I never understood why people said “losing my baby has made me a better / stronger / kinder person”
After Oscar was born, (stillborn at 33 weeks) I read books by other bereaved parents, read the literature given to us in the hospital, cover to cover several times, wondering how I was going to get through the next day, I wondered how other parents survived, or went on to have other children. I wasn’t able to believe I would ever hold a living breathing child in my arms or that I could create a “new” life where I felt genuinely happy.
One comment which cropped up repeatedly on blog sites, from other bereaved parents and in stories I read of family who had lost a child was “this tragedy has made me a better person” or “it has made me stronger”. I remember thinking “How could this tragedy change me so profoundly” or “”I’m so upset that my baby died, why would I want to show compassion to others?” When friends commented that I had been so strong, it really felt very awkward because I didn’t have a choice in what was happened to my baby, I did what I had to do at the time to survive.
Nearly five years on, I still think I am not necessarily more compassionate or am a better person because of my experience but perhaps I now have a better understanding about what these people were trying to say. When your baby dies, you have to dig deep to live every day. Nothing is as you imagined and you have to reorder your life again. Oscar was our first child and I had planned to take time out of the workforce and become a stay at home mum for a period of time, enjoying my new baby and relishing in all that parenthood had to offer. When all of that was suddenly taken away from me I needed some way to keep Oscar’s memory going. I felt like losing my child was like being scrubbed raw with a wire brush, your skin is red, scratched and tender. I knew that I wold never forget my son but I needed to know that our family and friends were not going to forget him either. This was critically important and while friends would comment our willingness to discuss stillbirth and our son as strength it was more a way for me to share my son, just as any new parent wants to and to make sure that people would not forget him.
I think what I understand more now when people say it made them a better person, was that it gave them a grit and determination they may not have known they had, it also gave them a purpose for doing something: that purpose could be to make sure this never happened to anyone else again, that another bereaved family did not have to have the same lonely experience they had or that by discussing their child and helping others keeps the memory of their own children alive. Whatever the reason, I think this experience has taught me not to shy away from death, dying and grief. I have learnt to accept that bad things can happen to good people and we don’t always get a say in the outcome, even if we do all the ‘right’ things.
When your baby dies, you lose your innocence. Children and babies should never die, but they do. When you lose your baby your trust and belief in all that is good is shaken to the core. Each person who has been through this has to rebuild themselves from the ground up and sometimes that rebuilding process leaves a hole, a scar or completely rebuild a new person from the rubble. So rather than being more compassionate or stronger perhaps I have become more accepting of other people’s choices in how they live their life and less presumptuous about people. Because sometimes people have a story they don’t want to share because it is just too raw for them.
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Tennille Welsh is a mother to three beautiful boys. Mark (her husband) and Tennille experienced the stillbirth of their first son Oscar, at 33 weeks gestation in 2011, cause unknown. Tennille is passionate about raising awareness of the high incidence of stillbirth in Australia and shares Oscar's story in the hope that it may help other grieving families.