11 weeks + 1 day pregnant
As a culture, we English have an allergy to vulnerability and that means that we find handling the grief of others and the level of emotion that it evokes difficult. I see the panic in the eyes of others. The questions; Do you talk about the loss? Not talk about it ? If you do talk about it will it upset them? I think we fear upsetting a person by reminding them of their loss but I now know that in the midst of grief you feel that pain with every breath you take and that others reaching out does not add to or take away the burden, but instead acknowledges the weight of it. Most people find the raw emotions of another difficult to behold, so we do what can to avoid them materialising, but who is that really sparing?
As the griever I appologise every time I cry. Even on the day we lost Nieve and my heart was broken into a thousand pieces, I still appologised to the midwives. I appologised for exposing that level of emotion, for seeming to make them uncomfortable. For not being strong enough because somehow tears are deemed a sign of weakness in our culture.
Sometimes people feel like they need to say something to ‘make it better’ but you can’t fix someone’s grief, you can only sit with that person in the darkness.
“Everything happens for a reason”
“She would probably have been abnormal if she was born”
“You can have another baby”
“Sometimes these things happen for the best”
These were all things said to me after the loss of Nieve by well-meaning people. The words felt dismissive of my pain but I understood the attempt to try to hand me a bandage whilst I was bleeding. My mum struggled to find the right words for me after Nieve died. As my mother she was used to finding solutions to my problems, to drying my tears and sharing my burdens. But here was a problem that couldn’t be solved, tears that couldn’t be wiped away, a burden that couldn’t be lessened . No words, however well chosen, could soften the pain of grief. She sent me messages to tell me that ‘The Apprentice’ was coming or other shows she thought I might like. These messages seemed so bizarre to me at the time but they were wrapped in good intentions and a futile attempt to distract me from the depths of a bottomless sorrow. Likewise, Matthew’s family didn’t know how to approach us after the death of our daughter and felt the need to protect us from our own grief by quickly changing the subject from the loss, to this week’s football scores.
I learned that the greatest gift that you can give to a bereaved person is to show compassion, to be willing to sit with that person in the depths of their grief and face the torrent of emotions that arise. To not attempt to make it better or distract them with empty words, and to let them experience their emotions without apology. I am so thankful to the people who did this for me, my youngest brother Paul being my biggest champion. Unfortunately it’s a lesson we only seem to learn once we’ve experienced our own grief.
I also appreciate it when others acknowledge Nieve by name; acknowledge that she was here and she was real and that she left a mark on the world and those she left behind. She wasn’t merely ‘a pregnancy’, an ‘idea’, a ‘hope’. She was a daughter, a grand daughter, a neice, a cousin. A blessing.
I think there are some people who never really understood the weight of what losing Nieve meant to us. After she died and I sobbed down the phone to my father and was told “You’re having a very severe reaction to this.” I felt judged for seeming to care too much and worried that there must be something wrong with me. Likewise, when I told a friend that I wouldn’t be able to have her over to stay at Christmas as I was still struggling emotionally, she remarked “Chin up!”. It felt so dismissive of my pain and made it sound like I’d lost my favourite watch rather than my beloved baby girl. I felt like I was being told to ‘hurry up and get on with it’.
Several times throughout the last few months, people have told me I’m brave, courageous or strong. These titles scare me because they feel laiden with expectation. It also makes me feel guilty because most of the time I’m not brave, courageous or strong. Sometimes the pain of my loss causes me to curl up into a ball and cease to function in the real world. I’ve been given no choice but to endure this heartbreak so to call me ‘strong’ feels wrong, because being strong feels like a choice you make when I’ve actually had none.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve also found that some medical professionals seem to normalise my experience. Twice now I have told a midwife that I had a stillbirth and had them simply nod and tick the stillbirth box on their forms. It doesn’t feel like enough acknowledgement for the event that shaped my whole life for the last six months and left a gigantic hole in my heart. I feel like it warrants more- a gasp, a “sorry”, a query. Not a mere tick in a box as if we were recording an episode of chicken pox I had had when I was eight.
I think we have a hard time confronting death because it’s a scary reality that most of the time we choose to hide from. There is even a word that is used to brandish those who talk about such unpleasant topics- morbid. To even talk of death is met with this derogatory term. We continue to hide from this taboo subject and so it’s no wonder we struggle when it comes to handling grief and the grief of others. When we had our post mortem results, the consultant said something which has stuck with me. He said “I’m so sorry for what has happened to you. You know, in the end though, we are all equal. We will all love and lose and experience the pain.” He’s right. Grief is a universal. Nobody escapes. It’s the price we pay for love.