Grief Series - Stage Three: Bargaining and the Might-Have-Beens


When people know they are about to lose a loved one, they often attempt to make deals with God. For example, people often say things like, “Take me instead.” When that love one is gone, they tend to have thoughts that reflect back on what they could have done differently to either prevent the misfortune, or show the departed more affection while they were alive. This is all part of the third stage of grief: the bargaining stage. As birth mothers, we experience this in a similar way, especially using the what if’s and if only’s.

“What if’s” are enticing at first, but dangerous if you stick around too long. During my pregnancy and shortly after I placed my birth son, I had all kinds of what if’s.

What if I parented? At first, my answer looked similar to this:

If I had parented, I would wake up every morning and see my son’s smiling face. He would love me and want me to hold him. I would be there to hear him say his first word, watch him take his first steps, and drop him off for his first day of school, and the list goes on. I would be happy.

As you may have noticed, these statements all involve “I” or “me” and they are far from reality.

What would my life really be like if I had parented? Over time, as the hormones stopped controlling my brain, my answer would look something like this:

I would be struggling, which means so would my son. Children don’t deserve a life in turmoil; they just got here! And what about me? Women have dreams and ambitions too, and I have been given another chance to make these things happen.

Asking “what if” is natural; we all do it, but don’t get lost in a daydream of the past. These can trick us and derail us from the track to a peace of mind.

The other trap of the bargaining stage is “if only.” “If only” is one of the most counter-productive phrases in the English language. (Right up there with “I can’t”)

“If only I had been more responsible...”
“If only I had saved up more money…”
“If only I had done more to make him stay…”
“If only I had the courage to take my baby home…”

The list becomes endless, if you let it.

If only’s are ineffective because they aren’t possible. You owe it to yourself and your future to leave your what if’s and if only’s in the past. Look forward to the life you have yet to live. Like all stages of grief, stage 3 is one we must get through, but we don't have to submit to it. Every time I think of what might have been, I remind myself of my child’s version of that.

Remind yourself of your child’s life, but also remind yourself of your own life. You have been given an do-over; nothing is more gracious than that. Exchange your negatives for these:

What if I do what I always wanted to do?
What if I set an example for greatness?
What if I fulfill my true purpose?
What if I make a difference in someone's life?

Take these and live a life you can and will be proud of.