Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Birthday Dilemma

Lara Cain Gray shares her thoughts on how to manage your memories around significant dates:

Children’s birthdays can be emotional times for families in all kinds of circumstances.  Even for parents of active, healthy, noisy, kids, birthdays can bring with them a slight melancholy twinge as we recognise the all-too-fast passage of time and the awareness that our little ones are not so little anymore.   But one of the most challenging aspects of losing a baby is how to manage your memories around the dates that were significant to a child who’s no longer with you.   Do you celebrate a birthday that wasn’t to be?  If so, how?  

Just as there are a variety of opinions and beliefs around funerals and memorial services, there are many different ways in which birthdays are acknowledged after infant loss.  After I experienced a miscarriage, I chose not to ‘make a fuss’ and brushed the notion of ceremony under the carpet. In hindsight, I don’t think this was the healthiest response.  But it is such a fine line between what some may see as dwelling on the loss and acknowledging a life changing event such as a lost pregnancy or precious baby.  There is a lot of silence around pregnancy and infant loss, and this can leave us feeling self conscious, even indulgent, if we choose to commemorate significant memorial dates as the years go by.

I am now one of the lucky ones, with plenty of opportunities to whip out the bunting and pass-the-parcel games for my children.  The Internet is jam packed with printable invitations and charming matching napkins for children’s parties, but it falls terribly short of options when it comes to remembrance.  It’s peculiar, too, that some actions – like the lighting of a candle or playing a special song – have multiple significances.  It can be very difficult to create a meaningful, personal birthday ceremony that doesn’t somehow replicate a funeral.   But here are a few thoughts and ideas on ways to mark these difficult dates:

      Make or personalise a photo frame with design touches that help you feel positive: sunflowers, moons and stars, even party balloons.  Use it to keep a special photo of your baby, or your baby bump, that can be quietly added to your mantelpiece on special days – whether for public acknowledgement, or for your eyes only.   
      Keep a piece of commemorative jewellery close to your heart.  Engrave it with dates of significance so that no matter how busy you get or how far you ‘move on’ in your grief journey, you can privately pay your respects on special days, anywhere, anytime.
      Don’t be afraid to add your important dates to your calendars and diaries; even the public ones. 
      It may be painful at times, but when colleagues or family members are aware of your significant dates, they can provide you with space or support as required.  Some people may in fact be grateful that you have opened the door to a discussion they felt was taboo.
      Don’t forget the siblings.  If you have other children who are aware of the loss, it can be very healthy for them to join in with commemorative occasions.  Consider helping them to write a birthday card, poem or prayer for their brother or sister, especially if they need a little help in expressing their feelings.

There is no right or wrong answer to the question of how to commemorate the loss of a child; everyone’s journey of grief is their own.   But we should never feel that it is somehow weak or overly sentimental to acknowledge the birthday or other significant dates of a lost pregnancy or infant who is no longer with us. 

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Lara Cain Gray
Lara Cain Gray (PhD) is a writer, academic, librarian, curator and mother-of-three.  The order depends on the day.  She enjoys writing social commentary, book reviews, travel tales and therapeutic ravings about being a parent.   Her words have appeared in a range of academic and popular publications, from the Queensland Historical Atlas to Brisbane’s Child.   She blogs as This Charming Mum - Books, Arts & Culture for the Sleep Deprived.

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