On our first day in Buenos Aires, my husband and I were walking down a crowded pedestrian mall. Vendors promoting bus tours murmured in English and thrust fliers at us as we passed.
“You’re such a magnet,” my husband said to me in Spanish, rolling his eyes; my light hair and eyes sound the tourist alarm, as we know from many previous strolls in South America together.
This was his first time in Buenos Aires, though (my fifth) and we were more open than usual to guided tours and events. We only had three days to take in a large, beautiful city.
I chatted to Carlos about tango shows I had seen on previous visits here. A young woman immediately appeared at his left elbow. “Tango?” she offered with a smile, holding up a poster.
We stopped and listened as she explained: it was dinner and a show, with an optional free dance class beforehand. Typical for Argentina eating schedules, dinner was served at 10 p.m.
I watched as Carlos’ face registered interest, and thought of how we would normally jump at the offer (and prepare to haggle down the price). We love dancing, eating, and watching shows.
He looked at me; I steeled myself and said, “It would be too late for the baby.” Alicia looked up, big-cheeked and content, from the stroller. “Right,” responded Carlos.
“No, gracias,” I told the woman… and we kept walking.
Two nights later, we find ourselves, for the third night in a row, in a darkened Airbnb studio apartment in Buenos Aires, trying to soothe our baby to sleep.
Theories of why she is currently taking between 2.5-3 hours to get down at night abound: the white noise machine broke; our first night here we got in late; it’s a new place; she is teething.
Regardless of the reason, which we will never know, anyway, she is exhausted and so are we. We take turns rocking her and talking to her; she is distraught every time we put her back down.
My tireless husband lies on the bed with his hand in the crib, talking to Alicia. I perch in the bathroom, laptop balanced on the sink, trying to get through emails and tasks for my textbook.
The next time I poke my head out, wondering why it’s quiet and if Carlos has acquiesced and taken her out again, I see that he is in the crib with her, rubbing her back and reassuring her.
I stand there watching, resting my head on the doorframe for a moment. I knew my husband would be a dedicated and sweet father; let’s add this to the (ample) evidence that I was right.
It’s past midnight. I walk over to remind him we are due to give her another chance to soothe herself to sleep. Turning off the lights and getting into bed, we hear Alicia start to cry again.
Her cries turn to screams. The calm resignation that has characterized the last few hours is gone. We are impatient and frustrated; Carlos heads to the bathroom without saying a word.
I sit on the edge of the bed, my back, neck and arm aching as I cradle Alicia for another feed. I wonder if time this will do it. I see the glimmer of light from under the bathroom door and sigh.
This winter, when I was talking to my spiritual director about how different things felt in my marriage after having a baby, she responded by saying, “Well, you are grieving.”
I was startled to hear her use the word. No one has died… She sensed my question and continued,
“I hear you saying that you are grieving for the loss of your old relationship, the way you spent time together, the way things were. That’s fair. There has been a lot of change!”
Yes, there has. I miss my husband and our time together, our weekly date nights, our ability to walk out of the house because we feel like it, our uninterrupted focus on each other.
A couple months ago, I went to a restorative yoga and essential oils workshop on a Saturday afternoon. I missed a birthday party to be there; I was running on empty and needed to refill.
The poses were designed to be held for a long time without exerting yourself, to break through long-held tension in the body. It was hard for me to let go, but I gradually started to.
At the end of the class, I told the instructor that in almost every pose, the spot right at my breastbone, or sternum, ached. It felt more painful the more I opened up.
She looked at me thoughtfully - a stranger, without any idea of what was going on in my life - and said, “That could be grief.”
Frankincense essential oil in hand, I went home to try to be more present to my grief. My marriage hadn’t been on my mind or heart that morning. What else was up?
Cheryl Eckl writes that “the subtle loss of intangibles like status or our familiar place in the world are less easily understood or valued [than the death of a family member]. That lack of recognition can be very isolating. We may berate ourselves for being in grief over something that is ‘not really loss.’ And others may withdraw from us because they don't understand how deeply our world has been rocked.”
Yes - my world has been rocked, deeply.
And yes - I initially hesitated at the word “grief” because I have gained something, so this is “not really loss,” right? There is newness, a new presence, a new human, new life. We have gained a new family member.
The problem is thinking that with that gain comes only joy. Here I am susceptible to the “supposed to be happy” guilt. I have my healthy, happy baby so I cannot complain, right?
It’s both. The joys are there; the gratitude for the gift of my baby is overwhelming. There is also loss, that “Good Friday” part of the transition. Both are true. One doesn’t negate the other.
Grief is when you have lost something. What have I lost?
- a sense of control over my time
- a sense of control over my body
- the routines, intimacy, and conversation I shared with my partner
- a sense of freedom and personal independence
- predictability, especially scheduling meals and sleep
- an entire wardrobe, including the ability to wear my wedding rings and shoes
- a sense of professional productivity, status, purpose and accomplishment
That may not be a complete list, but it is a start.
This week, let’s add to the list:
- the kind of travel I used to enjoy with my husband, including late-night events
So here we are. The chubby baby finally falls asleep in my arms, exhausted. We collapse into bed; it is almost 1 a.m. and she will be up before dawn to eat.
We are a week away from arriving home and it’s hard not to wonder what the upcoming days of travel will bring. I try to stay present to right now.
Right now, I am in Argentina. My husband and I managed to get here with an infant and are taking in what we can of the city. We have had good food and seen some lovely sights.
We are forming into a new family unit. We still speak Spanish, explore, eat well and enjoy people watching. We tell Alicia about where we are and recall other places we have been.
When she falls asleep in the stroller and we walk along a lake together, it’s almost like it was before. We can forget, for a moment, that she’s there, and connect just the two of us.
No, there is no tango show, and there isn’t a lot of quality romantic time. This trip is different, and all trips will be, although I can't see now what it will look like years down the road.
We are here now. I am present to my feelings, and I also choose to move from scarcity to abundance, from loss to gift, from grief to gratitude. The shift gives me more energy for this new day, in my new life, with my new family, here.
Food for thought:
Cheryl Eckl on “The Challenge of Unofficial Loss”
Brad Hambrick also writes from a Christian perspective on “Learning to Grieve Losses Not Caused by Death”