When The Angel Princess first died I spent a lot of energy being angry at the people who said, or did, the wrong things. All the people who told me it was for the best, in an attempt to comfort me, all the people who gave me “at least…”s, all the people who ignored me, or her completely, the people who announced their pregnancies within weeks of her death, with no regards to the stab in the heart that was for us, the people who kept waiting for me to be ok, the people who wouldn’t say her name. It was a long list, and the reasons were varied. But it felt good to be angry at something, or someone, concrete. I was so angry that she died, but she wasn’t here to be angry at, so I raged at the people around me. And although I am still angry at a lot of things, most of that anger at others has worn away, and slowly I am learning to accept that it is, unfortunately, a part of the process that is becoming a baby loss mother. People just don’t know what to say. They don’t know how to act, and though they try, they often get it wrong. Things that seem right to them, can be so incredibly hurtful, and yet, when they play it safe and ignore it all together, it’s even worse.
Many times I have tried to think about what I would say if someone close to me lost a baby. What I would do is easy, I know what practical help I could give, buying groceries, minding older children, cleaning the house, organising paper work and dealing with authorities, that stuff is easy. But when I really think about it, what words I would use to respond to that shocking, and devastating news, I struggle. I’ve decided that amongst all the other things I can say, the simplest, and most sincere, is “I am so sorry your baby died”. Seven words. If someone you know has a baby who died, and you don’t know what to say, that is it. Seven words. Seven heartfelt words, is all she needs to hear.
Dear New Babyloss Mumma,
I am so sorry your baby died.
My first reaction is to tell you, “it gets easier I promise”. The first few weeks, the initial shock, and that slam of grief is nothing short of horrific. It is numbing and painful all at once. The pain is actually physically painful. Your chest hurts, your heart hurts, you can’t breathe, your eyes hurt, everything HURTS. It just HURTS. And it hurts like you’ve never ever hurt before. It hurts like it might never stop hurting. It’s scary. Your nervous system is in chaos because you’re full of adrenaline as your brain tries to figure out which fight or flight response to use. But it can’t use either because there’s nothing to fight and nowhere to fly.
But I won’t tell you this. I won’t say “don’t worry, it gets easier”. Because it won’t help. And because you probably don’t want to hear it. There is no way that you can imagine any way that your grief will diminish, that you could possibly stop hurting so much, because you’ll never stop loving and missing your child.
It seemed condescending when people told me it would get easier. As if they had successfully made it through that first part of grief, and didn’t have much time for me until I was also past it. It made my grief less, almost a pat on the back, “there,there its ok, you’ll get over it”. It made me feel that I was overreacting, or that there was an expected time frame in which “easier” would occur. I didn’t want to, and couldn’t imagine my grief getting any less, or any easier to manage, didn’t they understand? MY. BABY. JUST. DIED.
And yet now, every story, every mumma who’s new in these shoes and my quickest response is that false comfort. I want to make it better for you. I want to let you know that while grief lasts forever, it won’t be the same as it is now. It won’t be so awfully hard to carry. You learn to live with it. You will carry on. Because that’s just what we do. Humans are resilient. We change and adapt and heal and repair. We learn, we change, we ache, and yearn, and we are never the same again, but we go on. You will go on.
I want to tell you that this grief, this new, heart wrenching feeling of despondently overwhelming grief is ok. I want you to feel it for as long as you need to. I don’t want you to think about it getting easier. I want you to accept this new hard, desperate, despairing grief. Don’t be afraid of it. It’s ok to be ugly and angry and hateful and broken. Its ok to be sad and sorrowful and heartsick. But please don’t expect that you won’t smile. Please don’t expect that you won’t feel any nice feelings at all. Because you will; maybe your friend will bring you cake and make you laugh, or maybe you will smile at something on TV, and that’s ok. It’s ok to slip into normalcy, even when the world is upside down.
Please, new baby loss mumma, don’t rush to be “ok”. Don’t rush to be healed or “get back to normal”. Because, being ok, feeling normal, and worst of all, feeling happy will bring with it a whole new grief. The grief that now when you feel those things, you will feel guilty for feeling them. You will catch yourself smiling and then wonder what kind of mother you could be to smiling after your baby died. You will wonder how you could have the right to ever be happy again. You will worry that if people see those happy moments they will start to expect you to be happy all the time, and don’t they know you are still grieving? Then you will feel defensive of your grief, you want to be entitled to sadness, no matter how long it has been, or how many happy moments, hours or days you’ve had. You will want people to know that you are still vulnerable and hurting, and they should still be careful and kind to you, you will want them to understand that grief never fully goes away. You will grieve for the old you, who didn’t feel guilty over being happy. You will grieve for how much of yourself you have lost, and wonder why grief has so many ripples. You will be angry for your loss of innocence, you will grieve because for the rest of your life, you will know grief. Because you won’t ever stop loving and missing your baby. You will grieve about grieving. You will despair at your own agony and feel helpless and changed and anguished. You will be perplexed by the complexity of grief, for its stages that are not like they say in the textbook, for its ability to reappear unexpectedly, and for your new triggers. You will grieve for the person you used to be before you knew true heartbreak. You will hate grieving and be angry with it, and frustrated that it won’t just GO AWAY. You will be sick of grieving. You will have had enough and still not be done. And I am so sorry. I am so sorry you have to go through all this. I am so sorry your baby died.
All I have for you right now is the reassurance that, I know. I know that right now you feel as though you are standing at the end of the earth, staring into nothing, sinking, drowning, suffocating. I know that where you are there is no light. I know that the emptiness is so vast, it’s more than you. I know that you are bargaining, everything and everyone you could, to get your baby back. I know that you are screaming without words. I know that you are pleading, with every god, fate, and karma, to give you your child. I know your despair. I know your hate, and your anger, I know your sadness and your desperation. I know that now everything is divided into “before” and “after”. I know that time is standing still and moving too fast all at once. I know that time is moving you further away from your baby but not healing at all. I know how much it hurts. I do. And I am so sorry your baby died.
And as hard as it is being on the other side of your grief, and wanting so desperately to help you, I know there’s nothing I can say to change how you feel, and nothing I can give to make it better. So this is all I have. Please know that I know. I really truly understand. And I am so sorry. I am so sorry your baby died.
Babyloss Mumma, 21.5 months.