Our society congratulates itself on a “good funeral”, but considers attending one a substitute for supporting the griever after it. “I never know what to say.” Seriously? Still?
Saying “I don’t know what to say” to the bereaved is a healthy start. “What do you need from me?” is helpful, and “I’m listening” is magic. If the person has lost a baby, during or after pregnancy, please don’t minimise the loss with these classics:
“You’re young; you’ll go again.”
“At least you have other children; be grateful for them.” (Avoid beginning any sentence with “At least”.)
“How old was the baby? Sure you couldn’t have had time to get attached.”
Well, that’s a load of b****x. The attachment happens quickly and intensely. Grief is a natural consequence of losing it.
You could say my first baby was stillborn and that my second was a miscarriage. I say we called our first little one Cara and our second, Hope. I was not more sad about losing Cara than I was about losing Hope, just because Cara was older.
One of the surgeons wanted to give me an anaesthetic. She said, "It's just like having a G&T, it'll take the edge off"
Miscarriage is lonelier, even with a considerate partner. Because it’s less visible. As turbulent as it was with Cara, there were scans that my partner could see. There were womb rumbles he could hear. We were on that roller coaster together.
After we lost Cara, people opened up to us about their own pain: abortion loss; miscarriages far from home; infertility heartache. So when, last year, we found out early on that Hope had no heartbeat, I thought I knew something about miscarriage. But I hadn’t a clue. I was about to join my second club.
I received three options from our sympathetic consultant. One: Let the miscarriage happen naturally over the subsequent weeks. Two: Take tablets to induce it. Three: Surgery.
I was allergic to option three. After Cara was born, I had to have surgery to remove leftover placenta. One of the surgeons wanted to give me a sedative. She said, “It’s just like having a G&T, it’ll take the edge off.”
I hadn’t had a bad day at the office; I wasn’t meeting friends in a bar. What I had done was given birth to my dead daughter. A G&T was not, how shall I put this? Oh yes, a G&T was the last f**king thing on my mind.
I didn’t say that to G&T surgeon, because, wearing a flimsy gown under very bright lights, numbed from the waist down, surrounded by 10 strangers, hours after being in labour for first time, I was feeling a little exposed. I had the impression that if I’d answered back, she would have said I was “anxious” and sedated me anyway. The reason I had this impression is because she said as much.
I know that when a woman expresses anger, we are deemed neurotic; we are ‘out of order’. I had to stay silent in order to remain sedative-free. I didn't want my time with Cara to take place in a fog. Those hours were too precious to us; her next destination was the baby mortuary.
Back to the miscarriage: I chose option two. My partner and I cried as the impassive pharmacist handed the tablets over. The notion we held was that a miscarriage would take a few hours. I had some blood loss. Was that it, we wondered?
If a period usually lasts for five days and you lose your baby after two months, then a miscarriage can last, at the very least, 10 days. If I had heard about any of this ever, I wouldn’t have worried about not doing it right. We got another prescription. I stayed near the bathroom for some days. I had a scan after two weeks to confirm that the miscarriage had “completed”.
Cards and flowers during times of loss are not just nice to have, they are mini life-rafts
I was relatively fortunate, I had an orchestrated one. Miscarriages can happen at work, at weddings or in supermarkets. They are traumatic. I was clumsy with loss. I dropped cups. I put socks in the fridge and apples in the laundry without noticing.
If either Cara or Hope had lived, we would have received cards and presents in abundance. Cards and flowers during times of loss are not just nice to have, they are mini life-rafts.
People ask, “Do you attend a support group?” Yes we do and it’s a huge help. I ask, why do we have to keep this conversation behind the closed doors of a hotel meeting room?
The shame and stigma surrounding baby death is still rampant. And where shame resides, silence isn’t far behind. Sharing our experiences, all of us, men and women, makes for a kinder society. Whatever words are used, whether it’s miscarriage or baby loss, it’s very commonplace. Information helps massively. It can be a life-saver.
Instead of a bundle of joy, bereaved parents bring pain. Oh, I’m sorry, did I make you feel awkward? Diddums. Try baby grief on for size.
We don’t just hurt on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, and on anniversaries. Every day we walk by prams and big bumps. It’s not all over after the funeral; that’s only the beginning.
When you meet a bereaved person, please, go easy. Try being as thoughtful as you would be had we broken a leg instead of our heart.
Share your story
The Irish Times would like to invite our readers to share their experiences of loss; whether during pregnancy, at birth or after the baby was born. This could have happened recently or 50 years ago.
If you or your partner has experienced this, we would like to hear from you. We hope to publish some of these stories in the coming weeks and open up the conversation.
To send us yours, or to read more about the project, click here or use the online form above.