You don’t know me. Well, not really anyway. We met earlier this week at a baby weigh & play and, acknowledging that we had both successfully created and birthed a small human at roughly the same sort of time, engaged in some generic mum chat.
I didn’t catch your name; I was probably only half listening when you said it: the combination of extreme sleep deprivation and Leo’s new-found pochance for screeching seriously impaired my ability to retain and recall such information. Not that it matters really, as mothers we are frequently defined by our children, known to many only as ‘X’s mum’.
You seemed nice: warm and friendly, without a hint of competitiveness which all too often emerges at these kind of gatherings. There were no smug smiles, or comments of ‘Oh, Henry’s been sleeping through since 6 weeks’ and you seemed like the sort of person I could’ve been friends with in ‘real life’ (that is, pre-baby). We talked about bedtime routines, compared survival stories from the most recent ‘leap’ and discussed our shared love of Ryan Gosling (whilst bemoaning the fact that our little cherubs have scuppered our chances of seeing La La Land – but maybe we could catch it on DVD.) It was all rather lovely.
This in and of itself is relatively unremarkable, and no doubt one of countless such interactions for you this week. For that reason, you may not remember me at all. But there is one a reason why you might…
In fact, I might well be the mother you wish you hadn’t got chatting to, and for that I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that when you asked me ‘Is he your first?’ I didn’t simply smile and say yes.
I’m sorry that when I told you my eldest son was stillborn you felt the need to look away: shocked, embarrassed, uncomfortable.
I’m sorry that, from then on, all conversation between us subsided; that you shifted your weight to the other leg and desperately tried to make eye contact with the Health Visitor, suddenly overcome with the need to find out if it’s ok that Henry is only rolling one way at the moment.
I’m sorry that in that instant, all the commonalities between us appeared null and void. Suddenly, I changed in your eyes from a comrade in arms to someone who had experienced the unimaginable, part of the distinct club of ‘bereaved parent’ which you could not (nor wished to) identify with.
This isn’t the first time people have recoiled from me at the mention of Findlay, or more specifically, his death.
I think perhaps it’s that British trait of being wholly unequipped to deal with grief and bereavement. Fear of saying the wrong thing or causing offence makes us feel awkward, and when the topic is something of a taboo like baby loss, that sense of unease is undoubtedly heightened. It was clear from your reaction that you would be another one of these people who wished they’d sat next to someone else that day.
Which is a shame, because I thought we were getting on just fine.
But there are a few things which I am not sorry about too.
I’m not sorry that I acknowledge Findlay as my first child. That whenever anyone asks about Leo, I tell them that he has a brother who died. I know it made you feel awkward, and perhaps you wished you’d never asked (or I’d never said) but the truth is I always try and find a way to mention Findlay if I can. Talking about people is what helps keep their memory alive, and that’s my job now, as a mother, to protect Findlay’s memory. Because if I don’t talk about him then who else will?
I’m not sorry that I reminded you (or maybe even pointed out) that sometimes babies die. Yes it’s tragic, yes it makes us feel uncomfortable or upset or scared, but that doesn’t make it any less likely to happen. I didn’t tell you to get sympathy or to make your feel guilty (see above for why). But it’s also about awareness, isn’t it? It’s only by talking and sharing our experiences that we can help to break the taboo around baby loss and around grief.
I’m not sorry that after I told you about Findlay, you felt the need to pull your son into your arms, breathe in the smell of his hair and smother him in kisses. I’m not sorry if, for a brief moment, you imagined how it would feel to lose your own child; and those feelings of heartache, and relief, and gratitude, made you love and cherish him even more than you did before.
Losing my child has changed me, but aren’t we all changed by our children? I am still the same person you struck up a conversation with 15 minutes ago; the things we shared then are still true now. Yes, my son died and yes, it is a fundamental part of who I am, but that doesn’t mean I can only befriend other bereaved parents.
We both still have 6 month old boys.
We’re both helping to keep Vanish in business with the weekly number of poonamis we deal with.
We both love Ryan Gosling.
So if I see you again, I will smile at you and ask how little Henry got on trying broccoli for the first time. And perhaps you’ll remember my vow to not let Leo into my bed before 5am, and ask if I’ve stuck to it.
Or maybe you won’t have the foggiest idea who I am.
That’s cool too.
Warmest of wishes,