A lot is written about the grief a parent is left with after the death of their baby, but let’s throw the net a little further and start to look into how society then deals with the conversations and expressions in and around that grief.
In my experience, unfortunately the prevailing clichés hold some truth – people do avoid talking about grief, specifically when that grief relates to child loss, stillbirth and infant death. The invisible deaths.
In relation to these types of losses, there seems to be some unwritten rules you must adhere too. The prevailing feeling is that the bereaved parent must wrap up their grief in what western society has deemed an appropriate amount of time (you can pull any arbitrary number here you like), and once the grief window has expired, you’re best to try not to talk about it in public. Doing so will only make others uncomfortable and it projects that you’re not really ‘over it’ adequately if you still bring it up in polite conversation.
So, let’s talk why it makes others uncomfortable. The death of a baby is such an emotionally charged type of grief, it’s a grief that if you haven’t had personal experience with it, it is very hard to fathom the very real and lasting toll it takes on you, both as a parent but as a person as well.
Are you the type of person that would hesitate bring it up in conversation because of the unsure footing it brings? Don’t be, don’t sit on the fence. Be the friend who asks how they are in relation to their grief, but do it with tact. Trust me, most bereaved parents will appreciate the sentiment and forgive any fumbles. They may want to talk about, they may not. They may cry, they may not. You may be surprised at how much insight a bereaved parent is able to express when reflecting back about their experience.
Give them the space to decide if it becomes a conversation. Will it make them upset? Possibly – but they may also be touched that someone remembered and cared enough to ask about their baby.
Take a minute and self-assess if you are avoiding the conversation because it may be uncomfortable for you. Because it’s not uncomfortable for a bereaved parent; it’s reality.
Another barrier is the supposed time limits imposed on expressions of grief. This can be looked at from a couple of angles. Firstly, bereaved parents seem to be quietly told by society that their grief should be insular and limited. To still be talking about a child’s death after years have passed can be seen as clinging to a faded or expired memory.
As a society, we seem to better rationalise, or at least find a connection to the grief with other types of death, such as the death of a parent; it is a reasonable life expectation that a grown adult will outlive their aging parents. Also society can understand the reasoning behind why a woman would display a picture of her husband even if she is a widow, but to still be talking about a baby that has died or have that baby’s picture displayed isn’t seen as a show of love and respect, it is seen as unhealthy longing and unhealthy grieving. But why is that?
When a bereaved parent expresses their grief after 10-20-30 years it may not be because they haven’t fully grasped the death or comprehended the loss. More likely it will be, simply, because they loved and still continue to love their baby. The child they had in their arms who they continue to love despite their death, the love doesn’t fade even as the years roll on. The memory contains sadness, as any death does, but also an abundance of love. Giving parents an outlet to speak about their experiences at any time in the future is not dwelling on the past. It helps to make some sense of the experience, to gain a perspective that only time allows and helps place the traumatic event in that parents broader life experiences.
We now see this reflected in the support options available. For this generation of bereaved parents modern culture has expanded to become a more open and connected environment for shared conversations. By sharing experiences, we can open up about the grieving process and relate it other’s experiences. We can find the patterns and begin to hear how the grief affects parents in their own words. Informing each other, thereby informing the greater community on just what is normal and healthy grieving after the death of your baby.
Being so open and honest in terms of what the experience entails has another benefit; as it allows others to view how their own reactions can be seen through the eyes of a bereaved parent and how those reactions can play into the feelings of isolation, guilt and self-blame that can easily cloud the mind of bereaved parents when the topic of their loss is blatantly avoided.
To be better informed is to respond with care and empathy. Nobody wants to think about what it is really like to hold your unbreathing baby in your arms. And you may not want to talk about it either. But with 6 stillbirths a day in Australia, at some point it’s likely to hit someone you know.
The death of a baby is a type of grief that is unique. To grieve at the beginning of life, if feels unnatural, therefore it’s hard to talk about and difficult to define. So, when you have that conversation, or hear a bereaved parent talk, don’t be lost in your own discomfort or lost in their sadness; find the pride in their voice as they speak about their baby, hear their love within the loss.
What’s your experience with reactions to your grief, Have you experienced any of these situations? Comment below