**Disclaimer: If you know me personally and you recognise anything in this article that you have said or not said to me, please do not worry. We are humans, we are not perfect. I know that all anyone wants to do is support me**
Today I received an email from the hospital to invite Adam and I to a meeting where we will be delivered Mavy’s post-mortem results. The subject of that email is this: “Pregnancy loss appt”.
At what point was my daughter lost? Did she go missing? If so, why did I have to birth her and bury her? Why does she have a birth certificate and a death certificate? She was not a lost pregnancy; she was my little girl. She was a full-term baby whose heart stopped beating. Her name is Mavy Nola Kellegher and she weighed 8lb 10oz and was born on Friday 6th November 2020.
The language we use is hugely important, particularly in baby loss. This email came from a bereavement midwife, who would likely be horrified to know the hurt and upset she has caused by referring to my baby as a “pregnancy loss”. This is why it is necessary to talk openly and to be honest with health professionals, friends and family when they say something that doesn’t sit right with us.
I have always been a bit of a people pleaser, not wanting to rock the boat so accepting things others say, that I don’t particularly like or agree with. We all have different views and I accept that so just letting things go has never been a big problem for me. Since losing Mavy this is becoming harder to do. I realised early on that I needed to set boundaries with my friends and family, so they knew what language was acceptable to use around me when talking about my darling baby girl.
A couple of common sayings I really cannot accept, were mottos that before losing Mavy, I had lived by my whole life – “Everything happens for a reason” and “What’s meant to be, will be”. Please never say this to me or any bereaved parent. It’s absolute bullshit and it leaves that parent wondering, what was the reason my baby died then? Was I not worthy? Did I do something wrong? Why is your child “meant to be” but mine wasn’t?
“You could try for another baby”. Yes, I could. Will that take my pain away? Will it change that Mavy died? No. The conversation of a sibling for Nola and Mavy is a separate part of my life, a discussion all its own. Take into consideration that some bereaved parents may not be able to have a baby. Their baby that died may have been a longed for – last chance – IVF baby. They may have had medical complications that prevent further pregnancy, or their baby may have died due to a genetic condition that they cannot risk happening again.
“Are you back at work yet?” a friend asked me innocently 8 weeks after Mavy died. It hurt me. Was I expected to be ‘over this’ and back at work? I have no baby to look after so I think people often wonder why I wouldn’t be back at work by now. What they don’t see is the pain I am still in from birth and carrying a baby for 9 months as well as the physical pains of grief. I often have headaches or feel sick. Sometimes life feels so overwhelming, getting dressed in the morning is an achievement.
Another friend asked if I wanted to “talk about it”
“Sorry, what is ‘it’? Do you mean Mavy?”, I replied.
It may seem that I’m really picking here, and I am. Unfortunately, this is how my mind now works. Waiting to be offended, for someone to say the wrong thing. I hope it eases in time; it isn’t nice to live with.
There is also the lack of language to consider. The silence. The people who put their head down when you walk past or those that see you for the first time and they rattle on about mundane things when really you just want to scream at them and say “ACKNOWLEDGE MAVY’S EXISTENCE!!”
If your friend lost a grandparent, when you next saw them you would say “I’m so sorry to hear about your Grandad, how are you?” Astonishingly, after losing Mavy, this wasn’t always the case. I received many heart-felt text messages, but face to face contact felt awkward. These people just felt so sad for me they didn’t know what to say. A part of me understood but it became intolerable for me to ignore the fact my daughter had died just to make that person feel comfortable. If you don’t know what to say, tell me you are sorry, and you don’t know what to say. I’m still me. I’m still Emma. I’m just a very sad version right now.
Some of the most helpful conversations have been from well-meaning work colleagues who have bumbled their way through what must have been a horrendously awkward chat for them. I appreciated that they didn’t know whether they were saying the right thing, but they were honest about that. These chats make me feel less alone and less frightened about entering society and working again one day.
My family & close friends and I have all cried together, the tears fall from a place of love. Love for me, Adam & Nola and love for Mavy. It is easy for me to forget how much they loved her too and I must also choose my language carefully around them, to let them know that I know they are also sad. They all lost someone they loved too. I always feel lighter after those heart felt moments.
Choose your words carefully. If you aren’t sure if something is appropriate – explain that you aren’t sure how to word what you want to say. Saying something is always better than saying nothing.
Here is a list of phrases that aren’t helpful and in brackets are the responses my grieving brain thinks when I hear them:
- Are you okay? (obviously not)
- Maybe she wouldn’t have survived if she had been born, it was kinder this way (I didn’t know you were a Doctor?)
- These things just happen sometimes (No shit, Sherlock. I’ll be okay now then)
- If you have another baby, you might feel better (I would love another child just as much as I love Nola and Mavy, but it will never make me feel better about losing Mavy)
- You will get over it, one day (No, I won’t, and I don’t want to)
- At least you have Nola (Could you choose one of your children, if you were only allowed to keep one?)
Here is a list of phrases that are kinder to use when speaking to a bereaved parent:
- How are you coping right now?
- Are you happy to share Mavy’s story with me?
- How do you feel, physically?
- Can I offer support in anyway?
- I can’t imagine what you are going through and I’m so sorry you lost your little girl.
- I’m sorry, I just feel so sad for you I can’t find the words. I just want you to know I am here for you.
- I love her name; how did you choose it?
- Does Nola talk about her little sister?
I hope this article doesn’t come across that I am unappreciative and negative. I really haven’t meant it to. There are some wonderful people in this world, and I have been shown so much love and support. I only want to raise awareness and help others to help the bereaved and understand their triggers.
Sending love to all those loss parents and the friends and family who support them.