For most people, the end of a life barely yet begun is a thought so taboo, so uncomfortable, that it is rare that we will ever discuss it. This is a problem – we need to talk. It is thought that one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage. The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn every day in the UK, and this number does not cover those lost through late terminations because of unforeseen medical conditions.
What many think of as an uncommon occurrence is, in fact, the opposite. It happens every day, to people of all ages, to people you know.
These statistics held little relevance to me, until I became part of them. I lost my son at 26 weeks earlier this year, and since then have been trying to come to terms not only with the reality of such an ordeal, but also with how this loss was going to define me. I say "define" because this is what it felt like. I was the woman who had lost her baby.
Before this happened, I had known of only two women who had contended with such devastating circumstances. These women and their experiences were spoken about in hushed tones. Suddenly, I had to address the fact that no longer were these experiences a distant occurrence. They were happening to me.
I quickly realised that I had never truly understood what had happened to these women. I could only wish I had been more educated and prepared so as to serve them better as a friend and to later understand my own predicament.
Nothing can prepare you for the crushing despair and loneliness that follows the death of a baby during or soon after a pregnancy. It not only affects the parents, but the family and friends who so desperately want to help, but who feel so helpless. It is understandable that this is a subject you seldom address until you have to face it yourself. I am a very private person, but since that day in May, I have realised that this is one thing I don't want to keep to myself.
I tried, like many others, to contain my grief within my four walls. I locked myself up, and shut down. I stopped seeing friends, and went about trying to understand how I was going to fix myself, and my family. When my boyfriend had to finally go back to work, I tried to occupy myself, but the ever-present feeling of being alone with my grief was too much. I decided soon afterwards that to get through it, I had to face what had happened. I had to talk about it.
I started speaking to friends, about what had happened to our son. I told them that we wanted to talk about it, and not to tiptoe around the subject. In doing so, we made the first steps in overcoming it. I went back to work. I won't pretend it was easy, that I didn't flinch when people asked me about how my baby was, but I was prepared. I told them as honestly as I could what had happened, and although it was tough, it was never as awkward or as painful as I had expected.
A huge amount of my anxiety after the birth was that everyone knew that I had been pregnant. I couldn't hide from it. One way or another, people would find out. This initially filled me with a sense of shame and embarrassment. For such a private person, it was difficult to realise that I couldn't keep this to myself. It is only now, six months on, that I understand that I should never have felt like this. Sadly, it is drilled into us from the moment we find out we are pregnant that we should keep it a secret until the magic 12 weeks has passed. I went along with this, even judging the women who told earlier, as if this somehow added to their chances of complications.
I now realise how damaging this secrecy is. Yes, the chances of miscarriage reduce significantly as the weeks pass, but by suggesting women keep their pregnancies a secret for the first three months, I can't help but feel that we are breeding fear and an overbearing sense of enforced silence for those women who do encounter problems with their pregnancies.
We need to start addressing the issues surrounding the death of a child, not hiding from them. It should not be something that looms over expectant mothers, but rather something that is talked about openly and honestly – so that we have a better understanding of this sadly common experience.
I discovered that a lot of people did want to talk about it but weren't sure how to begin. Once I had decided to open up, I was quite astounded by the response. Friends, family, work colleagues and people I had conversed with only on email, began sharing their experiences with me, many of them first-hand.
Their openness was inspiring, but I was saddened when I realised how many people I knew had their own tragic stories, and yet we had never discussed them. I would like that to change.
I want to talk about it – not just with specialist midwives, or anonymous helplines. These play a hugely important role, but I want us to start talking to each other. The more we educate ourselves, the better partners, parents and friends we can be to those affected. The more we talk about it, the less deafening the silence will seem for those experiencing it at first hand.
I know I shall never truly get over the death of my son, however much time passes. But by being able to speak about him openly, and by not keeping his memory to myself, I am coming to terms with it a little more every day. He will always be our first child, and one I am proud to say existed, even for a short while.
This article first appeared on motherland.netReuse content