Break the Silence (click here for video)

I know it is unimaginable to lose a child, to even consider the possibility.

After we had Vesta, our first child, we would turn off movies, close the web browser, cringe at stories whenever there was something about a child dying or being harmed.

But the above video is so important to see and to share with your social networks. It is hard to watch, it is a very sad topic but it is also real and needs to be heard.

After Harvey died, I had SO MANY private messages from people (long time family friends, close friends of ours, acquaintances, strangers, etc) sharing with me their struggles with infertility, pregnancy loss and even infant loss. These messages compelled me to continue to make my journey public. All of these parents, suffering silently and quietly at the most devastating loss of their lives. It is heart breaking.

We live in a culture that dictates the opposite of what grieving parents need. Our culture institutes a timeline around when grieving people should be “better” or “over it”. It tells people NOT to ask about the pregnancy/child for fear of reminding or further traumatizing the parent. It provides no dialouge, no access to a normal or standard reaction to the news of hearing about the loss of a pregnancy/child. There is misunderstanding, especially with miscarriage but also with infant loss, that you can just “have another”, or” you didn’t really know that person” so it shouldn’t be that hard, it shouldn’t change the grieving parent like it does.

Grief, especially after the loss of a child, takes exactly as long as it takes for each person and not a second less. The most wonderful gift you can give a parent who has lost a pregnancy or child is to tell them you remember, to ask about their child or their grief process. When told (especially if you are caught off guard) about the loss of a baby, tell them you are so sorry, ask them if they would be willing to tell you more, give them a hug or touch their shoulder. Do your best to avoid the deer in headlights look, don’t quickly change the subject. It is hard for you to know what to do. It is harder for them to have their grief and not be able to interact with the world because of it. It is isolating enough. Know that, just as if you lost your child, the parent will always love, miss, long for that particular child. The parents could have 17 more children and still there will be nights when they lay awake, crying for the baby they lost.

The loss of a child is just that. We are still parents. We look for ways to continue to mother and father our dead child. We incorporate them into our daily lives. We mark anniversaries, milestones and would-be milestones, just as we would if they were here. This can look odd, unhealthy, or morbid from the outside in this culture but we wouldn’t abandon a living child and we won’t abandon our dead one(s) either. We need you to participate with us, to celebrate and cry and long and laugh and remember with us. It’s okay. We will all die one day. We can talk about it. We can bring our dead children with us and you can help us.

It’s not easy, of course. Sometimes when you ask about our child or before you know and ask how many children we have or the like, we will start crying or choke up or not know what to say or awkwardly stutter our response. I know I am asking a lot for you to stand out there in public and ask and handle our reaction and not abandon the whole situation. But I will tell you this: most of the tears that come will be tears of joy and gratitude that someone asked, that someone remembers, that someone is interested. They will be tears that have been welling up for weeks and months and years because we so seldom are asked and heard. I know it’s hard and I thank you for doing it anyway.

It’s as if our culture works against us as grieving parents. It’s a catch 22: At the most vulnerable time of our lives, when we feel the most isolated and alone, it doesn’t feel safe to talk about our loss and our grief in this culture because of the reactions that we get. So we don’t share and we each profoundly suffer in silence so the culture does not become safer to grieve in, people have no opportunity to learn how to comfort a grieving parent. After Harvey died, every other person said or wrote, “I don’t know what to say but …” and then followed that with the most loving, supportive and helpful words. It’s okay to fumble and feel like you can’t do anything, I feel that way still each time I meet a bereaved family. But you have the words, the hug, the compassionate look. They are in there, just express them. Or say “I don’t know what to say” “I don’t know how to react” “I’m sorry I’m not sure how to respond.” That is better.

Every 21 minutes a family loses a baby in this country. 1 in 4 pregnancies and infants are lost. It is part of being a parent, a family, a society but we don’t talk about it. We don’t want to be afraid during our pregnancies, we don’t want to imagine this happening to us, we can’t fathom. But those many, many, many of us touched by such a loss, need to be seen and heard and honored. I come from the homebirth world, which is a very feminine affirming world. A world that supports women in their choices, in doing what they feel best for themselves and their families, in navigating some of the most intense moments of their lives. Even there, we don’t have a space. We need a space in this culture. We need each other to create that space. You and me. Us and them.

I have had endless support and it continues and continues. I know it is because so many of you love me/us and feel nothing but compassion and empathy for us. I think my writing and sharing openly contributes to that as well. You all have allowed a space for me to wail and scream and whimper and I’d probably die without it. So thank you from the bottom of my broken heart.

Let’s all be less afraid of each other. Let’s all be brave for each other. Then when our worlds collapse, we are less alone and that makes all the difference.

3 thoughts on “Voice.

  1. Monica, this is such an important entry, we need each other desperately, not just in times of sadness and loss but to celebrate and acknowledge achievements. Your blog has offered me insights to a much more positive way to handle loss and bitterness and togetherness. love merti

  2. I heard Stew once mention that he had many interactions with friends and otherwise after Jay died in which he ended up consoling them, or at least trying to help them to feel comfortable talking to him about his dad. It seems so unfair that you must add to the impossible sadness of impossible loss the burden of helping others – us – learn to grieve with and for you. I spoke last week with a mother of a former student here who became ill and died during his senior year of high school. I talked to her about her son, whom I did not meet, and cried and cried and cried, and she consoled me. I talked to her about Harvey, whom I did not meet, and cried and cried and cried, and she consoled me (and sent both love and heartbreak to join with yours). I say Harvey’s name every day, always to myself and Oscar, often to others, but rarely to you. Thank you for helping me to feel comfortable talking to you about dear Harvey. I so want to be brave for you. Thank you for leading the way.

    1. What could be better, Amanda, than Oscar knowing his cousin? What could be better? When Vesta says Harvey my heart swells and breaks all at once. When Matilda says “Harvey” my heart bursts and beams because she doesn’t necessarily have to know him or know his name or say it but she does. Because her mom talks about Harvey and I do and Vesta does. Every time I pick her up she takes hold of my locket and says “Harvey” and if she doesn’t say it, I do. So she knows he who would have been her every day just like Vesta.
      We have the disadvantage of distance and the disconnection that that brings, the ease to sweep under the rug (for lack of better phrase) the cousin who isn’t here with us to see and touch and play with. But if you say his name, if you tell yourself and your son about mine . . . there is no greater gift.

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