I have a post I have been working on in my head for a week or so now. I had planned to write it on the 2nd. I was just going to set it to post on a schedule, nothing fancy, just a general cycber hug to a bunch of Mama and Papa Frog’s I know, and a public service announcement. But then, as I was sitting down to write that post, I got a Facebook message from a friend that stopped me in my tracks. We had lost contact over the last year- busy schedules, Tiny Tadpole’s birth, homeschooling (me not her), college (her not me), relationship changes (her not me) etc but a month or so ago, she called to tell me she was pregnant. I was happy for her (bittersweetly so as my days of making that call are behind me). We had made plans to meet up that fell through, but I assumed I would see her sooner rather than later. However, the message she sent me on the 2nd broke my heart. She was on her way to the hospital, having lost her baby.
I have gotten those calls and messages so many times, 3 times in just the last year. I have stood by a different friend who had two stillbirths, both at times during which I was pregnant. One of my Froglets shares a name with one of her loss babies. You all remember my cousin Vee who lost both her daughter ER and another baby during early pregnancy. I lost both my own ER in infancy to SIDS and the next baby to early miscarriage. Another friend of mine has lost 5 sweet Froglets of her own. Still another lost a baby midway through her pregnancy, before the birth of her youngest. For those of us who have lost their precious Froglets, there is a sweet innocence to our lives before loss that we will never get back. Pregnancy is no longer just about cute baby things and gender and 10 months of anticipation. There is also fear and dark dread, because we know first hand that bad things can and do happen. Our excitement is tempered by caution and niggling whispers of “what-if”. I would never ever wish that loss on anyone, and my heart breaks a little each time someone I know loses their innocence in this way.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. October 15th is PAIL Awareness Day. I had a post all planned out and then, things changed. Changed like a carefree pregnancy that turns into a nightmare when you hear those words “There is no heartbeat.” Kind of like the way a miscarriage’s beginning can stop you cold in your tracks. Kind of the way you will never be the same after you realize just how long it has been since the baby kicked or moved and why WON’T she kick or move? Or even the way your life changes when you go to pick up your sleeping baby and realize he will never wake up again. Yeah it changed like that. Because all those who have been through a pregnancy or infant loss and all those who will go through it or know someone who has or will- they deserve more than a comfortable stand-pat post about PAIL awareness. I deserve more than that. I deserve to be mad and sad and to have the freedom to say this to people: I KNOW IT SUCKS AND ITS SCARY BUT IT HAPPENS. IT HAPPENED TO ME AND IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU. I HOPE IT WON’T BUT YOU NEED TO KNOW THAT IT CAN. PREGNANCY AND INFANT LOSS IS NOT A DISEASE, IT IS NOT SOMETHING WE CHOSE.
If it was a disease, or it was a choice we would have support, and the world would treat us kindly. Instead the world tells us that our grief is too much and we should move on, because “it was meant to be” or “there was something wrong with that baby” or “its for the best” or even “you can always have another baby later.” We don’t say those things to people who have lost a pet, but its okay to say them to someone who has lost a child? I get it and I can hear you already. Not everyone has to deal with those comments. But most of us do. And I know I can hear you again. People mean well, you are saying, They aren’t trying to make you feel bad. Yes, I agree with you. Most people don’t mean to make things worse, but Pregnancy and Infant Loss is such a dirty word in our culture. We do not prepare people for how to handle it when it happens to them and we don’t teach them how to handle it when it happens to others. There is a basic set of ettiquette that is followed with someone who loses a parents, or a spouse. No one has ever said, “Well Joan, you can always find another husband. There was probably something wrong with that one anyway, and he would have just had problems for his entire life.” And no one ever says, “Well golly Pete. I know she was your mom and you miss her, but you are really bringing me down talking about her all the time. After all, I am afraid that my own mom might die and it makes me feel better if you don’t mention yours. And please do not ever show me pictures of her.”
Part of the problem is that pregnancy is such an intimate relationship. As a Mama Frog, before my baby is ever born I have an entire relationship with that child that continues after birth. The rest of the world (and even to some extent Papa Frogs) don’t have a relationship with that child until AFTER it is born. That makes pregnancy loss a deeply personal thing. The other issue is our attempt to define life. By opening the door for abortions, we must completely disregard a fetus as a life until it reaches a certain age. But I promise you, any Mama who is in the midst of an early miscarriage is mourning the loss of her baby, not a “clump of cells”. The rest of the problem, I believe lays in our almost superstitious belief that if we acknowledge that loss happens, it will happen to us. You may disagree but until you have walked this path, you don’t truly see it. I promise you that. You do not see it the way those of us with losses do.
I will never forget, about 3 years after ER died, I got a Mothering Magazine in which a mama had written a beautiful and heartbreaking account of her stillbirth. There were pictures of her baby (what mama does not want to show off her baby) and the most eloquent account of that baby’s life and death. I was touched, floored. I wept for that mama, but I wept as well because this magazine had taken such a step to actually bring loss out of the closet and shine a light on it and say “This happens.” I wrote in, one of the only times I have ever written into a magazine, and thanked them from a loss mama for their courage in publishing that story and thanked that mama for sharing her baby with the world.
The next month, in that same magazine, the letters to the editor page was flooded, not with letters like mine, but letters decrying the magazine and scolding them for traumatizing pregnant women, threatening to cancel subscriptions and warning that now this magazine was being hidden away instead of shared. All because OF ONE LOSS STORY! As though the words on the pages would reach out and steal the life away from every pregnant belly it touched. Those letters made me weep different tears, because I realized that what I saw originally as a step forward was barely a tippy-toe baby step forward.
One year later, I was staying at my Aunt Ro’s house and she had a stack of Mothering Magazines in a basket. In the back of one of the issues, I found my letter to the editor, along with a couple of others, telling of how that Mama’s courage had touched us. But it was a month later than the reactive letters, and published quietly. There is one thing I did take from that though. Behind all the craziness us loss parents, we stick together. We band together and we provide a safe haven for each other to talk and share and remember. It breaks my heart to be part of that community, but it means everything to me. And I find solace knowing that I can step in and let my friends know they aren’t alone. It is a hellish road I wish no parent had to walk. But barring that, no one should ever walk it alone.