Trust me when I say the last thing anyone who has lost a child ever wants you to say is “I understand how you feel” or “I can kind of relate because…”
That’s not me being rude, ungrateful or unkind to anyone; it is purely a fact, and one that I know to be true having spoken to so many of my friends who have also lost their babies or children. I know that everything in our human nature tells us we should try to understand, like we try to do in so many situations; but you really, truly can’t. Do you know something? I wouldn’t even want you to. I wouldn’t wish this pain, this strange reality that is life after child loss upon anyone.
Some of the kindest messages and emails that I receive are the ones that quite simply state “I can’t even begin to imagine….”. That’s correct, you can’t. Just like I can’t begin to imagine what it feels like to lose a parent or a sibling, as I am fortunate to have both of my parents and my brothers here. I wouldn’t even pretend to know what that feels like by saying to a friend who has lost a parent “I kind of know what it feels like because….”. I have no idea, absolutely none.
I think the problem with child loss (Other than the glaringly obvious problem that your baby has died) is that it is so utterly shocking to people that they don’t quite know what to say. It’s when something that should be the happiest event on earth, the arrival of a new life, a new family member; turns into the worst event, the saddest; the unimaginable. I think that flips our brain into panic mode and for many people, they think that they need to try to understand as opposed to just sympathise with the situation.
I can remember a conversation I had with one of my best friends a few weeks after Teddy died when she came to visit me at my parents’ house. She has been in my life for more than fifteen years, but looked at me like she didn’t know what to say; like she didn’t know me. I could see the pain in her face, the turmoil of not knowing if her best friend was still sitting in front of her, or if I was someone who had completely changed beyond all recognition because my son was dead. I know she wanted to reach out to me, to try as best she could to understand so that she could tell me she was trying to understand how it felt. I recall saying to her calmly and directly “Please, whatever you do, just don’t try and understand how this feels. It’s beyond any pain I can describe. I would never want you to understand this.” With that, I think I set her anguish free. She knew from that moment that she didn’t need to fret about trying to get inside my head and heart. She could quite simply, just be there for me, like any best friend would be; and she was, she really was. In fact, I’ll never be able to repay her for her kindness, support and love. They say that a true best friend is the person who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words. How true that is.
Of course any of us who have lost a loved one can understand grief, and the shock that consumes you. Until Teddy died I only really knew the loss of much older family members, or of friends who had passed away as I was growing up. I didn’t ever imagine I would come face to face with loss like that of losing your own child. I believe that it is built into us to just assume that younger generations will outlive their elders; that we will all say goodbye to grandparents and parents in our lifetime. To outlive your own child turns that expectation on it’s head, I can tell you. I can remember feeling like it was happening to someone else; like I was looking in on the situation and that it couldn’t possibly be happening to us. I think it took me the best part of two months for my brain to finally catch up that Teddy had died (Grief and post natal hormones really do play tricks on you!). I still don’t think I could have articulated to anyone how I really felt at that moment in time; I think it’s only now that I find myself in a place where I can write about it and explain (or at least try) myself properly.
Since I have started writing about Teddy openly in an effort to try and burst the bubble of baby loss taboo, I have opened myself up to so many people getting in touch with me. I get emails and blog comments (all of them heartfelt and coming from a very loving place), and many of them telling me their own story of loss. I have had people tell me that they understand my pain because their child has been unwell (and fully recovered), that their pet has died, or that their children have gone to university and they miss them. Yes, these are all things that lead people to believe that they legitimately understand the pain of giving birth to a baby after a healthy pregnancy, holding that child, naming them, and that baby dying before you even got to take them home. Yes, I have written all of those examples in comparison to my son dying so you too might see how utterly hurtful those “relatable” examples can be. Sometimes I feel like it’s the final twist of the knife. When someone says to me that they “understand” and yet they still have their living, breathing child in front of them. Those mothers who get to hold those children in their arms; while I wear a piece of jewellery as a reminder, an acknowledgment, that my son was here.
I have been lucky enough to gain a wonderful new group of friends since losing Teddy; my “baby loss friends” or as we prefer to call ourselves “Warrior Women” (Empowering hey?). It’s like the ultimate anti-NCT group, the club that no one wants to be a part of; and once again, we wouldn’t want you to be either. Contrary to what that may sound like (Yes, I am aware that we sound like the Mean Girls of the baby loss world), what I am saying is quite simple. We don’t want anyone to know this pain, to have to live their life out with this cloud of loss hanging over them; this constant missing piece. I know those ladies understand me, they know this feeling; the constant ache, the feeling that you’ve forgotten something or that something is missing, and then your subconscious remembering exactly what that thing is. I have them and they have me, they’ve lived through it, and for that reason no one else needs to try and put themselves in our shoes. As I said, we really wouldn’t want you to……