I once had a job, not long ago, working directly with pregnant and postpartum moms, and their children. Occasionally, my coworker, who frequently combed the obituaries, would bring in to work a tattered clipping for a baby or small child. “One of ours,” she’d say. My coworkers and I would huddle in our meeting space trying to fathom what could have happened. Sometimes, I could identify what likely happened: “Oh, that baby was a 24 weeker,” or “heart defect.” (I followed all the high risk cases). Occasionally, a staff member would offer up that the mother had risk factors for SIDS. Or there had been a house fire or car accident. Other times we just didn’t have a clue.
I would think (and sometimes say aloud), If my child died, I would die too,* or be admitted to a mental hospital.
But when my child’s heart stopped, mine kept on beating, though the physical ache was real. Checking in to a mental hospital would only separate me from my husband and living daughter; it wouldn’t bring back my baby.
Worldwide, across cultures, people endure unfathomable tragedies. They survive, and they build meaningful and joyful lives despite trauma. This is resilience. In Option B Sandberg and Grant discuss the three P’s (coined by Martin Sligman) which prevent someone from reclaiming their life after trauma.
Personalization: Self-blame. It’s my fault that my baby died. If only I had paid closer attention to her movements. If only I had sought more ultrasounds.
Pervasiveness: When tragedy infiltrates into every aspect of our life. I failed to keep my baby alive, therefore I’m not a good mom to my living child. I’m not a good wife. I’m not a good employee. I’m not a good friend.
Permanence: Feeling as though the severity of the trauma will never end. I am never going to feel better. For the rest of my living days, I will always be the mother of a dead baby and there is nothing I can do to change that fact.
I am still working on the three Ps. I’m not certain that my heart is truly indestructible. It feels quite shattered, actually.
*When I say I thought I would die, I’m not referring to suicide. I’m referring to the belief that I would stop existing if my child died. If you are contemplating suicide, please know that there is help available. For countries outside the United States, click here.
What do you think about the three P’s? Have you built resilience? Is your heart indestructible?