At 36, I’ve lost a parent, a friend and a child. There is nothing on Earth more harrowing than burying a child, even if you never had the privilege of knowing them. My husband, Ted, and I lost our beautiful baby Ella in January of this year. She was stillborn at 34 weeks. She was, and always will be, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I can’t bring myself to talk about the magic, and joy and horror of our experience. I can’t bring myself to share the details which are personal, and raw and sacred.
What I can do, is tell you about our grief and the things I’ve learnt.
There is abundant kindness in the world
It’s important to savour the great kindness that is apparent in times of despair. Since losing Ella, we have been touched by people’s tenderness and humanity. We have been shown support through flowers, plants, cards, texts, gifts, keepsakes, meals, phone calls, long distance visits and all manner of thoughtful gestures. Often, this kindness has come from the most unexpected places. We are grateful beyond words.
We are tortured by things which ought to bring us joy
Babies are a source of collective joy, especially among women. But for my husband and me, they are a form of torture – an excruciating reminder of our loss. I can’t see a pram or a pregnant woman without wincing. Sadly, babies seem to evoke in me a kind of emotional anaphylaxis – fear, paralysis, constricted breathing. But babies are not like peanuts; they can’t be easily avoided. There isn’t a supermarket, shopping centre or café on the planet which is baby-free.
Leaving the house is Hell
Any journey beyond the sanctuary of my home involves walking the gauntlet of prams and mothers’ groups. Given that I live in a small community, it also involves visiting places which evoke memories of being pregnant, excited and full of hope. Finally, there is the horror of bumping into a myriad of acquaintances who, upon noticing that I’m no longer pregnant, gleefully ask how motherhood is treating me.
Greif has no end point
At Easter time, I had a chance encounter with a bereaved mother whose son had been dead for 15 years. She knelt at her child’s grave, literally howling in despair. It shook me to my core. It made me realise this: time does not heal all wounds. We never stop mourning the loss of our children, and there will frequently be ‘triggers’ that reignite or intensify our suffering. Typically, the things which bring joy to others are our greatest sources of pain – Christmases, birthdays, Mother’s Day. This seems particularly cruel. Unfortunately, bereaved parents mourn more than the loss of their children. They mourn every milestone that ought to have been enjoyed.
Children are not replaceable
Let’s be very clear: children are not disposable. They are not replaceable. In the wake of Ella’s death, the most hurtful remark I endured came from a man – with three adult children, no less - who laughed and replied ‘oh well, you can always make another one’. Comments of this nature show a disgusting and disturbing lack of humanity. A baby is no less loved than a toddler or a teenager or an adult child. Next time you think that my child’s life doesn’t matter, consider which of your children you’d willingly trade or discard. A brief life is still a special one.
The conversation gets awkward
Bereaved parents – especially those of us who are still adjusting to our circumstances – often don’t know what answers to offer people. Inquiries as to whether or not we have children are painful to navigate. I can’t bear to tell people that I don’t have any children. Denying Ella’s existence dishonours her and causes me great pain. In saying that, I don’t want to tell strangers that my baby has died. I’d like to declare that I have a child, without any obligation to flesh-out the miserable details. But it’s deceptive and probably unhealthy to mislead people into thinking that you are parenting a living child when you’re not.
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My name is Suzi. My husband, Ted, and I are trying to heal after losing our baby Ella Rose Argyle (21 January 2017). Ella was stillborn at 34 weeks, after what appeared to be a healthy pregnancy. As we declared on her headstone, Ella is ‘beautiful, longed for and eternally loved’. She is, and always will be, a part of us. My hope is that this blog will honour her precious life and help other bereaved parents feel less alone as they navigate their grief.