TW: Stillbirth, miscarriage
In NZ we don’t collect data on the number of miscarriages, but it’s estimated that between 13,000 to 15,000 women experience a miscarriage in NZ every year. That means for every four pregnancies, one ends in miscarriage.
Then, there are the babies who are stillborn – who die during pregnancy or in utero after the 20th week of pregnancy. Each year about one in every 200 pregnancies ends in stillbirth.
For something that is not uncommon, it seems bizarre – and sometimes quite cruel – that it’s a topic we so rarely talk about and remains as something quite taboo. It means many women – and men – go through the experience feeling completely alone, often unaware that so many other Kiwis (perhaps even their closest friends!) know just how heart-wrenching their pain is.
Today we hear from Steph Whitehouse who shares the excruciating, life-changing experience of losing her son.
My eldest son should be turning 5 next month. I should be excitedly planning school visits and a 5th birthday party. I should be buying a new school bag, a new lunchbox and a first day outfit. I should be beginning to say goodbye to his preschool that has loved and nurtured him for the past 4 years of his life. I should be preparing him for his preschool graduation. I should be doing so many things.
The lead up to his birthday should be filled with secrets about presents and joy at reaching this major milestone.
Except it’s not.
My son will never be 5. He will never have a first day at school. He will never wear a first day outfit. He will never have a birthday party. He will never grow old, not really. Only an idea of him grows each year.
Because he died before he could be born. He died before he got the chance to live. He died before I ever got to hold him and tell him how much I love him.
When I found out we were pregnant, everyone was excited. Everyone celebrated with us. When an ultrasound found he had died, there was silence. No one came to commiserate. It was as if he no longer mattered, because he was dead. No one knew what to say or do so they stayed away. That is such a bad idea as it compounds the grief of the bereaved. It’s better to come and sit in silence than to stay away. It’s better to say, “I don’t know what to say” than to say nothing at all. If you don’t say anything, you are silencing the bereaved because they believe you don’t care and don’t want to hear about their grief and loss. If you are waiting for the bereaved to speak first, to tell you what to say. It’s not their place to educate and comfort you. Right now, they need your love and compassion because their whole world has fallen apart.
As bereaved parents come out of the fog of acute, raw grief they are looking for a support network. If no one is willing to walk beside them as they navigate a new normal it adds another layer of grief. It leads to them retreating further, to not talking about their deceased child or children because they know, no one is listening.
For nearly 5 years, I wanted people to speak my children’s names, to ask about them, to support me on their anniversaries and on the tough days in between. I simply want my children to be remembered. I want people to remember that although Jacob died nearly 5 years ago, that 5 years ago seems like yesterday to me. I want people to remember that grief doesn’t go away just because you don’t want to remember.
When a baby dies, their parents don’t just lose that baby. They lose a future. They lose hopes and dreams. They lose a lifetime of love and memories to share with others. Instead, they have to cram a lifetime of memories into a few hours or a few minutes. That’s all they get to sustain them for the rest of their lives. Then the parents have to find a way forward into this new existence without the child they thought they would be bringing home. Instead, they have to watch others go on to have children, while they struggle to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term. Instead, they have to watch their friends’ children meet all the milestones their children never will. Bereaved parents see their children hovering on the outskirts of lives they will never live. They see a child grow only in their mind, unseen and unheard of by others. They see, meet and endure painful moments at every point in their lives; and they grin and bear it, because they have no choice, because others have forgotten, because everyone else has moved on from the earth-shaking moment that turned bereaved parents’ upside down and inside out.
Baby loss isn’t a moment in time to be endured. It’s long lasting, ever changing and ever present. Baby loss awareness week isn’t for bereaved parents. Bereaved parents don’t forget, they live baby loss awareness week 52 weeks a year. Baby loss awareness week is a chance for everyone else to remain present in their discomfort about baby loss. Baby loss awareness week is for everyone else to remember the children who have gone too soon. It’s a chance for everyone else to say their names, to do a random act of kindness in their names, to knock on the door of a bereaved parent and ask how they are really doing. Baby loss awareness week is for everyone to remember they have the power to make the bereaved parents’ journey a little easier by walking alongside them and holding space for their grief as their baby ages, but never ages at all.