Breaking the Silence
I had an entirely different article planned to share today. I even had it half written.
But then I woke up on Wednesday morning and I simply couldn’t finish writing it. It is an important article, and one I’ll likely complete and share in the future, but my heart and mind were cast in another direction and something else was longing to be expressed.
As I am writing this, it is the morning after the election in the United States and all I can think about is silence.
In some ways, it feels like a strange thing to be thinking about this morning. In others, it makes perfect sense.
On Tuesday, all I could think about was how amazing it would have been to take my daughters to vote for a female presidential candidate. I longed for the opportunity to share in that empowering and feminist action with them. They should have been there with me, aged 13 and almost 7, to experience that moment with me.
On Wednesday morning, my first thought was that I was, unbelievably, somewhat grateful that they weren’t here with me and that I didn’t have to figure out how to tell them about the results of this election. I immediately felt guilty – because of course I want nothing more than to have them with me – but I also couldn’t conceive of how I would have explained to them that half their country cast a vote to keep them, as females, marked as less than men.
The silence in all of it was deafening.
The silent absence of them in my life – for the beautiful and empowering as well as for the painful and uncertain.
When I was a kid dreaming about my life and what it might be, I never figured on all the silence. The silence of my empty house. The silence of being a woman. The silence of being a grieving mother. The silence around stillbirth and miscarriage and the death of babies.
In all the silence around me Wednesday morning, my head feels crowded and overflowing with memories and thoughts.
I’m thinking of how silenced and invisible I have so often felt as a mother without any living children. About how the natural grief and pain after losing a child is too often unacknowledged and misunderstood in our society.
I’m thinking about how both my children were birthed into this world, silent and still, and I have absolutely no answers as to why they didn’t survive outside the womb.
I’m thinking about how stillbirth and miscarriage are unbelievably common occurrences and not only does the general public not really understand how common they happen, but very little research is being done on any significant scale to work toward preventing the deaths of our babies before birth.
I’m thinking about how after my second daughter died, I realized that I was unable and unwilling to go through the death of another child and made the choice to have my tubes tied. And I’m thinking about how it took seeing 6 different doctors and having to explain the unbearable level of grief I felt over and over before I found a doctor willing to do the surgery for my own mental and emotional health. I’m thinking about how I was told over and over that:
- “I was too young to know what I wanted (I was 28)”
- “I needed to wait because someday I might meet someone and he would want kids (because apparently only my potential someday husband’s desires were important)”
- “Your husband needs to be here to be part of this decision (even though I was single)”
- “We don’t do this unless you’re in your late 30s and already have children (because apparently my dead babies didn’t count)”
I’m thinking about how even after I found a doctor to perform the surgery, I had to pay for it out of pocket because insurance refused to cover it “due to my age and childless status.”
I’m thinking about how voiceless and silenced I felt as not just a grieving mother, but as an educated, intelligent, and thoughtful woman trying to make the best choice for her life and her mental and emotional health only to be repeatedly told that my voice didn’t count when it came to my body and my child-bearing choices.
I’m thinking about all those years I spent in silence, having told no one about my oldest daughter, struggling alone and isolated in my grief and the unbearable sorrow of her loss. All the years I felt alone because stillbirth was just one of those things no one talked about.
I’m thinking about all of this and I am realizing that whatever the outcome of this election and whatever the future might hold – silence cannot be part of it. As scary and often uncomfortable as it is to speak up, I cannot remain silent.
Our babies deserve to be known and acknowledged in the world – regardless of how long they lived in it. Our grief over the loss of them deserves to be acknowledged and recognized as natural and normal and essential to living after loss. We deserve to hear their names spoken and have them be recognized as part of our families.
We deserve to have our experiences heard and seen and recognized. We deserve to know why our babies are dying and we deserve to have research and professionals working to find ways to prevent the deaths of future babies.
We deserve, as mothers and as women, to have the final say in how we care for our bodies before, during, and after the loss of our babies.
I don’t know what the future holds after the results of the election this week.
I do know this – I won’t be silent anymore.
I will speak my children’s names.
I will acknowledge their life – over and over again.
I will advocate for research and education about why our babies continue to die.
I will advocate for the support and comfort of all grieving mothers and fathers.
I will advocate for extended paid bereavement leave for all parents who experience the death of a child – 3 days or unpaid leave is unacceptable and unrealistic.
I will speak up and work hard to ensure that all mothers have the right to make choices for the health and comfort of their babies as well as their own bodies.
I will do all of this in honor of my daughters – and for all the future sons and daughters of the world.
They deserve to be seen and heard and recognized.
So do we.
I will fight to break the silence around every aspect of pregnancy and infant loss.