I’m Liberty’s Mother. My first child, my daughter Liberty, was stillborn at 36 weeks in 2011. Until the day she died, I was told by the health team that I was having a ‘text book pregnancy’. At my 36 week check, the midwife was new and struggling but she said she thought things were okay. We felt unsure, so we went to the hospital where they could not find a heartbeat. Liberty was born 48 hours later. Her placenta had died too early to support the full pregnancy.
I’m on a mission to talk about baby loss until the stigma is gone and the power of the silence has been broken. I feel strongly that talking is a powerful healer and that silence is isolating. I am a professional songwriter and I have recently begun blogging and posting about all things baby loss related, to support the release of a song I wrote for Liberty which will be released September 27th ‘I Can Love You From Here’. All profits will go to charity.
Talking can be hard, you might find it difficult to know where to begin speaking to someone whose baby has died.
Here are five ways you can help break the silence.
1. Just try.
Um. That’s it really – just one tip! Try. Be kind, open, think and do not be scared. It’s not likely you will say the wrong thing but if you do, you can say you are sorry and that you are trying. Show that you are not scared of my loss, of my feelings and of your own feelings. You might think that you have nothing to offer, that your experience to date does not prepare you for the conversation but that honestly doesn’t matter – you just need kindness and the will to help and talk, rather than close things down.
Here’s a true story to illustrate; one day in 2012, when I was pregnant with my second child, I went to a pregnancy yoga class where we were all invited to chat with a cuppa afterwards. It was not a good experience for me. I tried my best but I went away feeling that no one wanted me or my loss in the room. Later that day, I went to the college where I work and after I’d finished teaching, a young, single male student of mine hung around and asked me how I was. His big sister was pregnant too. We chatted for about 20 minutes openly about my loss and my current pregnancy and I felt better than I had all week. How about that? On paper, we had much less in common than me and the pregnant yoga mums, but he was kind, open-minded and wanted to help by talking. Crucially he was not scared of whatever I was going to say. You don’t need to KNOW about this topic. Just try.
2. Avoid the clichés.
Think about the things you are going to say and consider whether they are true, and if you in fact believe them. I have recently been calling out useless and unhelpful statements in my blog. For example; ‘I couldn’t possibly understand what you are going through’. I think if we use our imagination a little we can try to understand. Of course, we can’t fully understand other people’s feelings, because we are all as different as our fingerprints, but we can absolutely try and that’s what makes a connection and helps. It’s just hard to do that because you have to face your own fear. Every time someone said that to me in the past, this is what I heard; ‘Don’t come near me with your scary grief. I can’t handle it. What you are trying to deal with is simply too much to cope with. Please take it away’. See why it’s not helpful?
Here’s another example; I keep hearing people talk of ‘unimaginable pain’ after bereavement. This messes with our concept of reality. People are dying every day, all around the world in all sorts of circumstances. Children and babies die every day within our wider human family. It is not unimaginable, it is just terrible, and you need to be super strong to cope with each day, work through it and carry on. However, the fact is that you have little choice and it would really help if everyone else didn’t keep upping the level of horror with statements like that. The good news is that we ALL have that strength within us. We just need some help to see that we do, when we are at are most vulnerable.
3. Don’t be afraid to relate your own experiences.
However far it might seem from what’s happening, loss is something we will all experience over time and the best way for us to connect, is to be open and vulnerable. If you are prepared to be vulnerable with people you can build trust. I’m not suggesting you should talk about yourself at length, but opening up and sharing from your side will help. If you challenge yourself in this way, it will build trust between us and there will be a sense of you joining me where I am. I will feel less alone. In my professional life as a songwriter and teacher, I often have people open up to me about their life experiences and traumas which can be very far removed from my own. Nevertheless, I’ve observed that sharing my experience of loss at the right moment in the right way, with a simple open sentence that doesn’t share the burden and acknowledges how different it is, really helps build trust and helps demonstrate that we can move through terrible pain and survive.
4. Follow my lead.
There are lots of things written by women saying how important it is to use the name of a baby who has died. As you can see, I feel so strongly about this that I have created my identity as ‘Liberty’s Mother’ to get the chance to use her name. But then I know Mums who have not named their stillborn babies and of course we shouldn’t assume that everyone’s feelings are the same. Confusing? Not really – just follow their lead and don’t try to override it. Losing a child really messes with your own ability to trust your instincts. Help me build that ability back up again by respecting my feelings and going along with them.
5. Don’t judge me or my situation
.Or think you know more about it than me. ‘I think that it you did X, Y and Z it would be easier’, is not a helpful thing to think or say. Just accept the feelings as they are. Maybe I don’t even know all the levels of complexity behind my feelings, so how could you? Don’t look for reasons for the feelings or the behaviour that the feelings may create or try to ‘solve the problem’ of my loss. It is not solvable and we both know that really. And grief can take a very long time, so if I don’t behave ‘normally’ (whatever that means), and for a long time, then that is to be expected. It never ceases to amaze me how people forget the context of the loss in my life when observing the lasting effect. Remember that for me, and my family this never ‘goes away’, it just becomes part of our life experience and identity, and that’s okay.
What I know to be true, is that talking is free and the most healing thing in the world. Talking invites in the sunshine to heal our wounds and, over time, can turn them into manageable scars. It takes time and the sun may be weak or even invisible behind the clouds at first, but it is always there. We can share and shoulder our loss and we can move forward from grief, but we can only ever do that together by sharing our human experiences.
If you would like to, please feel free to contact me. I, (and lots of other mums) are active online on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can find me @libertysmother on Instagram and Twitter and www.facebook.com/libertysmother as well as www.libertysmother.com.
Image credit: Liberty’s Mother/Sophie Alagna