The loss of our son is not one finite event. It is something we live with every single day, and will continue to do so for the rest of our days. I’m not sure people are aware of all the lurking triggers that make me relive the loss of my son on a constant basis. Imagine having to come into contact with every single person that last saw you pregnant and now you’re not. It’s not just your inner circle of family and friends, it’s a population that can spread very wide.
Just a few days after he passed, I had go into Rite Aid to get maxi pads and nipple pads (yes because I still gave birth, and yes your milk still does indeed come in). I went right up the corner here to my local Rite Aid in Pineville, which just happens to be across the street from the bakery I worked at everyday for almost 3 years and where I got to know our regular customers very well. There was this sweet mother/daughter duo that would come in every week for treats. The mother was quite elderly, it was clear the daughter was her care-taker. They were kind and chatty, and we would share stories, so clearly a week ago they saw me pregnant. When Jon and I pulled up, I immediately recognized them and they were headed into the store. I told Jon there’s absolutely no way I can risk going in there and them seeing me. Being the good husband he is, he went into the store to purchase said feminine products, texting me photos on which brand and size I needed. Jon was only in the car with me that day because we were headed to the funeral home to pick up our son’s ashes. I just imagine, if we pulled up 5 minutes later and I went into the store by myself like I planned, what would’ve happened?
So yes, that is one happenstance kind of story but I’m telling you these kind of stories happen every single day. Jon and I are big walkers, we take long walks around our neighborhood with our dog, waving to every neighbor we see. We’re close with many of them and do stop and chat often. For months I was terrified to go outside to walk my dog in fear of who I’d run into after one neighbor accosted us. I didn’t want to drop clothes off at our dry cleaners for fear of having to explain my loss to the owner who we know. Certain restaurants became off limits because we knew the staff all too well. Every decision became so calculated to insure not to run into any landmines.
Speaking of restaurants, I will share two examples, with two completely different outcomes. Shortly after our loss, I headed to my favorite sushi restaurant with my girlfriend Jessica. Although we know the owner pretty well, I was certain it’d be a safe place because we didn’t eat there my entire pregnancy (ie. raw fish). I did see the owner behind the sushi bar when we walked in, so I waved and then we were sat down at a table. Moments later I heard him saying my name (my back was towards the sushi bar), so I turned around to see him make a pregnancy gesture with his hands, mimicking the shape of a belly, followed with a questioned look on his face. My heart sank, so I simply waved my hands back in a “no no” type movement hoping he’d get the clue. Well he came out from behind the sushi bar and said “What happened? Did you have the baby?” I explained briefly what happened and he proceeded with probing questions, followed with a religious diatribe and finally told me: “Your son is in a better place”. FUN FACT: Don’t friend your favorite sushi owner on Facebook. I had no idea we were friends, because he isn’t active on it at all … I guess active enough to know I was pregnant though. I was in a ball of tears and it was certainly hard for Jessica and I to continue our girls lunch after that incident.
So one of Jon and I’s favorite go-to spots is Bonefish Grill right here in Pinveille. We ALWAYS sit at the bar, share bang-bang shrimp and then each get our own soup or salad. Yes we’re predictable, but it’s something we love to do at least once a month. So needless to say we got to know all the bartenders very well. I knew immediately this place was on our “no-fly zone” for quite some time because of this. A few months after Baby Boy died, I was really craving bang-bang shrimp. I wrestled with, “So do we never return to one of our favorite places with some of our favorite staff because of our loss? OR Do we go and face the inevitable and rip off the band-aid ?” Sure we could’ve grabbed a table instead of heading to the bar, but we were sure we’d still see one of the bartenders just by walking in. So we got brave one night and just decided to go. Our favorite regular bartender lady was working that night, she saw us the second we walked in and her eyes lit up. We sat down and she was busy making someone else’s drink and was making her way down to the bar to deliver it, but in passing said “Oh my gosh, you guys are here, you had the baby!” Holding every ounce of tears back I thought, “Well dangit, she did remember.” So when she came back to greet us, she said with even more excitement “Aww how’s the baby!?” … With tears in my eyes, I simply said, “Well, he passed away.” You could tell her heart physically sank, her eyes welled up and she was in shock. She didn’t say a word, but she started to make her way around the bar to the other side, she came up to me and said “Can I give you a hug?” and I said “Yes of course”. She gave me the tightest hug and softly said “I’m just so so sorry.” She went back around the bar and said, “I’m sure you need a cocktail, what can I get you?” She didn’t give any platitudes, she didn’t ask any probing questions. She just offered love and condolences (and booze). WHY CAN’T EVERYONE BE LIKE THIS BARTENDER????
Most people act like complete assholes once they discover our son was stillborn. They ask dumb and extremely personal questions. They try to relate with things that don’t even compare to giving birth to a lifeless child. They offer empty platitudes or give advice. They treat you like what we’ve experienced is somehow contagious. They manage to make you feel a million times worse, as if you already didn’t. I could write a book about all the dumb shit that is said to me on a regular basis.
Every doctor that I have to return to after my loss has my medical records … eye doctor, dentist, dermatologist, primary care etc. Every visit post loss, of course the first question they ask is: “Oh last time you were here you were pregnant, how’s your baby!?” So then I have to explain what happened, and hold my breath of what their reaction will be. My eye doctor most recently wins the prize for worst human ever after you tell someone your child died. She became audible with sounds like “Ooo, ahhhh, schhhh, yeah I hear that happens …” FYI, she is currently pregnant herself when reacting like this. Then had the gall to ask, “Well did you go on any fun trips this past summer?!” When someone tells you their child died over the summer, your next move is not to ask them if they took any fun trips during that time. So I responded back, “No, no we didn’t … we were consumed with grieving the loss of our son.” Which she chirped back, “Yeah, I understand, that’s hard … well everything happens for a reason!” Now this is where I almost walked out, as it was clear she exhibited zero compassion. Because one, no you don’t understand unless you’ve been through it and two, no my son didn’t die for a reason. So I curtly and tearfully replied back, “Please don’t tell me my son died for a reason, because he didn’t, just as children who die from cancer don’t … so you might want to refrain from saying that in the future because it’s not comforting to someone who is grieving any loss.” Lady had the nerve to clap back and sternly said: “Well you shouldn’t assume my beliefs and you don’t know other people’s struggles!” Ummmm come again? You just assumed MY beliefs by essentially telling me God killed my child for a reason, and what do other’s hypothetical struggles have to do with me telling you my son died? Actually it seems you don’t know MY struggles boo. So I said: “Well have you experienced the loss of a child?” She replied: “Well, no.” That’s when I said “OK then” … ordered my contacts and then got the hell out of there. STOP THE Q-TIP WHEN IT HITS RESISTANCE!!! When someone tells you, your words aren’t comforting, don’t go in any further … simply say you’re so sorry and shut the hell up.
It comes in the form of god-forsaken mail to remind me, I should now have a toddler at home …
During a girls night with mutual friends, while sitting in a loud bar, a woman who I’ve only met once (so I never personally told her about my loss, but clearly she heard) tried to compare her child’s 7-day NICU stay to my son’s death. I’m not kidding you. The topic of breastfeeding somehow came up, so she asked: “OMG, your milk still came in??” I said “Yes, yes it did … your body doesn’t know any different if there’s a living baby at home or if they died.” So she said, “Well my story is actually the exact opposite of yours ..” So I think to myself, “Oh your child is living??” but I didn’t say anything. She proceeded with: “We thought he might die during our pregnancy because they discovered something with his heart, but he was born alive and perfectly healthy, but he had to stay in the NICU for 7 days. So I wouldn’t wish a high risk pregnancy on anyone … because having to leave the hospital with my baby in the NICU and not have him home to feed for a week, only to pump was the world’s worst thing.” THIS CONVERSATION IS HAPPENING IN LOUD BAR mind you, but she wasn’t intoxicated. I just told you that I left my dead child at the hospital with no chance of him ever returning home, and I had to suppress my milk from coming in because I would NEVER have a mouth to feed and you follow up with that?? Never to discount the stress, fear and emotions that comes with a child who is in the recovery at the NICU, but we’re talking apples and oranges here. Your child is now a toddler; living, growing and healthy … mine is in an urn. Not everything is the same, we don’t always have to try to find some way to relate or compare. Your struggle is your struggle and my struggle is mine. But when you bring it up in direct reference to my loss, it is beyond dismissive and hurtful. It’d be like me telling someone going through chemotherapy that I had a questionable mole removed. Was I scared that it could’ve been worse? Sure. But it wasn’t and the person you’re saying that to, is currently living the worst version of exactly that. So again, just stop.
So yes, I relive my loss each and everyday in my mind and heart just knowing my son isn’t alive and in my arms. When I walk out the door each morning and see his beautiful picture next to his ashes, I know. When anniversaries of his gender reveal and showers come up on my timehop, I know. When I walk by his empty nursery, I still know. It comes from a stranger asking: “Do you have any kids?” and you have to run the scenario in your head of how you choose to respond. Do I avoid the awkwardness and say no, but then feel guilty that I did not acknowledge my child by just saying yes instead? I am acutely aware every second of everyday that my son isn’t on this earth for me to parent and hold. So all these outside influences of people, favorite places, doctor visits, mail etc. adds more hurt than you could ever know.
The anxiety and trauma that come with trying to dodge these situations is torture. You become a prisoner in your own home and outside in your community. No place is no longer safe. Imagine having to relive your most painful memory and experience EVERYDAY. All the way from your own neighborhood to your local pharmacy, then to your favorite restaurant and annual eye check-up. So you wonder why I constantly write and share about grief, loss and particularly stillbirth? It’s because people clearly need to be educated on this “taboo” topic. If more people know what to do or say in these scenarios, just maybe I can help another loss mom not encounter this added pain.