I’m going to begin this letter with one of the most overused phrases of all time and tell you that I’m sorry because I really, truly am. I know all the apologies in the world can’t bring your baby back but it seems almost impossible to talk to someone about their bereavement without telling them how sorry you are.
I’m sorry for the fact that your beautiful baby died before they had even really lived.
I’m sorry that your arms ache for your baby and that your heart hurts from having been ripped to shreds.
I’m sorry that something so terrible and life altering has happened to you.
I’m sorry that there’s nothing I can do to take away even the smallest fraction of your pain.
Now that I’ve sat down to write this letter I’ve realised that I don’t really know what to say. I’m sure that’s what a lot people say to you before they look uncomfortable and you know that they’d rather do anything than get into this conversation with you.
I honestly don’t know which words to use to try and help you but I can listen to you for as long as you want me to. If you need to relive your baby’s birth, life and even death over and over again to keep their memory alive then I will listen. If you want to scream and cry and rage against the downright injustice or if all then I can be there with you. If you just want to sit in silence but just not be alone then I will quietly sit by your side for as long as you need me to.
I can try to understand.
No, not understand, that’s not even nearly the right word to use. I can’t possibly understand even the tiniest part or what you’re going through because I’ve never had to experience the soul rending grief which comes with the loss of a baby.
Loss also doesn’t seem like the right word because it’s not as if you went to the supermarket and left the baby in the trolley; something to be recovered at a later date if you just retrace your steps and think hard enough about where you left them.
I wish I had the ‘right’ words for you but I’ve yet to meet anyone who does.
Even as neonatal healthcare professionals we’re not really taught about the language of death and grief. The Northern One has had one lecture at medical school where they covered ‘breaking bad news’ and I’ve had no training at all. We just have to muddle along as best we can, learning through experience and any resources that we manage to access in our spare time.
I may not know what to say or which words to use but I can sit here beside you and I can listen to you for as long as you want to talk or even if you don’t want to talk at all. Just as I don’t have the words to try and help you, you may not have the words to express you grief and that’s OK. I’m not expecting anything of you at all, I just want to try and give you the space and support so that when you’re ready you can tell me what you need.
Remember that, it’s what you need and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. If you want to cry then do, as long and as loudly as it takes. If you feel as though you can’t or you don’t want to then that’s OK as well, just so long as it’s not anyone else’s opinions or expectations stopping you from grieving the way you want to.
I honestly don’t give a monkey’s what anyone else thinks you should be doing or expects you to do. Your grief may well make some people uncomfortable but that’s their problem, not yours. You have every right to scream your loss from the rooftops or to turn off your phone and stick a sign on your front door telling everyone to leave you be. It is your loss and your grief and no one has the right to try and dictate to you.
Friends and relatives may think that they’re trying to help by telling you that you’ve grieved long enough, that you need to move on or that ‘there’s still time to have another baby’ but there is no time limit for grief and no guarantee that you want to try for another child. It may be that these people are worried that you’ve put your life permanently on hold and so do try and listen to them, even if you don’t agree with what they’re saying.
If you can, try and stay in touch with your GP. If you feel that you need counselling or some other psychological input, if you do think you may want to try for another baby or if you want to try and find some answers as to why your baby died, they are the people best equipped to refer you to the services you need. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your GP or as though they’re not listening to you then find another one and keep looking until you do find one that fits.
Finally, please do whatever feels right and whatever you need to tell that world that your baby lived; that they are loved and missed and that however short their life was, it did happen. No one has the right to make you feel that your baby isn’t important or that you shouldn’t talk about them, just because they died.
So cover the walls in photographs of them, celebrate their birthday, remember the day that they died; whatever it takes. It is likely that you will come across people who feel uncomfortable taking to you about your baby but, as upsetting as these time are you are still a parent. You loved and still love your baby with all your heart and no one can take that away from you.
There may come a day when you don’t feel the same need to let people know that your baby lived. You may as though you’re forgetting your baby or that you are somehow less sad that they died. But if that day does come, please don’t feel guilty. It doesn’t mean that you love your baby any less or miss them any less. It just means that time is changing how you experience grief; changing your pain from a hurt that can bring you to your knees into a an ache that, while permanent isn’t quite as sharp and gnawing.
But in the meantime, try and be kind to yourself, take all the time that you need, don’t beat yourself up for grieving the way that feels right to you and don’t try and meet anyone else’s expectations.
All my Love to you and your little one.