On mother’s day at 6:30 am I got a call from my baby sister. Now I love my sister, but 6:30 am on almost any day in my world is too early for a call, especially a Sunday. Needless to say I was not my bright sunny self.
“I just called to wish us a happy mother’s day” she said. Half awake and barely intelligible I thanked her, and then asked her why she couldn’t have waited till a reasonable hour or texted me, or something. I blame my slowness on the early hour because she then had to repeat herself. “Yeah but I called to wish US a happy mother’s day!”
As the light went on in my brain, I started to gush. They had been trying secretly for a few months, which seemed like forever to them, but up until then, hadn’t had much success. Beyond that, it seemed everyone at her work place and in their life (with the exception of myself) was pregnant, many who weren’t even trying, and weren’t necessarily happy about it. It was torturous for her to want so bad to be something that someone else didn’t want to be.
We chatted for a few minutes and then I bounced around the apartment for the rest of the morning. How could I possibly have gone back to sleep after that? Being a doula, she had tons of questions for me, some great ones that made me have to think and research, and others that just made me shake my head and laugh. Through it all, the excitement they felt was contagious.
She was blessed with the families’ pregnancy warning system, also known as throwing up pretty much immediately. Not only did this suck, but it meant that she had to tell her boss very early in her pregnancy that she was pregnant. She was running out of excuses for the multiple trips to the bathroom, and why she couldn’t shove the appliances around as she had easily done before (she works in the appliance department of a chain store). She also, because she has never been able to keep a secret, decided to tell the family.
I was looking forward to being her confidant through the process, to answering her questions, especially the off-the-wall ones, and to being there to support her through the birth if that’s what she wanted. We were all completely floored when at 11 weeks she went for an ultrasound, only to find out that the baby had died several weeks earlier.
This led to a devastating time for her and her husband, and the rest of our family for that matter. Another sister was 6 months pregnant at the time, and she was still surrounded by baby bellies at work. Not only that, but everyone knew that she was pregnant, so she then had to explain that it was no longer the case.
Having been her sounding board over the past many months, as she’s grieved, and is still grieving, as she has struggled with wanting to try again, and her partner not being completely on board at first, as she has struggled with fears, and pain, and hope, I’ve had an interesting perspective on having a baby die.
There are some things I have learned:
1) Never say I’ve been there. Every experience is different, and every process is different. You have never stood in the exact same place as that person, so you just can’t understand.
2) Grief is different for everyone. It’s very hard as a couple to grieve a baby as one partner often wants to talk, and the other just can’t find the words. We all cope differently, and if you are going to be the sounding board, try to see both sides. It’s so important for a couple to grieve together, so making suggestions about common ground is always much more helpful than belittling the other partner for not stepping up.
3) The words you use can have a huge impact. They didn’t “lose” a baby. They were n0t responsible for the baby dying, like you would be for losing your keys, and the baby won’t be found again.
4) You cannot replace a baby. As a friend often says “if your mother died, no one would say that’s ok, you can just go have another one”. Unfortunately, when a baby dies, the consolation is often “you’re young, you can have more”.
5) Having a baby die is one of the most isolating experiences. The idea terrifies most people, and because of that they don’t know what to say. You don’t need to say anything other than “do you want to talk?” What you do need to do is make sure they know it’s ok, and listen. It’s not about you. It’s not about how you feel; it’s about listening to them and validating their feelings.
6) Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. I can’t tell you the number of times my sister has complained that no one says anything about the baby. Even acknowledges that she was pregnant. They do however ask if and when she’s planning on getting pregnant again.
7) It’s hard when you are excited about your life, to think of how it might impact someone else’s. For weeks, she couldn’t look at my pregnant sister, couldn’t visit, and honestly had a hard time just talking to her. It was very difficult after the baby was born. It reminded her of what she did not have that she so wanted. This is no one’s fault, but it helps if you tread lightly, and realize how difficult it must be.
8.) Be Gentle. One of the hardest experiences for my sister was when her husband’s sister announced that she was pregnant. A small head’s up would have prevented some very hurt feelings, and possibly some crying in her mother-in-laws bathroom. Let them know privately ahead of time, and then they can grieve, and still be able to be happy when you make the announcement to the group.
9) Don’t forget the partner. Just because he’s a boy doesn’t mean he isn’t hurting and doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be acknowledged. They’ve walked the gauntlet of one of the worst parenthood experiences. I’ll call him on father’s day. I’ll have my daughter make him a card.
10) Acknowledge the loss on the big days. I talked to her in January when she would have been due. I secretly pray for another 6:30 call from my sister on mother’s day (although honestly I pray that it comes sooner, and perhaps not quite so early). If it doesn’t come however, I might just set my alarm for 6:29 and call her. She’s just as much of a mother as I am, perhaps more. She deserves to have that acknowledged. The baby deserves to be remembered.
As I was doing the final edit of this, somewhere around 6:30pm on Mother’s Day, (the one that comes in March ), my baby sister called me to say she was six weeks pregnant. Here we go again….
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