Yesterday, I was having a bad day. I came home from work in a rotten mood for no good or apparent reason, and even exercising and watching “Game of Thrones” didn’t perk me up. “What’s wrong?” K asked. “I don’t know,” I sulked. “I’m upset about Ander, I guess.”
She paused and looked at me. “Usually when you’re upset about Ander, you like to talk about him a lot.”
I thought about that; she was absolutely right. I just assumed that my bad mood had to do with the fact that I had lost my baby, which is of course a very valid thing to be in a bad mood about. But the truth is, I was just having a bad day, the same kind of bad day I had every once in awhile before Ander was even in my life. Blaming it on my grief was a cop-out, and I knew it. With K’s help (she makes me laugh), I slowly shook off my bad mood.
What I did yesterday, though, was something that I judge other babyloss moms on. I used my baby’s death as an excuse. I made “because I’m grieving” the justification for being crabby and snappish and mean and bitter. Yes – sometimes, in the first overwhelming wave of grief, that’s understandable and okay. But it cannot be a permanent state of justification.
I recognize that this is a controversial view. I’m being a bit of a grief bully, though at least I come from a place of “authority,” if you call having a baby die in your arms a particular kind of authority. While I appreciate that the author of that piece recognizes that grief is a journey to healing, and that everyone goes through it differently (which I agree with wholeheartedly), I think there are different griefs in the babyloss community. And I don’t always think it’s wrong to encourage someone to get help (there is no shame in therapy; in fact, I would highly recommend it to pretty much anyone).
Today, two responses to that article on FB really bothered me. Both were women who completely identified with being grief bullied, who were frustrated that people in their lives were encouraging them to “move on” and “get over” their grief. Both noted that they had lost family and friends who just couldn’t understand why they were still so wrapped up in their grief, and how unfair it was, because they were still suffering.
You know what’s awful? I agreed with their friends and family. I told you, I’m heartless. But here’s why:
Woman 1 lost her baby at 4 weeks gestation, 3 years ago.
Woman 2 lost her baby at 8 weeks gestation, 2 years ago.
Give me a second to explain. I do believe that miscarriage is baby loss. I do believe that every life is precious, that in the death of a child, no matter how early, a parents’ dreams and hopes and plans are also shattered. And I know I said yesterday that I didn’t want to be the kind of person who placed hierarchies of grief on babyloss. That said, I can’t help but find it insulting that a woman who had a miscarriage at 4 weeks, before many women even know that they’re pregnant, is equating her grief to mine. I don’t even try to equate my grief to women who had full-term stillborn babies; at least I had some warning about what was coming and didn’t have to return home to a fully outfitted nursery. It is so hard for me to not be a grief bully to Woman 1 and Woman 2. I can’t help but think that maybe they should get help. That maybe it is time to move on. That I can even understand where their friends and family are coming from.
I know that’s cruel. I am a grief bully, and I don’t like it about myself. So I’ll be over here trying to practice compassion while also trying to figure out ways to gently steer such women to the real help they need to break out of their grief. Because I’d say that in the babyloss communities I’m a part of, there is a very real need to help women out of toxic grief.
I was explaining to K the other day how hard I find it sometimes to see all the negativity and anger on my FB groups’ walls. How I didn’t understand how month after month, the same women were still falling victim to bitterness. She helped remind me that a lot of it is because I am in a position of privilege. Ander dying was the worst thing that ever happened to me; I can say that unequivocally. When I was dealing with my grief, I didn’t have to worry about my job, my health care, my maternity leave, my finances, other children, my family (all were and are healthy and supportive). So I try to remember that. I have never had a family member or friend tell me to “get over” my grief. They have held me, literally and figuratively, as I’ve worked through it. In many ways, I cannot understand where Woman 1 and Woman 2 are coming from. I’m trying. But in the meantime, I’ll leave them – and you – a poem passed on to me from a friend today.
“Friend, I know your heart is broken, I know the future seems unclear to
you, I know you feel the absence of answers right now, I know you feel a
terrible longing for something you cannot name.
But let’s begin where we are. Let’s not focus on the thousands of steps that
will come on the path, but the place where we stand on the path right now.
And there is only now.
Know that many others have gone through what you are going through, and
remember that sometimes it seems darkest before the dawn.
But instead of longing for the dawn, and rejecting the darkness, let us
touch the dark parts with gentleness and light. Let us meet what is here,
not rush towards what is not yet here.
For even the darkest cave may contain treasure, and even the most intense
and uncomfortable feelings may actually contain strange medicine.
Walk your path courageously, friend, and know that loved ones walk with
– Jeff Foster
I was just having a conversation about this complicated issue with a fellow babyloss mom today! I belonged to a fb group for women who had pregnancy loss and have no living children- I was desparate to find someone who I could relate to- losing a child and having no where to put all that love. I ended up leaving that group for reasons you spoke of above. One particular young woman was very active in the discussion- at age 19 she had a first trimester miscarriage of an unplanned pregnancy. I just could not sit there and read her thoughts. She had similar emotions to me- jealousy at other people’s pregnancies, for example- but I just kept thinking, she has no idea. she’s not in her mid thirties, having just held her dying baby.
It’s like when the dental asst asked me if I had had a miscarriage when I told her “my baby died.” No. Miscarriage and neonatal death are different. Miscarriage is devastating in its own way. But neonatal loss is different. And second trimester miscarriage is different form first trimester. And one miscarriage is different from multiple miscarriage. I don’t know what it’s like to miscarry- I thought I was early in pregnancy and I thought that was sad. But now that I’ve had a full pregnancy, met my child, looked into her eyes- it’s a different kind of sad, a different level of sad.
difficult topic, but something we are all talking about.
Meghan – I think I actually first “met” you in that FB group :). I just unfollowed it recently (though I still check back sometimes). I just got so frustrated that some of the women were unwilling to take any steps to help themselves break out of their grief. Grief had become so much a part of their identity that it felt like they did nothing but post things that were intentionally used to garner sympathy from others on the site. “I’m broken and destroyed,” one woman says nearly every day. Every day, fewer and fewer people respond. Yet I’m sure that on the day no one responds, she’ll use it as justification to say “See! No one cares about me! Not even here!” I could never be a therapist…
i don’t think you are alone in feeling this way, and you are in no way a grief bully. like you, i don’t want to belittle anyone else’s pain, but i honestly don’t think an early loss is the same thing as having to give birth to your dead child or having your baby die in your arms. last year, i had a miscarriage at 10 weeks, and i lost my son’s twin at 9 weeks, and while the miscarriage was very painful (on so many levels), it was a paper cut compared to the absolute evisceration that was the death of my son.
thank you for linking to that article, btw. i wish i could send it to the cousin who chided me when i posted something about missing my son on google+ (where i had a grand total of two people who could see said post.) this cousin told me i needed to move on and “focus on the positive” instead of dwelling on things and said that he was just giving me a “zoomed out perspective on things.” i was exactly two months out from my son’s death at the time.
Ouch… your cousin clearly has no clue about grief. And thank you for confirming what I was thinking!