There can be few images of loss in literature more potent than that of the empty stool shown to Scrooge in the Cratchit house after Tiny Tim has died. There are few images more powerful in a film than that of Dumbo’s mother as she is torn from her child and left without him. It’s strange that a topic which can be dealt with so beautifully in cartoon films meant for children is such a taboo, so very unspoken, in every day life. We need a day to remember; even then, I think International Infant Loss Awareness Day is something many people will brush over, most of all because they simply cannot bear to consider it happening to them. So it is better not to think it at all.
None of us were any different before it happened to us. Unlike the Cratchit’s, there is no chance for us to be saved by some unexpectedly benevolent being changing a past and a future. We can’t reverse time. We can’t change it. We can’t fix it or rerun it or scream that we can’t cope with the reality and please could someone alter it for us.
We are stuck with clothes that were never worn.
We are stuck with memory boxes and not nearly enough memories.
We are stuck with a place at a table that will never be filled.
We are stuck with platitudes, sometimes from our own mouths.
We are stuck birthdays that simultaneously do and do not happen.
We are stuck with never being able to grasp a memory, an image and a thought and say “that was him, that is the joy of that person that I remember.”
As this piece of writing says so beautifully, “Infant loss is more than an empty cradle. It’s a life sentence.”
And if you read the comments to that piece, you’ll see we are also stuck with the people who will always believe it was somehow our fault. And we are also stuck with wondering that ourselves.
This year, like last year, I remember.
I remember Freddie.
I remember a twin.
I remember Evie Rose.
I remember Benjamin.
I remember Joel.
I remember Toby and Estella.
I remember Sophia and Thomas.
I remember Matthew.
I remember Lily.
I remember the lost potential children of friends & family who I love.
I remember Florence Violet and Emma Faith, daughters of mothers I knew before these losses.
I remember Daniel.
I remember Minnie.
I remember Thomas.
I remember Jack.
And I remember all the babies of people who have kept me sane this last 18 months and 2 days on my blog, on their blogs, and at Glow. A list I will inevitably keep adding to for days as I get to yet another blog I read and realise the enormity of loss that silently surrounds us. (Forgive me if I have not yet added your child, please remind me, my memory & rss feed are equally inadequate prompts.)
I remember Iris.
I remember Lucie.
I remember Georgina.
I remember Charlotte.
I remember Alex.
I remember Reid.
I remember Hope.
I remember Haloumi.
I remember Gabriel.
I remember Micah.
I remember Cullen.
I remember Otis.
I remember Foster.
I remember Liam.
I remember Laura.
I remember Joseph.
I remember Snowflake.
I remember Margot.
I remember Catriona.
I remember Isabelle.
I remember all the babies of the men and women on Glow who have stood beside me this year.
I am thinking of the babies who belong to women who have told me their stories this year in person, to comfort me and abide with me, but who have not always told me their names.
I am thinking of babies held in hearts and kept private to their families.
I am thinking of the mothers for whom hope was gone almost before it had taken root.
I am thinking of the babies who were longed for and never came.
I am thinking of the mothers for whom pregnancy became surgery & medical procedures.
I am thinking of the women who made the decision to say goodbye for a greater good, while it tore their hearts out and broke their souls.
I am thinking of the mothers who discovered horror on a day that should have meant a whether pink or blue nursery needed preparing.
I am thinking of the mothers who felt stillness where a moment before there had been back flips.
I am thinking of the mothers who prepared or laboured to deliver a baby knowing they would never hear a cry.
I am thinking of the mothers who unexpectedly heard the loudest silence in the world.
I am thinking of the parents who hovered over a neonatal crib, hoping for a miracle, learning medical terms they never wanted to know.
I am thinking of the parents who chose the moment of their child’s last breath and held them as they died.
I am thinking of the parents who didn’t get there in time to do that.
And of all those who fall into the myriad of cracks between, each a chasm as deep and dark as any other.
And for the fathers, the siblings, the aunts and uncles and grandparents for whom life is never quite the same again.
If a woman, or a man, mentions a lost baby or a pregnancy in passing, don’t gloss over it and move on. It won’t save them pain. They mentioned it because they want you to know of that child. They want to speak a name and of a moment and you will help them to allow it.
If they tell you of their loss, don’t equate it to any other loss you know, that was similar in your eyes. It is NOT the same as losing your dog. It is not even the same as losing a grown person you loved. Not more important, but not the same.
Only say “I understand” if you do. Otherwise, “I am so sorry” is quite okay.
If they tell you of their loss, don’t try to make it acceptable. Don’t say it was better that he died earlier before they really loved him, or better that they never knew her, or that he never came home, or that at least they have other children.
Just abide. Just walk a moment beside them.
Just remember that there will always be hope that turned to tragedy. There will always be an empty chair at their table and a space under the Christmas tree where there should have been a present.