*** Trigger warning: This post discusses child loss, grief and miscarriage ***
Grief. Loss. Pain. Sadness. These are universal emotions. If all the feelings of the world were placed on a scale, I daresay the darker side would draw lower. Yet, that’s not what we see. Not what we are taught. Happiness is to be prized and paraded. Sadness is to be swallowed and hidden away.
I’ve thought a lot about this since Xavier’s death. The reactions to child loss, and to loss in a broader sense. What is acceptable in grief and what is not. You are told there is no guide book. But believe me, there are a host of unwritten rules.
Right now I am reading one of Phillipa Gregory’s novels about the Tudors – this one focusing on Queen Margaret. She had six children. Two of them were born still. Three of them died as babies. It wasn’t an unusual scenario in the Tudor court. While I am busy punishing myself with my choice of novel, I’m also binge watching The Handmaid’s Tale. A speculative version of the future where getting pregnant is nigh impossible. For those that do, there is a one in five chance of a health baby.
When Xavier died, suddenly and unexpectedly at two weeks old, it was a shocking and unbelievable thing. The chances of it happening so remote that it would seem impossible. We reeled. Those around us reeled. We grieved hard and were given space to do so. Everything imploded.
In the weeks and months that followed, I struggled to understand. Anything. I wondered if it would be easier if more people could identify with what I was going through. Was the loss of a child easier to bear in the days when it was more commonplace? My current reading and viewing material has caused me to think on that again.
Would a commonality of experience illicit more empathy? Would it offer a deep network of support and understanding? Or would it render something heart-breakingly painful “normal”. A terrible, but foreseeable, cross to bear?
The families who have walked a similar path to ours gave me so much hope. A safety net. A place to plant my shaking feet. Within their embrace I was no longer “other”. It was a relief from pity. Seeing my experience and feelings mirrored by others was so validating.
But I wonder if that experience was due to the fact of still birth and SIDS being, thankfully, relatively rare. Support systems tend to be built around the extraordinary. As though pain moves in direction measure to the rarity of its source.
I think of my dear friends who have experienced miscarriages. The pain that each of them experienced. Isolating and real. Miscarriage is relatively common. The experience of it shared by so many women. I saw no evidence of that fact giving my friends any comfort. Rather, an allocated grief period and an expectation that they would “get on with it”. “At least you know you can get pregnant.” “Miscarriages occur quite often in the early stages of pregnancy”. A pause on the road to a baby — with little recognition of the baby that would have been. If you’ve had a miscarriage or are close to someone who has, I’m sure you’ve heard them all.
Why can’t we allow ourselves sadness? When the saddest of things happen? Why does something being more common contract the time allowed to grieve?
I am not a masochist – no matter what my reading/watching choices might suggest. But I will honour feelings of sadness and grief. I will not chase them away. Or expect that of others.
Do you feel like you have to be happy all the time, no matter what? Do you think that we are expected to experience less pain when something is more common?