Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing the monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.
When I first read this quote after Hugo’s death I imagined that letting go of the monkey bars would entail violent means. The bar I was clinging on to, however precarious, however painful was safe. Letting go, I thought, would result in not moving forward to the next bar, but falling in to a swamp full of hungry crocodiles.
As time has gone on I have discovered that letting go, that moving forward, is possible.
I can live with my grief. I can hold its hand, rather than continue that exhausting struggle with it digging its claws in to my back.
Lately I have found myself feeling contemplative. Thinking about what life as mum to a healthy energetic three year old would be like – had my pregnancy gone ‘to plan’. Thinking about, had Hugo survived his premature birth what my life would be like with a young child who would undoubtedly have special needs and disabilities.
Thinking, too about decisions made earlier in my adult life. Younger Leigh was encumbered with low confidence and self-esteem: thinking back I want to go and give her a good talking to. Had such a conversation been possible would I have made different decisions? What would my life be like? Would I have lots of living children?
These are the kind of ‘Sliding Doors’ questions we probably all ask ourselves from time to time. For me, these are questions prompted not just by the grief, but they are also probably just as much related to my impending milestone birthday – 40, since you asked (hello, mid-life crisis!).
The point is, of course, that I will never know the answer to these questions. What I do know is that I am here now. That things are what they are.
My experiences since becoming dangerously ill at 24 weeks’ pregnant; since Hugo’s very premature birth and death have shaped me in to who I am now.
We all evolve and change throughout our lives, of course: but trauma and loss rips open a chasm, leads you down paths not of your own choosing. For much of the past three years I have struggled with my successes, knowing that the life, the confidence, empowerment, joie de vivre I have is as a result of not having Hugo.
As a word geek, I reflect on my choice of word in the paragraph above: I have been shaped by my experiences. Those experiences do not define me.
I grieve for Hugo, grieve for Leigh the empty-armed mother, and I grieve for the younger Leigh. I also celebrate the fact that I am able to realise my potential, unwrap the layers and be my true authentic self, be who I always knew I could be if only I was not so shy, reserved, afraid. I celebrate that I have a bright future, that I am alive, especially with the thought that it might be otherwise whether because of HELLP syndrome, or from the dark places in which I languished during the worst times.
Slowly but surely I have been moving along the monkey bars. Tentatively at first lifting my fingers from one bar, and shifting my hands on to the next.
Internal steps involve accepting my post-traumatic growth, as the formal term goes referring to a “…positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning.”
Visible steps include amending my Twitter bio: no longer does it lead with ‘Hugo’s Mummy’. I am and always will be Hugo’s proud mummy – removing that does not mean I love him or miss him any less.
No longer shy and reserved, I am celebrating who I am, what I can do, my impact upon the world. I am creating, coaching, influencing, and changing as my new Twitter bio proudly proclaims.
Grief and PTSD ensure I still have my bad days. Those bad days are often made worse by years of entrenched negative self-belief, but I am better able to say to myself that “this too shall pass.” I hope to never slip back in to the terrifying darkness that was my life even as recently as less than a year ago.
Possibly life is like one never-ending series of monkey bars. Again, who knows. But now I feel able to let go to have a look. The worst has already happened, and the future is looking bright.