12 February 2012

"I know how you feel, my dog died" and other things not to say to someone who gave birth to a dead baby.

no words

I am not sure if I should publish this post.

I actually wrote it more than 6 months ago, but I thought it sounded a bit mean and insensitive so I never posted it, but Ill try and write without sounding too ungrateful.

There are a few things that people say to me when they find out about Grace that really annoy me. Like, annoy me to the point where sometimes I think I might slap the next person that says it to me. I always smile and say thanks, but I think to myself "Who the hell says that? I just told you my baby died and you said THAT" !!??!

Tom always reminds me that I can not get upset because no one means to upset me, they are trying to empathise with me and make me feel better. And Tom and I have always said that if it had happened to someone else, we would have no idea what to say, I mean what do you say? There are often no words.

But still there are a few things that people say to me all the time that annoy me.
The thing I get most often is "Oh well, at least you are still young". Now, if I am talking about infertility, then sure, I'm very lucky I'm still young but in response to learning that my daughter died!? When people say this they are reassuring me that I have plenty of time to have more children, but they are missing the point completely. It does not matter how many more children I have there will always be a great big Grace shaped hole in my life. Full stop.

The other thing that people say is "I'm very sorry, I understand how you feel.. my dad died last year". I know this sounds insensitive but parents are supposed to die before you.. Your children are NOT. There is something fundamentally wrong with the world when you bury your own child. I know this sounds cruel, I'm sure losing a parent is awful (My dad got given 2 months to live almost two years ago and I have watched him get worse day by day) but I just can not imagine that it is anything like losing a child.

Alot of people like to tell me that "everything happens for a reason". This is fine to say to someone if they have lost their car keys or missed their bus on the way to work, but really? The whole medical profession can not find a reason my baby died, but you think there is? Oh good for you. I think the only people who believe this are people who have never suffered any real tragedy in their lives.

And lastly (and this one might make me very unpopular), is that people say "I'm so sorry, I know how you feel.. I had a miscarriage last year". Now, the ONLY reason I can write this is because I had two miscarriages before Grace died and I can tell you that having a miscarriage is nothing like having a stillborn baby. NOTHING.
I know this sounds so awful to say and I am really not trying to take anything away from people who have suffered a miscarriage. I know that when I had mine they were devastating, heartbreaking beyond belief. At the time I thought it was the worst kind of pain. But then I went through hours of excruciating labour and gave birth to a dead little girl who I got to hold in my arms and that was a pain unlike anything else. The kind of heartbreak that makes you wonder if you can go on living. If you can go on breathing. If you will ever survive.


So there. I said it.
I really hope that I don't sound like I am dismissing other people's loss as nothing. I don't mean to take anything away from people who have experienced a loss and I know that it is soo hard to know what to say. But people, things like "My dog died last week" or "Oh, you mean you had a stillborn, that's okay.. I actually thought you had lost a living child" or (when I returned all the baby clothes I had bought) "Well, at least you get some nice new clothes for yourself" are not cool things to say. Not cool.

This is a photo of Grace's coffin. It was taken exactly one year ago on this day. Sitting in the funeral parlour choosing a baby sized coffin while stuffing tissues down my bra to try and control the milk leaking from my boobs (the milk that was supposed to be nourishing my little baby) was the lowest moment of my life.


beanfeaster said...

I am so, so sorry. Sorry that you had to experience the unbelievable horror of the death of your daughter; sorry that you are then further traumatised by the insensitivity shown by people; sorry that you have experienced heartbreaking pregnancy losses and are still struggling to conceive.

So, so, so sorry.

This post is profound, and I thank you for publishing it.

Luna said...

If you didn't publish this post, you would always wonder if you should have. A heartfelt read and I thank you for your strength in sharing it.

sara said...

So touching, I have just started reading your blog recently and I think you are so incredibly strong and brave to be so honest about something so heartbreaking. And despite this I still see all the glimpses of the things in your life that bring your joy and I feel some relief that you can still find that amid such a devastating loss. Your little Grace was blessed to have you as a mum.

Lizeylou said...

If you cant post how you feel on your own blog then where can you?

Anonymous said...

I also found people to be really insensitive when dealing with me when I was grief-stricken (my brother died). Through this I have learn't a little about how to approach someone suffering terrible grief. I am certainly careful not to compare their situation to someone else's that was worse, or offer any 'at leasts' ie at least you already have one child, are young etc etc. No one can possibly imagine how you feel when you loose a child (although for most of us its our deepest fear). I think that we really struggle to deal with death in our culture, unlike 50 yrs ago when more people would have experienced people in their family dying on a more regular basis. People just don't know how to react appropriately. I can totally understand your frustration with people comparing birthing your baby and losing her to having a miscarriage (I have had 2 myself and don't mean to belittle a totally horrific experience), I'm glad you had the courage to write about this. I hope you can continue to express yourself in whichever way you need to in order to survive your unimaginable loss xxxx Claerwen

Anonymous said...

I am sorry your baby girl died. My friend's 2.5 year old son died almost 3 years ago and I think about him and how brave and strong and broken she is each and every day. It is any mothers most horrific fear. You seem very brave. I am so sorry your baby died. Rebecca

Shannon said...

Katie - your post is spot on and heartfelt. I received EXACTLY the same comments when my baby girl died last year. I just wanted to slap people everytime they spoke. I'm sure they were trying to help but sometimes all I wished people would do was to be quiet and give me a big hug. x

Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to you and I think you were right to publish this. Infertility, miscarriage and still births seem to be taboo subjects which really doesn't help those of us who experience them, or the people who 'try' to empathise.

I thought infertility was the worst thing in the world until we lost our miracle IVF baby, and suffering a missed miscariage was the most devasting and heartbreaking thing I've ever dealt with. I can't even begin to imagine how I would cope with a baby born sleeping.

Anonymous said...

You are the strongest person I have 'met'. Never be afraid to speak your mind.

Roselle said...

sending you my love. God bless you and your family.

bron @ baby space said...

hey friend. I think it's good that you said it. I know you said it for you, but I also think it's good to get these things out there -- as a society we are v bad at dealing with grief. maybe these kinds of honest posts will help us. loving you and grace always, bx.

joanna said...

thank you for your honesty, your courage and realness. I agree - nobody can really know what it's like until they walk in your shoes. There are so many, many diffrent types of loss, and grief is so misunderstood in our society. Nothing will ever replace your baby - not even another baby, each life is precious.

Sara said...

You aren't the only person in this world to suffer loss. You cannot rate loss, or win at having the worst loss. you have achieved things many people have never managed, such as a lover, a healthy child and a loving family. Gratitude is not a matter of circumstance but of attitude.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Sara. Loss should not be a competition. Everyone feels things and deals with grief differently. We should all be respectful of that. To lose a parent in my mind would be horrific. To NEVER be able to have a child is awful too. We should look at what we DO have and be thankful. People reply to shocking news in ways you may not enjoy hearing, but we are all human beings. Most are probably just trying to be helpful, or are simply in shock at what they've just been told.

Katie:: Grow.Cook.Sew. said...

Sara and Anonymous - I knew that this post would cause a little commotion, which is why I debated about posting it for over 6 months!

I understand what you are saying and as I said in my post I am not trying to take anything away from other people's loss and I am in no way saying that I am the only person in the world to suffer loss.. I know that there are people who go through much, much worse.
And I did say that I understood how hard it is to know what to say and that I am always very polite to people because I understand that people are trying to share their loss with me to empathise with me and their aim is to make me feel better.

At the end of the day, I decided to write this post because I realised that people do not understand what to say and I wanted people to realise how a comment can be upsetting to me, even if the intention was to make me feel better.
And.. really, I wrote it because it was bothering me and I wanted to get it off my chest!

Also, this post was not about being grateful about the things I do have (I do plenty of that elsewhere thanks!) It was my first post about something that was annoying me.. that's all!

Anonymous said...

i too agree with sara and anon. i don't think putting a disclaimer at the bottom of your essay saying that 'you're not dismissing other people's losses' changes the substance of the text. you are dismissing other people's losses. you are telling me that my aunt's death last year is not as important as your own experience of death. or my grandfather's, or my grandmother's. which, personally, i find more insulting than any well intentioned but clumsy attempt at empathy. my aunt, my grandparents all died before their 'time'. which to me is more upsetting than measuring how upsetting their death is to oneself based on one's own timeline (i.e. before or after me). i am sorry for your loss, but i don't think it gives you a licence to belittle other people's circumstances. especially when you live as a majority populous,in a first world nation, in an already overpopulated world. if you don't want to hear other's well meaning attempts, perhaps don't say anything at all? we are all in this together, after all.

Katie:: Grow.Cook.Sew. said...

Anon - I understand that all loss is relative and that you can not go around saying 'my loss is worse than yours'.

The whole point is that is annoys me for people to compare their loss with mine.. just as you say that it annoys you for me to compare my loss with yours.
Maybe the point is that we should not compare loss at all? That we should just give sympathy without comparing it to the grief in our own lives?

joanna said...

This is amazing feedback, sara and anon - I find it incredibly hard to understand why when you have suffered your own losses you need to attack someone else for their very honest, real account of their own loss. There was nothing in this post that was dismissive or insulting to others...from what I read Katie was simply saying how it is for her - which she has every right to - it is after all, her blog, if you don't like it, simply don't read it! And as for gratitude, Katie, I think you show far more gratitude for things in your life, often posted on your blog, than I would be able to in your circumstances.

Luna said...

Joanna is spot on!

Anonymous said...

This IS amazing feedback, Joanna. I find it incredibly hard to understand why, when you seem to value honesty and authenticity, you feel compelled to tell the readers who felt that Katie's post was dismissive or insulting to them that it was not. How can you deny them their honest reaction? Do they not have the right to feel how they feel, to share their real feelings, to say how it is for them? What can we learn from their comments, which surely represent more voices than just their own? To suggest that they simply not read Katie's blog is counter-productive to the dialogue - the real and open dialogue - needed for enlightenment, for a better understanding of each other and where we are coming from when we attempt to console one another and express our grief. Honesty hurts sometimes. But with a truly open heart and mind we just might learn something from one another. In fact, in direct response to Anon's comment, Katie herself even suggests a new way of dealing with what she felt were people's insensitive comments to her when she writes that "Maybe the point is that we should not compare loss at all? That we should just give sympathy without comparing it to the grief in our own lives?" That sounds enlightened to me.

Katie:: Grow.Cook.Sew. said...

Hi all. I have decided that in a couple of days time I am going to close comments on this post.

I know that there is a need for discussion about grief and how we deal with it as a society, but to be honest I can not have that debate here. I'm just not up for it.. I have been waking up the last few days too scared to check the comments for fear of what may have been written and honestly, I need as little stress in my life at the moment.. I hope you understand.

I had planned to write an apology to the people that I offended, but after considering it for a few days, I don’t think that I have anything to apologise for. I did not say that my loss is worse than anyone else's.. but I said that it FEELS worse than anyone else's.. and it does to ME! I am not going to apologise for that.. It's how I feel.
I feel isolated, I feel like some days I can hardly cope, and I do feel like no one in the world can understand how I feel unless they gave birth to a dead baby too. And I think (hope) that that is a perfectly normal part of grief.

Tom felt that Sara and Anon (and Anon and Anon) have a valid point, but I was very hurt by their comments. Not because they were upset by what I said, but because they seemed to say that I should just "toughen up" and stop complaining and look at all the good things in my life.

Would you tell someone who is battling depression to just look at the bright side?
I understand that people go through far worse, I understand that I am lucky to have Tom and Sophie, but losing Grace was the worst thing that ever happened to me and I am having a really tough time coping. Don’t you think I wish every day that I could just get on with my life and be grateful for what I have already? It’s not that easy. I have spent the last year seeing a grief psychologist and honestly, sometimes In think I am worse now than I was a year ago.

One comment also suggested that maybe I should just shut-up and not tell people about Grace, which is completely counter productive to helping society learn how to address grief and frankly, I found it incredibly insulting as it is really hard to talk about losing a child, the last thing you need is someone telling you that ‘perhaps, you should not say anything at all’.

And finally, I do not go around "belittiling" other people's loss. The problem with what people say to me is that they start the sentence with “I know how you feel....” People who have lost a parent do NOT know how I feel. That does not take anything away from their own pain and grief but it does mean that they can not understand what I have been through, just as I can not understand what they have been through!!
And as I have said all along, I am so polite, not matter what people say. I don’t walk around telling people that their loss is not as important as mine. I don’t even think that, but I do feel that no one understands how I feel. (That does not mean that no one understands how I feel, it means that I FEEL like no one understands.. got it?)

Again, To me.. It feels like I have been through the worst thing in the world. I have nightmares everyday about Grace’s birth. I know that people go through far worse, but this seems to be my limit. And maybe I am just not as strong as other people who can go through worse and come out the other side, but I’m doing my best and that is all anyone can do.

Now, I hope that we can get back to talking about pretty things and delicious recipes. I will close comments in 2 days in case anyone wants to leave a final comment. Thanks for your understanding and thank you to everyone who wrote lovely and supportive comments.. I really appreciate them.

Kitty said...

Katie, just letting you know I read this post when it was first posted & didn't see the comments above.
I understand where you're coming from and you have every right to feel the way you do. You are a sweet & gentle soul, it shows here on your blog.
You speak words that aren't easily spoken, but are often felt & I truly admire you for that. What you write here is YOUR reality, & I don't believe it's fair for somebody else to undermine that.
A big hug to you xxx

Tania said...

The story of your dear little girl just makes me feel so sad. I can't say I know how you feel, but I do know that losing a child is my darkest fear. It's not a natural thing to bury your child. We do expect to bury our parents one day, but not a child. For we would not only lose and mourn them, but also mourn the person they never had a chance to be.
I'm quite upset at some of these insensitive comments left here. I really admire your spirit and strength. Perhaps this honest post will help others who are struggling with a similar situation. xo

Anonymous said...

Hi Katie,
I've been reading your blog (linked through Tom's facebook to yours and then onto your blog - I knew Tom when I studied in Lyon, tell him hi form me :-)

I have not reacted before but I just want to tell you that I think you are very very strong by sharing your 'weakness' and vulnerability with your readers! I hope you too will come out the other end stronger than ever even though little Grace will be part of you and Tom for all the days to come.

All's crossed here for another baby for you guys very very soon!

Good luck and keep your head up
Love from Holland


Amanda said...

Oh Katie, I completely missed this post last week and only just clicked across. The thing I find amusing is that most commenters who say something 'controversial' towards your post seem to post under 'anonymous'.

I cannot even possibly begin to imagine the pain and grief you battle each and every day. As you say, you have lots of positive things in your life, but they still won't ever take away the immense suffering you have gone through by losing Grace. My Dad used to always quote an American Indian saying which says, "never judge another man until you have walked in his moccasins" and I think that is so true. While others out there have experienced their own losses, only mothers who have gone through the same situation as you will be able to deal with your experience of grief.

I wish I could give you a huge hug right now xx

Amy M said...

I think that it was a brave post to write. Society doesn't hear enough about grief and the effects that it can have. It seems that people in the blogging world will pick at anything they can, sometimes just for the sake of it. I cannot imagine what giving birth to a dead baby would feel like, my own dead baby. I don't think there are adequate words to describe that kind of heartache.
I feel like I 'know' what you are saying in this post, even though I don't really know, because I haven't experienced it. But I can understand the bitterness and pain that would come with people trying to compare their pain with yours, no matter how well intentioned they are!
You and Tom seem like wonderful people. I cannot imagine either of you setting out to purposely hurt others.

Anonymous said...

Sending you lots of love, never be afraid to share your thoughts, we all need each other....

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