Confession: When I was pregnant or trying to conceive, I hated hearing stories about pregnancy loss and stillbirth. It wasn't just because I felt sad for the families involved (though I certainly did); I wanted to pretend that such losses didn't happen to women like me -- those who went for regular sonograms, took prenatal vitamins and avoided risky behavior. Hearing stories of tragic loss spoiled my happy delusion.
Two miscarriages and a stillbirth later, much has changed, yet much remains the same. I am now the woman whose story many prefer not to hear. Mention of my baby can silence a room. I am a painful reminder of the fragility of nascent life. For some, it is easier to resort to platitudes, pity or a quick change of topic than to listen to what I am feeling or what I've been through.
And I can understand. I've been that person who didn't want to hear about unhappy endings.
So, why do I talk and write openly about my experience?
1. It's my reality. Not a day goes by that I don't think of my baby Matthew in some way. Keeping silent about something that is so prevalent in my thoughts is isolating.
2. Silence breeds shame. I have known grieving mothers whose pain was deepened by the belief/fear that their pregnancy loss somehow made them less of a woman. Seeing other women surviving the challenges of miscarriage and stillbirth openly and without shame sends the important message that pregnancy loss is nothing to be embarrassed about and no reflection of a woman's femininity or worth.
3. It helps me grieve. Speaking and writing about my loss helps me to absorb the reality of what happened, process my feelings, integrate my experience and slowly arrive at a new normal.
4. I want others to know that they are not alone. Some of the greatest support I have received in my loss has come from other grieving parents. Silence about stillbirth isolates families from one another at a time when they need support most.
I recently met a nonagenarian who was isolated in her grief for seven decades, believing that stillbirths no longer happen and that hers was somehow her fault.
As I talk and write about my experience, more and more people tell me about losses experienced by a friend, relative, acquaintance, or themselves. Connecting with others can be a source of strength and comfort at a most difficult time.
5. I need to know that my son matters. While Matthew's time was short and he never had the opportunity to interact with the outside world, I want him to have a legacy beyond just my grief. Sharing our story allows him to touch the world in a way he never had a chance to in life. It allows me to give his life a meaning, beyond just the love our family feels for him.
So for those who cannot tolerate hearing about my stillborn son, I really do understand. But for those who can, please know that your listening is a gift and I am most grateful.