I've been commanded and reminded a hundred times to stay as far away as I can from the septic cesspool that is the comments section of posts online; and I've disobeyed and rebelled mores times than I want to admit because I have a sick curiosity like that, only to come away from the experience dripping with the horror that is other people’s opinions formulated over one microscopic sliver of a fraction of an entire story.
The problem with being published in a place like The Washington Post and having the chronicles of my grief reach a wider audience is, of course, lending my broken heart to exposure to a sea of people who won’t get it. I am not for everyone; I know this. Nor are you, nor is any one of us. This is okay; this is something I accept and respect.
It’s just that… candid judgment from one stranger to another blows my mind. I've never understood the motivation that exists behind a person's decision to condemn a complete stranger as though they're not a living, thinking, breathing, feeling human being on the receiving end of their words. I’m not a name printed on a webpage that you’re staring at on your monitor or your smartphone. I'm the owner of a broken, beating heart who's doing their utmost to get their story heard if only to remind just one other person on this living planet that they are loved, and that they are far from alone. This isn’t something that should even need to be said.
The first comment I saw just made me roll my eyes. It was something along the lines of, "Oh, you think you've got it bad? I have four kids and I'm a single mother. Quit complaining." Well, mama, this isn’t the Suffering Olympics, so not only do I heave every last ounce of my empathy and compassion onto you over what I can only imagine is a struggle too heavy for any one person to have to handle, but I’m just trying to get by in my own boat. We’re two little dinghies passing in the night — yours is full of kids, mine’s only got one.
Someone responded this person, and reminded her that this was an essay about my grief and the loss of a future I thought I'd have. And this woman's retort? "Go buy a baby then."
...K? Can't, but thanks...?
The comments only got worse from there. They threw me overboard. I am told that the way I talked about my daughter was absolutely horrendous; that I am ungrateful, that I complain about everything, that I don't appreciate anything I have, and that I'm nothing but resentful. I'm told that I am silly to have made being a one-child family situation out to appear difficult, when in reality it is nowhere near such a thing.
(Or, am I told this at all? I should rephrase that, perhaps, because I hasten to believe that any of those commenters would ever say a single thing if they were looking me square in the tear-filled eyes).
I should never have been made to feel like a bad mother, an ungrateful woman or a presumptuous and judgmental piece of trash — but I was. Don't read the comments, they said. But I did.
I never once meant to communicate through my online presence or through my daily life any ounce of ungratefulness, resentment toward my sweet, growing girl, or lack of appreciation in the slightest for the hand I’ve been dealt — only the opposite. The loss of my second child and my subsequent infertility diagnosis did nothing if not cement within me an all-pervasive knowing that what I have is nothing short of a miracle and not for a moment to be tossed carelessly to the side.
However: am I broken and bereaved? Yes. Do I mourn the loss of the life I thought I’d have? Yes. Does each milestone my babe hits remind me a thousand times over that she’s on this path alone due to circumstances I could not control? And subsequently, do I blame myself for all of it? One thousand times yes. But the life and presence of one does not negate the absence or loss of another. (Apple, meet orange.)
My essay wasn't about how much I love my daughter, how well I love her, or how fervently the roots of my heart are coiled around hers. The Washington Post won’t pay me (or you) to write a piece about the extent to which I adore my offspring. What they paid me to do, instead, was to write a piece about my grief — about the ways in which I struggle as a mother of one, as a woman who's lost a baby, and who's had the last nail hammered into a coffin she was tossed in by a team of medical professionals at a clinic on the other side of town. This was a personal account of a very personal experience that's torn my heart out of my chest and left it barely beating on the floor.
This is my story. It is not yours. Nor it is a projection on or a judgement of your life, your family or your choices. This is not your grief, your hardship or your struggle. It is not your loss, your heart or your account.
Don't read the comments, they said. I didn't listen, and I should have.
Here's something I need to make abundantly clear: there is nothing — and I mean nothing — on the face of this planet that gives me more joy, more satisfaction, more gratitude or more purpose than does being the mother of my child. She's a walking miracle; I've said it before, and I'll say it until I'm blue in the face. I don't believe that her existence was something ever owed to me or something I was ever entitled to. I live and breathe that girl. We kiss on the lips. We swap germs. We bathe together. We squeeze each other’s hands when we're out on a walk. We read each other's lips and minds. She lays on my chest to listen to my "heartbeep" and I hold her head in my hands while I breathe in her sweet and perfect smell. She and I are nothing without the other. I'll be coursing through her veins every day of her life; and with her I will stay when we're both gone. Even should the day come that she curses my existence, swears she hates me, sneaks behind my back or does every heinous thing she can think of just to spite me, I will be there. I will wait. I will love, and I will never leave.
I knew not the depth of love or human connection until she flew out of my body and nestled softly in my arms. But this is parenthood. Being a mother, being a father, being a caregiver of any kind is unspeakably hard work. It will always be that way. No perfect gadget, no miracle solution and no secret life hack will ever eliminate the intimate intricacies that exist between a parent and their child. So to not allow me the space to be honest about every facet of my journey is garbage. I won’t stoop to that.
I have wept a thousand tears over my exasperation and my exhaustion; my daughter knows every one of my buttons and can play me like a fiddle. I've yelled, I've sworn, I've stomped my feet and I've lowered myself to those toddler tantrums just in a last-ditch attempt to be seen, heard and obeyed. Haven't we all? Of this we are not proud; but we are undoubtedly guilty. I won't be shamed for my pain, my struggle or any other aspect of my story — it is mine, end of story.
So remind me, oh broken and beeping heart, that I am everything I need to be; that I offer that girl of mine more than she could ever need in a lifetime; and that I am the wellspring of love that I believe myself to be.
And tell them, dear broken and beeping heart, that I am so much more than one essay or a hundred essays on my grief. Tell them that while I am wretched and wrecked, I am so abundantly joy-filled and bowled over daily by the blessing that is my only living child.
Or, on second thought, ever broken and beeping heart, tell them nothing at all. They don’t need to know.