Sunday, July 25, 2010

Loss

Yesterday, a service was held back home for the baby boy of a friend of mine, stolen in his sleep by SIDS. There is no explanation that can ever suffice for a tragedy such as that. Nothing can make it better.

In my prior life, I worked in risk management at a large teaching hospital. I did a lot of physician eduction. One of the topics I researched for that was antenatal, perinatal and postnatal death of the baby and the traumatic impact on the mother. I found repeated studies citing that the emotional devastation for a mother is roughly equivalent no matter whether the baby passed in utero or within the first six months of life. I can't speak to that comparison personally, and I don't know how anyone could even quantify that kind of thing, but the studies were consistent. Mothers mourn the loss of their babies deeply, wholly, universally.

As a doula, I have helped mothers through losses. As a friend, I have listened as others cried on my shoulder or on the phone. And as a woman, I know how that void in my heart aches.

I've written here about the fact that I consider myself to be the mother of five, not just the four children here with me now. Before all of them, there was another. My first.

As part of the roller coaster that was my life in the year 2000, I lost a baby. At the doctor's appointment that should have reassured me that everything was okay with the pregnancy and the baby was healthy, the opposite was confirmed. A day shy of 12 weeks along, I was told that my baby had died.

My experience with that loss was a terribly isolating one. Even if you know in your brain that pregnancy loss is something that happens often, and chances are that it has happened to someone close to you, it doesn't matter. When it happens to you, you feel like the only person in the whole entire universe who has ever felt this way.

You feel like no one could ever understand.

And there are days and nights when you aren't sure that you can go on. For me, it happened more at night. Daytime was bad enough, but nights were endless torture. In my dreams, I'd hear the baby crying and wake up to the reality that she was gone.

The truth is, every loss is different. Even if two women lose a baby at precisely the same stage of pregnancy, even if they both deliver stillborns, even if they both lose their precious babies after birth, they will never ever experience the same loss.

Every single loss is painful and real.

We might be able to describe how we felt when it happened to us, but we cannot know how someone else feels. We may be able to sympathize with them, but we will never feel the depth of their sorrow.

I know that many well-intentioned people tried to help me back when I was going through it. I wanted to be left alone. I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want people to look at me with their sad eyes. I didn't want people to feel like they couldn't laugh around me. I just wanted to be left alone.

I suppose that the point of my writing this is to give advice to those out there reading. Intentions are all well and good, but please be aware of every single word that comes from your lips. As someone who has been there, I can tell you that the vast majority of things people said to me felt like salt being rubbed into an open wound. Offer to listen, offer a shoulder. But don't offer advice.

When the heart of someone you know breaks this way, there are some things you should never ever say to them.

  • Don't tell them that this is part of God's plan. You might think that, and they may even on some level, but right now they don't need someone else telling them this. It opens the floodgates for all kinds of angry feelings, and questions...like why wasn't God's plan for this baby to be with me?
  • Don't tell them about every person you've ever known who had a loss. They don't care. It doesn't matter right now.
  • Don't tell them it was better that it happened now, versus later. It isn't.
  • Don't tell them that it is good that they are young and can try again. That doesn't make it hurt less.
  • Don't tell them that they will have more babies someday. None of them will ever replace this one.
  • Don't try to console them with medical terminology and reasons why it happened.
  • If you have had a loss yourself, realize that their experience is different. Don't compare them.

If you find yourself experiencing a loss, know that however you are feeling is okay. There are many stages of grief, and none of us spend the same amount of time in any one stage. We all cope in different ways.

If you need help, reach out to someone. More women than you can imagine have been down that painful road.

People really are trying to help, and they don't know the ability of their words to hurt.

Having been through a loss myself, I know that it fundamentally changes who you are as a person. As a woman. As a mother. In some ways I think it makes you appreciate everything a little more, to have lost before.

Understand that men deal with a loss quite differently than we women do. Like, night and day differently. It cannot ever be the same. It isn't their body. And though it may have been their baby, it will never be as deep of a loss for them as it is for you. I found it hard not to be angry about this distinction, but with time I accepted it.

My angel baby would have been ten years old next week. Everywhere I go, she is with me.

In my heart, I am the mother of five.

5 comments:

  1. Sometimes I post. I understand things. They apply.
    I hope I didn't hurt you, or anyone's feelings. My two would have been fifteen and sixteen.
    I deal with it my way as well. I'm into survival.

    ~G

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  2. Only someone who has lost can know the feeling. Every day I am thankful for my beautiful babies, even if they drive me crazy sometimes. Hearing of your friend's loss makes me grieve for her and her family. My heart just bleeds.

    In memory of my nephew, Griffin, who was stillborn at 34 weeks and my best friend's son, Andrew, who died of SIDS at 4 months, I am making a memory box to donate to the hospital here in town, where I gave birth. It is for those mothers who have to leave the hospital empty handed. It can never ever replace the loss, or ease the loss, but I am hoping that it will give them some light in that awful day and the days and weeks and months following. I am hoping that it will allow them to have something to hold as they leave the hospital, that they will have one thing from their child other than pictures. A blanket to wrap them in. A beanie to warm their little head, a candle to light in memory, a teddy bear to squeeze, a picture frame to place those few precious photos they took of their baby, and an ornament to place on their tree or hang in their window in memory. One mother is on a crusade, so to speak, to make Aug. 19th a day of hope.Go to: http://august19thdayofhope.blogspot.com/2010/07/august-19th-2010.html?spref=fb

    to see her message and her idea of the memory box. The fact that my nephew really was lost on Aug. 19th...but was delivered Aug. 20th 2004, means even more to me and my family.

    Kelly-thank you for your message, thank you for your honesty, and thank you for being such a wonderful person. Sharing your loss is even more special.

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  3. Thank you, Kelly.. Tomorrow is my first sonogram........................

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  4. Thank you all, this time of year is always hard for me. xoxo

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  5. Kelly,
    My heart goes out to your friend and to you. Thanks for putting into words things I've been thinking for longer than I'd like to remember. The dinner we had together at your place the day before, but celebrating Jackson's 14th birthday was actually what would have been Alex's 16th. That was a hard one! Sharing it with your wonderful family really helped. Thanks again.
    Carri

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