“Hard is not relative. Hard is just hard. . . . There is no harder. There is just hard. We need to stop ranking our hard against everyone else’s hard to make us feel better or worse about our closets and just commiserate on the fact that we all have hard.”
Click here for the video that inspired this post. Watch at least the first four and a half minutes and all 10 if you have them.
This is for the mom who downplays the impact her divorce is having on her because my baby died. This is for the mom who diminshes the grief she experienced after her early miscarriage because my baby died. This is for the woman struggling with the sudden loss of a dear friend who apologizes for not focusing more on me because my baby died. This is for the friends who don’t want to tell me their daily frustrations anymore because my baby died. This for the people who don’t know what to say, who haven’t reached out but want to because a dead baby is an impossible thing to talk about. This is for the loved one who tries to shelter me from other loss and heartbreak or even joy and celebration because my baby died. This is for me, who chastises myself for not being able to see past my own personal loss when there is much “worse” tragedy in the world, instead of just allowing myself to grieve and have my hard be enough.
This is what I am learning now. I have thought of telling people about Harvey as “coming out of the closet”, though I have not wanted to appropriate that. Ash Beckham says what I’ve been feeling: “All a closet is is a hard conversation”. It’s a hard thing to say out loud because I don’t know how the other person is going to react and I don’t know how I am going to react and I don’t how they are going to react to my reaction and I know that my reaction will affect theirs but I don’t know how to control it.
I live in a dead baby closet, that when I come out of it, is met with deer- in-headlights stares or avoidant, downward glances. That as I am speaking the words, I secretly wish they know someone who has lost a baby or child or pregnancy so that I don’t have to feel the grief and the awkwardness and there can be a connection instead. Or I don’t have to tell because others have told for me or word gets out and then it’s sideways smiles and “hellos” with shrugging shoulders and “poor thing” looks from across the room.
I have the “dead baby” card which is much like the “Hitler card”: as soon as someone brings Hitler into the conversation to make a point, conversation over. No one can do/be/say worse than Hitler. As soon as the dead baby comes out, conversation over, no one’s heartache can compare and if they try to, it’s fumbling and rambling and no one around us feels like it matches up.
I have the dead baby card so people keep things from me. They apologize to me for not having bigger problems or for being consumed by problems less devastating. But how do we know? How do I know what your pain feels like, your loss, your fear, your dread? I know that each and every grieving mother I have ever spoken to can understand me in ways that a mother with all of her children alive cannot. But I also know that each of us grieving mothers have our own stories, our own unique heartaches, our own things that we feel lucky for, (I feel lucky that I didn’t know my baby was dying. That I got to go through my whole labor expecting to be holding my healthy newborn at the end. Stillbirth seems like an absolutely insurmountable experience to me.), the things that are worse for us than for the other mother. But we don’t compare, or at least I haven’t felt that in my relationships and conversations with other mothers. We feel deeply for each other: we cringe for each other, we cry for each other, we laugh together, we find the joy in each other’s babies and the gifts they brought to us. But we don’t compare because we know: this is hard. No matter what: hard is hard.
This is how I feel as my highest self. This is the truth that I know deep in my heart. I have many, many times when this is not at the forefront of my mind. When a friend is telling me about their daily struggles and I want to play the dead baby card. I have scanned through Facebook updates and thought, “I wish I could make up some shit like that and worry about it.” The Christmas cards are starting to roll in: happy, perfect family after happy perfect family and if we sent a photo card there would be a huge hole in it where he should be or I’d have a picture of us three alive and a separate photo of our dead baby. I have wanted to change places with people. I hear their story and I think, “I’ll take that instead of this.” In those moments, that is what is true for me: my hard is harder.
But it isn’t true. Those smiling faces by the Christmas tree don’t tell the whole story. For most, not even half. This year, I know a lot more about many of those families who have shared the loss of the hope for more or any children, the loss of a pregnancy, the loss of a baby. The struggle in the marriage, the assault or abuse from earlier in life, the deep concern and worry for the welfare of their children. No one is making anything up to worry about. What they are saying may not be the truth of what is eating away at them. It might not be the boss or the lady in front of them in line or the inability to lose weight. I know there is something else underneath all of that. Something hard. Something unseen and maybe even unknown. Something unspoken. Something still in the darkness, still in the fear.
My hard has made other people’s hard less so. Many mothers have written to me saying how they think of us and Harvey everyday and it makes them a better parent, they count their blessings more frequently, they have reprioritized what they focus on, what they worry about, what they do. I sit with other grieving parents we talk and laugh and cry and I leave feeling lighter, feeling like I can do this another day. When my friend’s toddler died a year before Harvey, I remember thinking that this is too much for her to bear on her own. That all of us who were outpouring our love, prayers and support should be able to take some of her grief, so that she doesn’t have to have all of it, we can shoulder some of it too. When Harvey died and I was on the receiving end of the love, thoughts and prayers, I found that that was exactly what was happening. My hard was absolutely unbearable and family, friends, acquaintances, teachers, colleauges, even strangers wrote messages, sent gifts, prayed for us in their churches, made donations, took care of us and by doing so they took pieces of our grief and they held it for us. They took some of our burden. And they continue to to this day, 7 months and 10 days later.
It’s not just hard is hard. It’s how we lift each other’s hard. How we hear each other. It’s being on the recieving end of the hard conversation and meeting it with compassion, openness and love. It’s how our hard ripples out into the world and changes lives. So, let’s talk. Let’s have the conversation. Let’s fumble and stutter and stare at each other wide eyed because we just cannot imagine. Let’s be awkward and uncomfortable until we are not anymore. Let’s hang out with our hard and each other’s hard until it eases up. Let’s tell our stories to each other: whispered or written or from the rooftops.
Hard is hard until it isn’t anymore.