Allow me to address a topic that our modern “happy” world easily dismisses. Are you ready for it? Here it comes: I had a baby who died. I’m a survivor of infant loss. My daughter passed away when she was a day old. This is part of my truth. Yet, I often feel an expectation to stay silent about this truth that’s redefined my entire life. Two years into my grief journey, I’ve realized when sharing about infant loss, loss parents have two options: 1) Omit the facts and pretend it didn’t happen or 2) Learn to feel comfortable with making others uncomfortable.
Loss parents are often at the mercy of conversational surprises. They occur consistently, and the predictable nature of others’ reactions can be eye-roll inducing. Here are just two recent ones:
My husband ran into an acquaintance after many years. The old friend asked him if he has any children now. So, there it was: answer truthfully or spare the man from being uncomfortable. Chris shared the loss of our baby girl two years ago along with news of our baby on the way. Predictably, the friend abruptly changed the subject. Moments later the conversation ended.
Related: The “Awkward” In Grief
I attended a Gestational Diabetes class a few weeks ago, and I was first to start the dreaded round-the-table introductions. The command was to share our name and one word that described how we were feeling. “My name is Jessica, and the word I’ve picked to describe my feelings is ‘conflicted’.” I could have left it at that, but I was asked if I cared to elaborate. I had a choice: answer truthfully and make everyone uncomfortable or spare others by omitting the truth. I chose the truth.
I saw the flicker of panic in the dietician’s eyes as she scanned the other pregnant women at the table, worried that I might upset them. I glossed it over, saying I didn’t mean to make anyone uncomfortable or scare them. I felt ‘conflicted’ because I’d lost my first baby so unexpectedly, so I felt I had no right to be bummed with a diagnosis of Gestational Diabetes since I’m lucky to be pregnant again. I shared my truth at the peril of everyone else’s comfort, potentially singling myself out.
These interactions either leave us feeling invalidated or as though it’s our job to make others around us feel better.
Social Media Faux Pas
Social media accounts enable us to share our lives with the world. Best used, of course, to portray the ideals of happiness. We love to click the ‘Like’ button for happy things. I can post a cute photo of my dog and receive 100+ likes. If I post my latest article from Still Standing, I might get 10-15 likes. Why is it that something I am truly proud of is hardly acknowledged, yet the ordinary things get so much attention? Because infant loss makes everyone uncomfortable. People scroll on past because, god forbid, they face a crummy reality.
The lack of support outside the loss community is never more blinding than it is on social media, the very place we’re encouraged to share what’s important to us. Avoidance has become the new acceptance, and it’s irritating.
Another source of social frustration is the tendency of others to make false assumptions about grief. My husband and I are expecting our second child; because we are celebrating this pregnancy, people assume we’ve healed completely. We appear happy, so our grief must be gone, right? Wrong. One child does not replace another, and our firstborn will always be missing from our family. That sadness remains. However, grief and joy can coexist. As loss parents, it’s important that we’re allowed to honor all our children. They’re part of who we are, and we deserve to share our truth as much as anyone else.
When it comes down to it, acknowledgment and compassion are the kindest gifts loss parents can receive.