It’s rather Ironic that this post is all about “finding the words” and yet I have had it on my “to do” list for most of the month now – because I just could not find the words!
June is SANDS awareness month – A time of year to raise awareness on Stillbirth and Neonatal death. Their campaign this year “Finding the words”, aims to break the silence around stillbirth and neonatal death by encouraging everyone to sensitively start a conversation with someone whose baby has died, however long ago.
But where do you start? What exactly do you say to someone whose baby has died? What do you say when the unimaginable has happened? And if it was a long time ago, is that not going to be awkward to bring it up now?
The truth for most will be no. In my experience on both a personal level of having my baby be stillborn and with others I have met that have had babies die, they just want to talk about them. To have their name spoken is a wonderful thing. To be asked how we are when we are working daily against grief, is extremely touching. When that person is genuine and really wants to know, that is one big sense of relief and makes you feel happy and accepted in your loss.
My biggest fear has always been that Poppy will be forgotten. Not just that but that she will become replaced or overshadowed. I have already seen in life how very different we view her life and loss to others and this has been hard to terms with, but we are always hopeful that some people in life will still acknowledge her and be interested in how I feel about it or are coping with each passing year.
Every day in the UK 15 babies die before, during, or shortly after they are born – this is the beginning of a lifetime of coping and navigating life with loss in your heart for all of these individuals and families.
Talking about the death of a baby can feel very difficult – baby death is an horrendous thing to even think about in our day, but finding the right words at the right time can really help to support bereaved parents or families when they need it the most. At times this is often following the loss, but at other times it can also be the anniversaries or just a random day or period that it has hit them again and they are not quite themselves.
No one grieving after the death of their baby should have to do so in isolation, especially when surrounded by so many. And I would say too as a word of caution, that no one grieving should have time limits placed upon them. I cannot stress enough how important this one is and how really it is no one else’s business to inflict or put on them YOUR opinions on how they should be feeling about or viewing the death of THEIR baby at any given time. One of the worst things I have experienced is being compared to those who have had miscarriage or compared to how they would behave if they hypothetically lost a baby too!
I wish in these moments I had the self awareness and confidence to say plainly “Well you know what – it wasn’t and isn’t you”! I wish I could tell people to count their lucky stars because unless you have specifically had a baby die shortly before, during or after birth you have absolutely no idea how that would make you feel or how it would affect your future. You don’t know how it changes you or how you would want to have them remembered.
Birthing a full term baby that had died crushed me and changed me! Burying our baby in her tiny grave broke us. Crushed and broken people do not need opinions or judgements. They need genuine friends and people that can give them them the space to open up and speak their babies names. They need genuine conversations to explore what they are experiencing. Conversations that say it’s okay to feel what you feel, It’s normal to miss them and its natural to want to talk about each of your kids! When we overcome the desire to judge a person in their grief or how they handle their loss, we overcome barriers and we begin to break the silence!
I get that talking about loss is hard – it’s emotionally hard for us sometimes too and hard to explain in words how we feel or even what we need. I carry a lot of anger sometimes and at other times I carry only pain and a broken heart. On rare days I have very little of either and speak of her with fondness and a little humour. I suppose it’s hard to know which face of grief you will get?
I know also that it’s hard for you who have never been through it and I often wonder if I would know what to say if I didn’t have this experience behind me to give me the words, understanding and empathy?
But hard things shouldn’t be avoided or ignored just because they are hard. And people shouldn’t not be supported because they are a little tender or frustrated about it all. It will never become easier unless we start doing it and silence will not be broken if we don’t speak the words to try to break it.
Some people need comfort, some need to vent. We do not need to understand to show understanding to someone whose baby has died – however long ago it was!
So what do you say to someone whose baby has died? Where do you start and what possibly can make it better? The truth is – not a whole lot! And this is important to remember – your job is not to make it better but to support them whilst they learn how to live with it better. Perhaps it’s taking them a meal or watching the kids after the funeral has been and gone because real life is awful to try and return to.
Maybe it’s taking them lunch and cleaning for them because you know they cannot face life since all of this happened.
Maybe it’s baking for them and writing them a card, sending flowers, or simply telling them how you acknowledge how crappy it all is and offer whatever you can to them to help cope with life after loss.
Perhaps it’s been a listening ear – Now or months, or years later.
Maybe you invite them for a walk, lunch or a warm drink and let them speak! I had a few good people do this in the early days and it was unbelievably helpful.
There is no reason though to not do or say anything.
I could a write a whole post on the things not to say, and the awful things people have said but this post is about finding the words to say as opposed to what not to say. The most important thing is you start a conversation – you say something general and open that allows the bereaved parent/sibling/grandparent to say as much or as little as they need. If you genuinely want to hear – tell them. Many have been hurt and burned by friends or people just haven’t wanted to know. And so we build barriers and walls as a result to protect ourselves and our babies. These can come down easily if you are genuine.
The first step could be “tell me about your baby” … or maybe “How have you been since losing “Baby’s name” – sit and listen to them and then ask follow up questions as you would with any other friend and follow their lead.
Another thing is to let them know you are thinking of them. If you think of them one day, remember the anniversaries or whatever, then let them know. Send a card, a text, a message, or take it up a notch and call them or invite them out.
One of the greatest things I have had in the last 12 months was a new friend that barely knew me, and certainly never knew me when Poppy died, came over the week of her anniversaires. She laid on my couch and said “I want to hear about it all – how you are and what it’s like now ect”. She stayed for hours and let me say it. I got out a lot of suppressed emotion and I got to tell someone again how utterly unfair it all felt. She didn’t care if I was cross, hurt or frustrated – I didn’t feel judged or an inconvenience, she just wanted to listen and I felt heard and supported.
Yesterday we called by the cemetery on our way home from Grandma’s. WIth it being Fathers day we try to see Poppy and now Nathan’s Dad too. Its hard but we appreciate those moments to reflect on the life and our relationships with those we have lost.
Megan leaned over Poppy’s grave and in a tone like she was speaking to one of her best friends, I heard her say “Hello Poppy – oh how you have been in my heart for such a long time!”. I don’t often cry by her grave because it makes me feel numb more than anything, but yesterday I choked! Oh how our newly turned 6 year old summed up how we all feel in a moment of childhood innocence and play beside her baby sisters grave.
Yes – We carry our babies daily in our hearts instead of our arms. And that feels like such a long time. To you it may seem like ages ago that we lost our baby, but each September and on other random dates throughout the year we remember as though it was yesterday. Most days (if not every day) I will think of Poppy in some light. You will not in anyway bring up the past or cause more grief for speaking the name of our daughter. You will instead offer the gift of supporting her mummy who struggles on. You will offer the gift of validating her life by speaking her name in this world. And you will let us know that she is not forgotten or overlooked, but remembered too.
Living with loss is our present and constant…I am a text away. A facebook message or a phone call. Your friend, sister, colleague, cousin – they are all in easy access. This month you can help by reaching out, starting a conversation, offering a listening ear and breaking the silence on baby loss. Lets hang out, lets talk, lets understand.