16 weeks + 3 days
7 months after loss
“Miss, Didn’t you have a baby before?”… I heard the pupil clearly but was stunned into silence. She obviously remembered me being heavily pregnant earlier in the school year. She was only six. How would you begin to explain it to a six year old? The idea of trying seemed beyond comprehension and I pondered, before answering with a simple “No.” she looked confused but left it at that.
I had anticipated that this may happen, I had also anticipated that I would get caught off guard but that anticipation didn’t prevent me from feeling flummoxed. I considered that since this was the first time I’d had to deal with such a confrontation, that I’d handled it quite well. Then it happened again.
“Miss, aren’t you having a baby?” The seven year old pupil who asked me this question knew nothing of my new pregnancy and was referring to my pregnancy with Nieve. Again I stumbled, and buying for time to think, I asked her to repeat the question. “The baby, you’re going to have it soon aren’t you?” I recognised her as one of a group of little girls who used to dance up to me on a daily basis to ask me when the baby was coming. I decided to change my tack this time, and told her that yes, I was having a baby…soon…ish.
These types of situations are difficult to armour yourself against. Children are so blunt and honest, devoid of censorship, so I knew to prepare myself for this type of inquisition, but what I never figured out was how to respond. I imagine I’ll encounter many more scenarios where I’ll have to consider carefully how to reply. All I know is that I will not tell the children that my baby died. The children in our school are all under eight years old and the cohort that I had the most contact with have left for junior school. It doesn’t feel like this is something that the children need to know. Maybe I’d like to protect them from this level of unthinkable tragedy for a while longer. To allow them to continue to believe that they live in a world where death is reserved only for the elderly.
These aren’t the first situations which caught me off guard this week. During a trip to the chemist to pick up my prescription, I ticked the ‘maternity exemption’ box as I have done since I first to became pregnant with Nieve. “Oohhh, how far along are you?” The young assistant asked me. What startled me was the thought that if this had been four months ago, when I was still entitled to the exemption but no longer pregnant, I would’ve been floored by this question. I have no idea how I would or could’ve responded. ‘Luckily’ I did have an answer and told her I was having a boy, due in October. “A boy, how lovely,” she remarked “everyone usually wants a girl…until they get to be teenagers.” It was a response that triggered something in me, a response that I’d heard before..when I was pregnant last time…with my little girl. It was a stark reminder of what I’d lost and I found the conversation very sobering.
At work this week I’ve also found myself pondering over some of the comments people have made towards me in regard to my new pregnancy. “Take care of yourself this time.” was one that stung. It felt laden with the implication I hadn’t looked after myself properly in my pregnancy with Nieve and that maybe this had contributed to her death. My fault. I considered that this could just be me projecting my own fears about what others thought and told myself not to be so overly sensitive.
But then there was a second cutting remark. “Don’t get too stressed this time” I had been stressed before we lost Nieve and I’d always worried that this had caused her to die somehow. Is that what other people thought too? Did this comment speak for what others were thinking? That I had caused my baby’s death by being overly stressed? I think my reaction to both these comments was rooted in my own fear the others thought me accountable. I decided that I couldn’t allow myself to think this way. I can’t spend my time analysing what people say looking for traces of blame towards me. I already carry guilt around Nieve’s death and I can’t afford to torture myself with any more.
I think I’ve realised that by returning to work and reentering the real world I’ve stepped out of that safe little bubble that I’ve been living in; the place where I was sheilded by people who love me and who knew how to sensitively deal with what I’ve been through. The real world is simply filled with real people– people who don’t make allowances for my pain or prempt how a simple remark may affect me, people who say insensitive things with or without realising, people who ask questions that feel totally inappropriate, people who make comments that are innocent but ignorant. This is my new landscape and I need to learn to navigate within it without being bulldozed every time someone says something that resonates with me. Maybe I’ll harden to it. I imagine over time I’ll develop a bank of responses to use in my armour. But I also imagine there will be other times when I’m caught off guard and I’ll be completely floored by a comment, a question or a simple remark.
Yesterday the school cleaner stopped me to ask where I’d been. I found myself explaining that I’d sadly lost the baby I had been carrying. She looked so shocked and sympathetic that I quickly added, “But I’m pregnant again now.” I felt instantly guilty for saying it; like I was implying that this baby compensates for the lost one. A ‘happy’ ending to a sad story. A magical fix that makes it all better now. In the eyes of some, this new baby is evidence of my recovery. I just feel a bit disappointed in myself that I validated that idea. On reflection, I realise that I added the comment more for her benefit than my own. It’s hard to tell such a tragic story without any kind of a positive spin- maybe that’s a cultural thing; the cultural pressure to deal with our problems but not complain about them. To be positive rather than negative.
One thing I’ve found since losing Nieve is that it’s given me an understanding about grief and made me more open to addressing other people who have suffered a loss. A lovely colleague at work had recently lost her sister and I felt instantly compelled to reach out to her. Seven months ago I would’ve run away from her grief or ignored it for fear of upsetting her. But when you’ve walked the path of grief yourself I think you can identify with others on the same road. She in turn, was not afraid to address my loss. “I’m so sorry that you lost your beautiful little girl,” She said. It was one of the most meaningful things that anyone has said to me. So sincere, so acknowledging. Most work colleagues had simply said “Good to see you back.”
Nieve’s death has given me more empathy and compassion for others and for that I’m thankful. I’m not afraid of other people’s pain anymore because I can identify with it. I also know how comforting it is to be able to speak to other people who acknowledge your loss and and are not afraid of the depth of your emotions. My hope is that in the future I can use these new found skills to help me to support other people who are on their own journey with grief. That idea brings me comfort, maybe I can add some meaning to the awful tradgedy that changed my whole world. Maybe then Nieve’s legacy will live on.