20 weeks + 4 days pregnant
8 months after loss
There is a palpable sense of shame surrounding miscarriage and stillbirth. Maybe it’s a truth we prefer to block out as the majority of us can’t bear to consider the concept of a baby dying as it’s just so heartbreaking… yet it’s so common and it touches so many of our lives at some point. I think in our culture we are guilty of turning a blind eye to baby loss, to pretending it doesn’t happen.
Take the latest Pampers advert. It advertises it’s nappies using endearing images of premature babies at Neonatal care units and is accompanied by the soundtrack of ‘I’m coming home’. But Pampers is flogging it’s products based on a lie. Many premature babies don’t make it home and that’s the harsh truth that is a crushing reality for all of us in the baby loss community. The advert reinforces the idea that all pregnancies will have a happy ending and in doing so is guilty of perpetuating the silence and shame around baby loss.
It feels very much like we baby loss parents don’t matter (after all, many of us no longer have babies they can sell their nappies to) and it seems they are happy to trample all over our hearts with their triggering images as long as it sells a few nappies. Some people deem the images of these tiny babies as ‘cute’ and ‘sweet’ but for me and many others it triggers the memory of our own tiny, sweet babies. Babies who didn’t come home. Babies who will never wear nappies. At best the advert is insensitive, at worst it is heart wrenching and I know from reading the forums and speaking to other loss parents, that many people have been deeply affected by it.
As someone on the baby loss forum, Sands, said; “this advert suggests that it’s ok to use premature babies to sell nappies because bad stuff doesn’t happen. It’s about exploiting the emotion that surrounds babies to sell more nappies, whilst leaving those that have experienced baby loss distraught.”
I took the time to voice my concerns with the Advertising Standards Authority this week and received the following response; “We are sorry to hear that this ad has caused you distress. We are already investigating this advertisement and your complaint will be added to our file. We shall let you know what we decide in due course.” I hope they decide to remove the advertisement and save any future heartbreak for baby loss parents like me.
We live a society which pushes a notion of a simple and traditional pregnancy; that you get pregnant, crave pickles mixed with ice cream, decorate the nursery then bring home a live healthy baby at the end. When pregnancy doesn’t follow that script, we find ourself in unknown territory, we feel defective and broken. As a woman and the ‘primary care giver’ I initially felt a deep sense of shame and failure at losing my baby; inadequate at not being able to fulfill the call of motherhood.
I also worried that society would not understand my grief because my baby was not yet born. Shortly after losing Nieve I attended a bereavement group in my area. I met people there who shared stories of losing their parents, their siblings and their spouses. When I came to tell my story, I felt slightly uneasy. I worried that they would deem my grief of less value since my baby never lived beyond my womb. A part of me felt guilty for being there. Was it a real loss? It certainly felt like it, but would the rest of the world acknowledge the weight of it? Or was there an expectation on me to hide the extent of my pain? I certainly felt that at times. “You’re having a very strong reaction to this,” were words spoken by my father after the loss and to me were laiden with the suggestion that I what I was experiencing wasn’t valid.
After losing Nieve I was contacted by several old colleagues and friends who had experienced miscarriage and identified with some of what I was going through. It struck me that several people spoke of first trimester losses they had had but were apologetic for their ‘insignificance’ when compared to a third trimester loss like mine.
Grief should not be measured and compared. Grief is based on love not time, and we should not be be ashamed of the depth of our love as it is the most beautiful thing we have in this world. A loss is a loss and we should not feel embarrassed by the depth of our grief, no matter how long the relationship with the significant other lasted, no matter if they were a spouse we’d lived with for 50 years or a baby we’d carried in the womb for ten weeks. Our grief is real and it is valid.
Even though I recognised early on that the only way to break the taboo of silence around baby loss was to talk openly about it, I found it impossible not to collude with the silence in the early days after loss. I closed my Facebook account and I avoided going to places where I may’ve been confronted by pepole who knew me but didn’t know what had happened.
These days I’m getting better at talking about it. Nieve’s story is woven so tightly into the very fibres of my being that I can’t help but talk about her. I know that it makes some people uncomfortable but I don’t want to hide her; to do so would be a disservice to her and to all the loss parents who came before me and those who will undoubtably come after me.
Yesterday a parent at school asked me how the baby was doing and I quietly told her that I had lost her. The mum looked absolutely mortified and like she couldn’t wait to get away from me. There is no denying that baby loss makes some people very uncomfortable, but I realise now that that is there issue and not mine.
In contrast, I’ve found that some people I have shared my story with have subsequently opened up about their own experiences and hardships. It’s like some people are willing to match my vulnerability by sharing their own stories. Sharing Nieve’s story makes me more real, it let’s go of trying to uphold the perfect exteria that society and inparticularly social media has begun to demand. It shows that I am willing to be vulnerable and makes me more relatable. It makes me human.
As I journey through life I intend to continue to tell Nieve’s stoy, although there will undoubtably continue to be people who feel horrified or feel uncomfortable at what I have to say. But I recognise the importance of speaking out, not just for me, but for others too, especially those who bury their heads in the clouds and pretend that baby loss doesn’t happen. As Mark Zukerberg said of miscarriage; “In today’s open and connected world, discussing these issues doesn’t distance us; it brings us together. It creates understanding and tolerance, and it gives us hope.”
I think realising this is what encouraged me to publish my photograph on this website recently, to stand up and say ‘this is who I am and this is my story’. My daughter was real and I am real, my emotions are real, my grief is real and my love is real and I will hold my head up, I have nothing to be ashamed of.