Two days before Mother’s Day, I visited a friend and workmate in hospital who had a surgery to remove her nasal polyps, she wasn’t breathing right. So, the hope was that this surgery would get her to have sniffer dog abilities. The visit went as any hospital visit goes, the patient narrates how they got here, how the surgery went and now what is needed for after care. A prayer here and a song of praise there for making it through. One of the complaints she had was hunger, it seemed there was a miscommunication between the kitchen staff and her so she hadn’t eaten for 24hours. This hospital is within my home area so I offered to send her breakfast to at least begin her day. I left the room, briskly walking to the lift, the doors opened and I was the only one in, yaaay, A win. I can’t stand that awkwardness in lifts, to greet or to not to greet and look away or at one’s shoes.
My excitement was short lived as the lift stopped at the next floor, a pregnant woman walked in, all bubbly and chatty. “Hello, Good morning, how are you?” she asked, I contemplated whether to engage or act like I hadn’t heard her, but my guilty conscious kicked in and I replied, “I’m well/ Yourself? How far along are you?” She responded, “we are doing OK, I am 8 months, last stretch.” My eyes started sweating! To explain this reaction to her would have been an overshare but loo and behold tears started rolling down my eyes and I could feel my legs were about to give way but I had to suppress all the emotions running through me.
She looked at me with so much concern, and I was saved by opening doors. I ran out of there, out into the basement and out onto the street. The brisk walk became a slight trot and before I knew it I was five minutes from my home. I don’t know how I had moved over three Kilometers without being aware of my surroundings. How did I cross the roads?
I got home, and run to my room, locked the door behind me and bawled out crying. I can’t explain what exactly I was feeling but I regressed to 25th December 2017, Christmas morning when my water broke and I lay on the same tiles in the same bathroom confused, unaware of what was about to become my new title: bereaved mum. Three days later, my 8-month baby Keitangaza would breath her last breathe having lived out of my womb for four hours. I beat myself up about allowing this pregnant lady triggering me because I thought I had crossed that bridge. I had ticked that particular box off, along with attending baby showers, carrying babies only left with visiting the hospital she had died in and walking into baby shops. When this happened, I knew I had regressed, something had come undone.
I sent my therapist a message and asked for an emergency session because I didn’t know what was going on. All these 6 years, I seemed to be healing forward, what was this regression. Why was I triggered into a panic? My therapist is in South Africa, time difference is something we have to consider seeing as I am in Uganda. She scheduled it for that evening, in the meantime she told me to use the tools, breathing exercises and write in my journal. This is all gravy when you can hear yourself think, but when one is in darkness it’s easier said than done. I lay on those bathroom tiles and practiced deep breathing exercises till I could hear my heart beat. Then I walked to my work desk and pulled out my journal and did a brain dump which is basically, just offloading any and all thoughts on a piece of paper and hope that it makes sense when you return to it later.
I went off to make breakfast for my friend and sent it to her.
Later that evening, my therapist reminded me that healing is not linear. Wounds don’t close up fully, there’s time we can scratch them or put a strain on them and the stitch that was holding the wound closes back up and this is when we go back to the doctor to re-enforce the seal. Same with grief, when our mind can’t comprehend an emotion, it starts to erases it, and that eraser is where grief shows up to remind us, nope, this was part of your journey. Seeing the pregnant lady brought back a memory I had suppressed one of being 8 months pregnant. The visual had been erased, and that lift moment brought it back. I had to sit in that space and allow my 8-month pregnant self to have her moment of acknowledgement, when she was done, I thanked her and let go of the heaviness that had engulfed my physical being. Did I feel lighter afterwards? Yes, I did, however my mind now went on a seeker’s mission to find the why this happened.
As I walk this healing journey, I’m yet to find someone who has grasped the emotion of grief and her relatives, they don’t seem to be in unison some days they’re self-seeking, other days they’re truth saying. It’s definitely an emotion with dual or multiple facets.
Better an “oops” than a “what if”.
Denise Kekimuri Chantal is a perinatal bereavement advocate from Uganda.