Last night I watched my daughter sleeping with extravagant and abundant moon shadow shawling over her. It was bitterly cold and the snow outside was pulsing blue and gleaming. It made me think of the billowing and hidden potential of things present in any apparently stark and moon-swept landscape. This harsh beauty reminds me always of the winter, nearly a decade ago, when I became a baby loss mom.
When I lost my son, I lost a lot. First of all I lost him. He was stillborn. It broke me. The love of my family and a few others built me back up. It took me years, though, to mourn through to clarity, as I struggled to come to terms with the secondary losses. Specifically, I lost my ability to be sure-footed among my peers. I did not know how to be a loss mom in a community of parents.
This is the case even though there are so many of us loss parents hiding in plain sight. I have spent years trying to find my way back to the place where I can find belonging. It has taken me back to the beginning, as T.S. Eliot wrote, to see the place for the first time.
I would like to throw down a two-part challenge to the parenting community at large. First, I would like to challenge those who feel lonely in baby loss to reach out for one person whom they miss. I challenge them to try to explain the nature of the ache of loss. Second, I would like to challenge anyone who cares for someone who has suffered baby loss to call them and ask them about their specific grief, fear or hope.
Is there someone you, on either side of the divide, have been meaning to e-mail? Do it now. As you do this, consider these points.
1. Understand that the work at staying connected is reciprocal. The bereaved can work to understand that the other person may not understand the nature of baby loss, but they don’t have to in order to care for you. It is enough that they try. This effort alone is touching and kind. They may not say the right thing but their attempts to reach you are usually very well intended.
2. The person trying to understand can ask for more information from the bereaved. Note that conversations about baby loss tend to end abruptly and leave off in misunderstandings. It is right to ask gently for more information. It may not be forthcoming immediately. People in grief can only bear what they can.
I think of opening a door and leaving it open, just a bit. I have tried to do this. At the time of my loss, I had a two-year old. Immediately, I grew awkward at a playground, at a birthday party. It was hard to go back to preschool and to avoid the eyes of all those women I knew wanted to reach out for me. Many of them tried. We had trouble communicating. They did not know how to overcome this and I did not know how to help them try. We were at an impasse.
I do not want this post to be another article about being misunderstood. Or about the separateness many internalize after loss. There are certainly breakdowns in communication that typically surround loss of any kind. We forget that baby loss, occurring at different stages, impacts millions of people – women and men – each year.
While we know we are not alone, we often behave as though we are. In deciding that people cannot understand, we can inadvertently consign ourselves to a self-fulfilling prophecy. In baby bereavement terms this can mean a sort of self-imposed exile from formerly cherished communities. This is especially true of fathers, who often have even less community to support them in loss than do mothers.
It has taken me nearly a decade and two subsequent healthy children to begin to try to re-enter fully the community of parents. I am uncertain coming back in, trailing as it were, the living and the dead. It has taken me a long time to understand the complex gifts of my loss. While I would not wish the pain of loss on anyone, I can see the legacy of my own loss as instructive.
While I write about loss, it still scares me to be personally revealing. In the last decade, I have done better in smaller groups and have grown more reserved. I communicate better on paper than in person. But I want to belong again in terms I understand. I hope that there is room for me, still.
This article originally appeared on BabyCenter.