31 weeks + 4 days pregnant
45 days until Sprocket
When I lost my baby I felt such a deep sense of lonely sadness. Friends and family were amazing but I felt like nobody could truly understand the depth of our pain. None of them ever met Nieve; did she remain a ‘pregnancy’, an ‘idea’ in their eyes? In my own head I struggled to comprehend my grief and sometimes wondered whether grief for a person I’d never truly met or got to know was valid.
There were three main things that helped to validate my grief at that time; first, the fact that the law dictated that Nieve’s birth and death needed to be registered, second that she should have a funeral and third that I was entitled to a full maternity leave with pay. I can imagine that families whose babies are born before 24 weeks will struggle to feel the same acknowledgement of their babies because of the lack of legal recognition.
At the time of losing Nieve I had a limited knowledge and understanding of stillbirth and at the time it felt like we were the only people in the world going through that level of intense turmoil. I naively imagined that terrible things like that didn’t happen to ‘normal’ people like me. At the time I somehow found it hard to imagine that anyone else touched by loss was ‘normal’ either. I was desperate to seek out others who had experienced similar but I held a distorted view of the kinds of people I thought I’d meet.
I joined an online forum for baby loss parents but the faceless message boards felt so desolate and full of despair that I’m not sure it gave me any kind of solace at first. Every person on there had joined with the intent of gaining some kind of comfort, some kind of reassurance. But we were all in the same boat, all drowning in the same waters. It’s difficult to teach someone else how to stay afloat when you haven’t learned how to do it yourself yet.
I felt frightened of the deep pain that other people spoke of, particularly if they were people further along in their walk with grief than I was. I also felt swept up in their heartbreak which served to compound my own feelings of loss at times. But among that heartache I also found comfort; there were ladies expressing the same emotions and feelings as me, wracked with the same guilt and pain. Overall I identified with the united struggle to survive.
After losing Nieve I felt thrust into the total unknown and I needed to believe that I could survive, that things would get better. I was terrified that the prison of pain that I was sitting in was a life sentence.
I read back one of my early posts on the forum;
‘I lost my baby girl two weeks ago. I’m a wreck. Today it’s been none stop anxiety and palpitations. Just so terrified. anxious thoughts about the future whirling round and tormenting me. Haunted by all my memories of her. I’m on sleeping tablets and I’m managing 6 hours sleep before I wake to more tormenting thoughts. I feel like a total mess. I couldn’t bare it if I thought everyday would be like today. Please, please tell me it will ease up.’
I was so lost and so desolate. Although the people on the forum couldn’t offer me a magical solution, I came to realise that nobody could. But what the other loss mums did offer me was a level of compassion, empathy and understanding that was far beyond what my well meaning friends and family ever could. Because nobody else can truly comprehend the type of lonely pain of losing a child until it’s a pain that personally touches their own heart.
I developed a number of friendships through the forums and these relationships were, and remain to be, a very important part of my life. We were bound together by a united grief, victims of the same war wounds. This was the club I desperately didn’t want to be in but in it I found empathy, companionship, and understanding.
Two weeks after the loss we attended our first sands meeting. Most of the befrienders told me it was probably too soon but I was desperate to do something, anything to soothe the agony. It was the first time I’d ever met people carrying the same scars as us and I was shocked at how ‘normal’ they all were. It was extremely comforting to be able to talk about this colossal, unthinkable and senseless tradgedy with people I regarded as ‘normal’ and likeminded. It somehow added an element of normality to a situation which had rocked my whole world.
It seems that everywhere I go these days I am met with people who have somehow been touched by the tradgedy of losing a baby. A taxi driver I met on my way to hospital, two women at the school where I volunteered recently, my mum’s hairdresser, the local butcher’s daughter, a lady in the waiting room at the hospital, a support assistant at work. Stillbirth featured in a tv show I watched recently and in the novel I read last week. It’s shocking how prevalent it is yet it seems like it’s only a world you’re opened up to when you’re in the club yourself.
When I meet other people touched by the loss of a baby I feel a connection with those people because there’s a part of my heart that can only truly be understood by others who have lost a child. There’s a part of who I am that I can’t fully share with the rest of the world any more, not because it’s too painful for me, but because it’s too painful for them. To other people our conversations must seem unpleasant, intense, harrowing; death, funerals and tradgedy. Morbid, uneasy, distasteful. To us they are a reality that we live with everyday.
Likewise, nobody can truly comprehend the fear and anxiety of facing another Pregnancy after loss than those who have lost themselves. The rest of the world delivers relieved congratulations, anticipates my excitement at finally getting what they presume to be my ‘happy ending’, the remedy for my suffering. Loss parents anticipate my worry and acknowledge my nerves and that makes their company feel like a safe space to be in. I don’t feel the need to ‘put on a brace face’, ‘be positive’ or ‘stay strong’ like the rest of society demands me to.
In the company of others touched by loss I am free to be me, I am understood and my thoughts and feelings, no matter how intense, how negative, or how harrowing, are validated.
I am wearing a pair of shoes.
They are ugly shoes.
I hate my shoes.
Each day I wear them, and each day I wish I had another pair.
Some days my shoes hurt so bad that I do not think I can take another step.
Yet, I continue to wear them.
I get funny looks wearing these shoes.
They are looks of sympathy.
I can tell in others eyes that they are glad they are my shoes and not theirs.
They never talk about my shoes.
To learn how awful my shoes are might make them uncomfortable.
To truly understand these shoes you must walk in them.
But, once you put them on, you can never take them off.
I now realize that I am not the only one who wears these shoes.
There are many pairs in this world.
Some women are like me and ache daily as they try and walk in them.
Some have learned how to walk in them so they don’t hurt quite as much.
Some have worn the shoes so long that days will go by before they think about how much they hurt.
No woman deserves to wear these shoes.
Yet, because of these shoes I am a stronger woman.
These shoes have given me the strength to face anything.
They have made me who I am.
I will forever walk in the shoes of a woman who has lost a child.