Have you ever felt like the Phantom? A ghostly figure who may or may not be there and may or may not be real? That’s how I felt about my recently ended pregnancy.
I may as well not have been pregnant, because with the exception of my sister, my parents and about two friends, no-one else ever mentioned our baby.
Fortunately this silence didn’t affect my husband, Ron, because we both continued to talk about what had happened and I’m glad to be able to say that he never blamed me for what happened. Blame can be such a stumbling block when a child dies and I’m sure it hampers the healing process.
I pondered why the ‘silent treatment’ was so rife and the only reason I could fathom was that it was because no-one ever met Katie, so they had no point of reference for her. People didn’t know what to say, so they figured it was better to remain silent. What they didn’t realise was that I wanted to talk. I just wanted to talk to anyone, about anything to do with our baby, but few people gave me that opportunity – not because they were unkind, but because they hadn’t been in my shoes, so they didn’t know my needs.
I talked of the Reticular Activating System (RAS) in my previous epistle. I was not only noticing ‘baby bumps’ everywhere when I was no longer pregnant, but also, my ears tuned into conversations relating to pregnancy, like a sonar.
I heard women complain because they had to spend 5 days in hospital with hypertension before their baby was born. ‘I hadn’t finished getting things ready at home,’ they would lament. ‘I couldn’t have a water birth,’ another bleated. ‘I had my heart set on a natural birth, with Mozart playing and essence of lavender wafting from my oil burner. The baby was breech and I had to have a caesarian. It’s so unfair.’ Another exclaimed that she wasn’t able to properly bond with her baby because it had to spend a couple of days under lights to treat jaundice. Imagine the thoughts that cascaded around in my head when I heard conversations like this. I wouldn’t have cared how my baby had arrived in this world and whether I could breast feed or not, if only she was alive.
Through listening to these conversations I learnt a lot about being sensitive to others. We never know what’s happening inside someone else’s world, so I’ve learnt not to judge and to try not to give advice, but just to listen.
“Smile, it might never happen”
Have you ever heard someone say, ‘Smile, it might never happen.’ For all we know, it might have already happened and someone may be just putting on a brave face. In the movie, ‘Deafening Silence’ a cleaner in the corridor says to Louise, ‘Don’t worry sweetheart. Everything’s going to be fine.’ Little did she know when she uttered that comment, Louise had been told that her baby was dead and she’d have to give birth to the baby tomorrow. In trying to be kind, she’d just added to Louise’s turmoil with an ill-chosen comment.
In the book ‘Unscrambling Grief’ there is a section towards the back that talks about what NOT to say – just a few simple tips that will help enormously when walking beside a grieving friend or relative. A friend who came to visit shortly after we lost our daughter, has beaten herself up for almost 25 years because she couldn’t think of anything profound to say, and all she said was, ‘I’m so sorry.’ When she read that book, she realized that she’d said exactly the right thing.
One of my best friends had a baby daughter exactly one month before our baby girl was born, so as the months, then years went by, I imagined what our daughter would possibly have been like at that age. It was always a measuring stick and a reminder, which has been both good and sad. Louise says in the movie that she doesn’t think she’ll ever tire of talking about her baby, Claire, and so it has been with us. Given an opportunity we will happily talk about our daughter. Although she never lived in our house, she was part of our family and always will be.
Sometimes you hear others who haven’t walked this path making comments like, ‘She should have got over it by now.’ That’s like suggesting that someone get over their football team losing. When part of your life is gone and your heart has been broken, you don’t get over it, you somehow learn to become accustomed to your life in its new format.