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ALONE: Memories Intensify with COVID-19

For those of us who were sent away to maternity homes or to stay with strangers to give birth alone, this time of isolation because of Covid 19 might be, either consciously or unconsciously, triggering intensely painful memories. Initial news stories focused on the horror of people having to die alone. I found my heart breaking, as I imagined the utter loneliness they must have felt. Then the media began talking about women having to give birth alone without their partners or family with them, and that’s when I couldn’t get rid of the flashbacks to when I gave birth forsaken and surrounded by strangers. What opened me up to remembering wasn’t the news stories themselves, but the compassion with which they were told – compassion we were never given.

That compassion allowed me to see with fresh eyes the utter inhumanity with which we were treated. Layers of denial are there to protect our hearts so that we may function, then something comes along that pulls the veils away and pierces the soul.

I hope by writing this I’m not reopening old wounds. My intention is to validate anyone who is either consciously aware of or not understanding an overly intense reaction to our current imposed isolation, which actually has so many parallels to the isolation forced upon us, when we transgressed society by becoming pregnant out of wedlock. First, we were cut off from all our loved ones, who might have given us support. We spent endless, dreary days waiting for our confinement to be over. Even if we did go out, there was uncertainty – not like now that we could possibly catch a virus, but would someone see us or would we be shamed? There was so much uncertainty about what we were really facing, both during the birth of our child and what our life would be like afterward, just as there is now. What will life be like after the virus can be a question that intensifies from the past anxiety of having to fit back into our old life with a horrible secret, and which has changed our lives forever. Everything seems helplessly out of our control now, as it was then.

Often, earthquakes, 9/11 and other disasters tend to throw into stark relief the need to reconnect with the children we’ve lost to adoption, if we haven’t met them yet. Natural motherly instinct needs to know they are all right, and is painful when thwarted. Or, the realization that we aren’t really guaranteed the time to wait becomes apparent. For those who have been rejected, it can be a difficult time when we can’t make a reassuring phone call.

Perhaps more than anything, this virus intensifies our memories of loss, not just the terrible loss of our babies, but almost as crippling the loss of our way of life before, the loss of time from our confinement, and the loss of the future we had counted on. Who we were before this virus took over, our hopes and dreams will never be the same.

Our grief was never acknowledged, and the toll on us is hard to imagine. Throughout time, the importance of communal grieving has been recognized as a way to help the mourning to heal. Yet, we grieved alone. Without compassionate support, grief and sorrow becomes buried deep in our hearts and lingers there sapping our souls. Maybe what is triggering us now is our unresolved grief. If that is the case, this time of isolation might be a good time to finally grieve our terrible loss, give ourselves the compassion we never got.

“Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground,” Oscar Wilde wrote during his imprisonment. Those who have not experienced deep sorrow will not understand those words, he said, but they will not know anything about life until they do.

Grief and sorrow deepens us and creates a sacred wound that forces us to look beyond our superficial understanding of what life is all about. We are forced to explore fearful feelings of abandonment, terror, anger and loneliness and reach deep into our souls for wisdom and enlightenment in order to survive. Life is then seen through eyes that are far more discerning.

Only a heart that knows deep sorrow is capable of profound love. Then our great losses will have meaning. Now we don’t have to grieve alone. We can grieve together.


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