“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” –Mike Tyson
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” –Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
“Oh Harold, that’s wonderful. Go and love some more.” –“Harold and Maude”, movie written by Colin Higgins, line performed by Ruth Gordon.
FYI– this is NOT going to be a post about the futility of plans.
I am as fond of plan-making as the next person and I have a lot of admiration for the planners extraordinaire who walk into my office. Many of those women and men have developed and executed plan after plan in their lives. They are often impressive plans. Some people have gone to graduate school, some have found fulfillment in volunteer work, some have traveled extensively, some have developed exciting and rewarding careers and some have done all of the above.
The plans we make show something about us. They are our articulated hopes and intentions that we may have been lucky and motivated enough to manifest. The plans we make about our babies are particularly special. These plans tend to involve our most tender feelings of love, hope and a desire to care for someone. They are far reaching, shiny, and beautiful. They involve dreaming on a big scale for something dear– a conjuring of a new person and beloved family member. And when the plans go awry, when we lose our babies, our world gets a little dimmer in a particularly painful way.
Getting punched in the face (and I’m going to go with baby loss as a metaphorical face punch), as Mike Tyson points out, doesn’t put us in the best place to think about plans. We are hurt and knocked off course. We get taken to a different level of experience. Some energy is shifted away from thinking and put into feeling. We stagger back and reevaluate what we have sent out into the world. Stunned and wounded, we wonder what’s next.
When confronted with the grief of baby loss, we often want to jump right back into planning mode. We look for the fast track of grief, the short cut, the best way of doing it. After all, we know how to get things done. If only we could think or plan our way out of pain. If only we could get some assurance of how long, how challenging this road will be and then get to the finish line as soon as possible.
I think at the juncture of being thrown into the grief of baby loss, a moratorium on planning is in order. At least a temporary ban on heavy lifting types of planning. This can be really hard to do. Anxiety and desire to move on to some other experience may drive you to want to keep planning. The pain may feel unbearable.
Realistic concerns about wanting to try again soon for another pregnancy due to age or other factors may also be occupying your mind. You may just be terrified of stopping and feeling. These are all understandable worries. And some distractions, denial and other ways of getting through your day are fine and may be really important. But I do think grief is an experience where it’s really true that “you can run, but you can’t hide”. Some wandering in the pain without looking for the exit is necessary.
So what would I suggest you do instead of rushing to make more plans? I would start with spending some time breathing into your pain and uncertainty. (Sorry if that sounds too groovy but literal breathing while feeling something is the gist here.) I would encourage a respectful mental bow to the you that invested, that tried, that gave your heart to something so lovely. The innocent you that didn’t know you were going to end up here deserves a moment of reverence.
Spend time remembering your pregnancy or your baby as much and in whatever way is right for you. For many people, finding ways to honor their babies is a lifelong priority and this is a good time to start. It’s also a way to honor yourself and your ability to love.
Pretty soon you’ll start working on some new plans. That’s what we do. We move toward the future by zig zagging in the way we think will help us get to the place we think we want to be headed.
You may be especially fearful that your next plan may not work out. You may be especially aware of how wonderful it might be if it does. You may know that you have been changed by letting yourself have plans that were big enough to fail and still matter. But when you’re ready, your head and heart will tug at you again, leading you toward something worth the risk.