, the load seems endless.
“Next year, he’s going to plan at least one of the parties from start to finish …” I found myself ruminating as I frantically pulled together the last minute items before guests began arriving. This was the fourth of my five birthday parties I needed to plan in just three months, with Christmas right in the middle.
My husband offered to help when I clearly expressed my need. Yet I was irritated that day not because he wasn’t doing his part, but because I was tired of having to micromanage every single detail. I was feeling the burden of the mental load.
This mental load, which is now widely accepted in Western culture, represents all the invisible tasks, micro decisions, information gathering, communication, scheduling and resource allocation that makes up household management. Statistically, the burden of the mental load falls predominantly on women.
But this week, with the last of this year’s party almost complete, I found myself bearing a different mental load … The one a loss mother carries with her all the time.
Two years out from the birth of my rainbow, and forever done with pregnancy, I’m feeling disconnected from my losses. At times, it feels like that season of recurrent loss and infertility happened to another version of me.
And yet when I stumbled upon an article that actually could have explained some of my losses, it dawned on me … I’m still carrying the mental load of loss.
I’m still trying to put the pieces together.
The need to understand why we struggled with loss and infertility still drives my Google searches, the articles I choose to read, the research I do from my phone with my rainbow sleeping at my chest. It’s as though there’s this insatiable drive to understand and make sense of the unthinkable. And it’s always spinning in my subconscious brain, just waiting to be flicked on again by something I stumble onto. A word. A story. A news article. A FB post. And on it goes.
Often that means I’m trying to make sense of my medical history — and prognosis — without a medical degree.
What few people acknowledge is that pregnancy loss is a health issue in as much as it is a loss issue. When loss happens, it affects — and concurrently is affected by — two people’s bodies. So loss, and especially recurrent loss, should be viewed by doctors as a women’s health issue.
And we get pieces of information that seem to offer a piece of the puzzle, such as articles about PCOS, or natural killer cells, or autoimmunity, or genetic conditions. But we lack the medical education that would take these pieces and complete the puzzle. We’re missing the ability to put our losses into the context of what this means for our health and the rest of our children’s health.
So we bear the mental load of figuring out what may have contributed to our loss, how we could prevent it in future pregnancies, and how that issue may affect us down the road.
We write down that number we all hate — our pregnancies versus live births — on every form for every doctor. It’s painful, for sure. But it’s there for a reason. Our losses could be a symptom of a greater issue.
And so we fight to find doctors who will listen to our concerns, order appropriate tests, and take necessary precautions.
Finding a doctor who does not dismiss you or talk down to you because you are a woman is hard enough. Finding a doctor who will go to bat for you, and will actually look at your losses not as unfortunate and unimportant events but as key pieces to your health, pieces that deserve an answer is ridiculously hard.
And when you begin trying to conceive after loss, going to specialists after loss, or are pregnant after loss — finding the right provider adds substantially to the mental load.
Like getting references from friends who are happy with their doctors and obtaining referrals from the providers you already have. Calling to check on who is in-network, and double-checking your benefits. Interviewing doctors, and then deciding who can offer you the best care with the fewest amount of unnecessary triggers.
RELATED: Finding an OB After Pregnancy Loss
But trying to secure answers to our own health and to our children’s (or future children’s) is just one part of the load we carry as loss moms.
Truly, our list could be endless …
- Researching support groups to find the one that best suits our needs.
- Finding books, articles, and other resources to help us navigate our grief. (As well as resources for our partners).
- Staying up-to-date on all the latest “threats” to our living children’s health (dry-drowning, anyone?). Then making sure we stay vigilant to try to prevent the worst from happening (again).
- Creating a legacy for our child, and ensuring their memory lives on.
- Navigating social events and pruning the relationships that can’t seem to handle our grief or even our current state of pregnant or parenting after loss.
- Working as not only a postpartum mother, but as a grieving postpartum mother — literally working around maternity leave and bereavement leave.
- Updating our wardrobes constantly depending on our state of pregnancy, infertility, postpartum or nursing bodies — whether we have a child in our arms or not.
- Deciding what to do with all the baby things we’ll never use. All the cards people send our way. All the flowers that have dried up and the trees still growing in the front yard of our rental.
- Honoring the important dates. Lighting a candle at the right time. Saying their names.
- Managing all the appointments that come with loss.
- Working with our partner to decide if we want a service, and if so, what kind.
- Communicating on our social media accounts — how much to share? And to whom?
- Managing our own grief, anxiety or depression through self-care, therapy, or at times, medication.
- Watching our sleeping child breath in and out, in and out, until we literally cannot keep our eyes open for another second — only for them to fling open hours later, convinced the worst happens while we slept.
- Inviting family and friends to attend the important events for our family. Healing after they speak unintended, but hurtful words.
- Drumming up happiness for a friend who announces a pregnancy when that announcement brings up all sort of unpleasant feelings or pain.
- Changing our diet just in case that helps.
- Adding medication, and then remembering to take it, day in and out.
Like I said … this list could be endless.
Perhaps the experience of our loss is not one that we ever get over, or even get through.
Perhaps it creates in us, even at times so subtly we don’t recognize it, and an undercurrent of expectation. A felt obligation to make sure we and our family don’t suffer loss again. And to make surewe handle the fallout from our loss with love and care.
Perhaps it ups the ante of our mothering.
And while we carry our mental load as women, wives, and mothers — we add to it the inexhaustible mental load of a loss mom.
Which part of your mental load are you feeling today? Which do you wish your partner, family or friends understood you were carrying?