When Hearing “I Know What You’re Going Through” Hurts
“I know what you are going through.” I quickly dreaded hearing these words after the death of our infant son. Words like, “I understand how you feel. I too lost a baby/had a miscarriage.” These words pierced my soul like no other. I had dozens of women, and sometimes men, say these words to me after my son died unexpectedly from compression on his umbilical cord when I was 38 weeks pregnant.
After the death of our son, I realized how painful it was for me to have someone who had not had a child pass away the way I did, say they “knew how I felt” just because they also lost a baby during pregnancy or after birth. I didn’t understand how anyone could possibly understand what I was going through unless they, too, had their child unexpectedly pass away days before their due date. I knew these people all meant well and they were trying to connect with me on some level.
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Let me state this here and now and very clearly before anyone thinks otherwise…Miscarriage matters. All babies gone too soon matter, and the hurt and grief are very real. I am not comparing my pain or the loss of my son, Turner, by saying my baby matters more or my loss is greater. These are all things I’ve heard from others in the loss community. I’ve heard mothers saying, “You don’t understand,” to others who haven’t lost their baby in the way they have.
What I’m saying is it often hurts to hear the words, “I know what you’re going through” or “I understand.”
It hurts when they are said by others who haven’t experienced the kind of loss we have had. It can add to our grief when we feel our experience and trauma is not recognized and validated. When our experience is lumped under the wide umbrella of “pregnancy loss,” “baby loss” or “child loss.”
These words hurt me to my core because no one can possibly understand what I went through losing my son. Nor what I am currently going through. Not unless they, too, lost a baby at full term unexpectedly. Lost a baby days before their due date. Being told my healthy thriving baby, who was kicking me just before I went to bed, was no longer alive. Knowing my baby died while I blissfully slept, unaware of his death until I woke up the next morning and realized Turner was no longer moving.
Having to go through labor just as I have done with my four older children. But knowing that when I gave birth it wouldn’t be the joyous occasion I planned and prepared for the last 9 months. Giving birth to a full term perfect and healthy little baby and then burying him 3 days after his birth.
The ties that bind all of us together – losing a child or baby – are vast and wide.
Some of us have lost babies very early in pregnancy, some late in pregnancy, some during labor and delivery, or soon after birth. Some days, weeks or months after birth. Others of us have lost toddlers, preschoolers, younger children, teenagers and some have lost adult children. We have each lost a child. But our experiences in HOW and/or WHY our child passed away are so very different. The experience of how our child died is the difference and speaks volumes to the grief and trauma we all live with each day.
The truth is I don’t know what it is like to lose a baby to miscarriage. I don’t know what it is like to have a baby or child pass away who lived outside of my body. The experiences and circumstances of our children passing away are so different, and the trauma and grief are so very different as well. Very real grief and very real heartache for each of us, but different experiences nonetheless.
No, this is NOT saying that one loss is easier or worse. This is not saying one life is more or less valuable than the other. This is not saying one loss is less than or more than another. It is simply saying that they are different circumstances and experiences because of those circumstances. The experience of how or why our child isn’t in our arms is different, and it’s important to recognize those differences.
ALL our experiences of how we lost our children matter.
I don’t know what it’s like to lose a baby to SIDS. Or a child to accidental drowning. Or to watch my child die from illness or disease. I don’t understand what it’s like to have to say goodbye to a baby I never held in arms, but heartbreakingly had to flush down the toilet. Or what it’s like to birth a baby born too soon, knowing doctors can’t do anything to save them, and have to watch them take their final breath in my arms. I don’t know what it’s like to have to take my child off life support, to hold them while they pass away. And I don’t know what it’s like to have my first baby pass away and be a childless mother. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a baby at any gestational age after years of infertility.
I don’t know what any of the other hundreds of ways our children have passed away unless I too have gone through exactly what you have. And even then, I still may not know exactly what you are going through. I don’t know the daily reality of any of these circumstances, but I definitely can relate and understand the grief of losing a child.
We all can, and should, love and support each other through our grief.
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We should listen to each other’s heartache and pain even when our experiences of loss may be different. Here, we all understand and know the pain, heartache and brokenness of having to say goodbye to one of our precious children. No matter how small or how big, no matter how old our child when they passed. We all understand the grief, the longing, the wondering, the what if’s, and the emptiness we feel each day. We all know these things, and we share the title of “bereaved parent.” All of us belong to the worst club none of us asked to join.
However, I’ve come to understand that it’s also equally important to understand our experiences are different. We don’t truly know what another person is going through. The phrase, “I know what you’re going through” or “I understand” can often times sting so much to hear from another person who hasn’t experienced what we have. I think understanding this can help many grieving parents along their path to finding some sort of healing.