**Heads up, current pregnancy is mentioned in this post, though not the main topic. Also, some mini-rants up ahead.**
Last night our church held a memorial/grief workshop for those who have lost loved ones. About 50 people attended, which is actually a very small gathering for my church.
When we arrived, we got a paper ornament and wrote Theo’s name on it. We got dessert and then sat down. Someone asked us who we were there for, and we said our son. After offering their condolences (which is appreciated!), this person asked if we had any other children. No, we said. And she then said “Don’t worry, I know it will happen for you”.
I realize this person meant well. And other than this statement, she was so sweet and I’m glad we met. But this is a meaningless platitude. Please don’t say this to a parent who has lost a child! Actually, you really shouldn’t say this to anyone because the truth is you DON’T know. No matter what your gut feeling says or how much you “just feel it”, you can’t predict the future and you have no idea if someone will have (additional) children.
- As a stranger, you have NO idea what killed my son. None. You don’t know if it was a car accident, a genetic condition, SIDS, cord accident, etc, etc. You just don’t know. And for many people (like Kenny and I), what killed their child may have an impact on if they want/can have more children. Theo’s condition is very likely just a random mutation, but if the doctors thought it was more likely hereditary, Kenny and I would have had to make some tough decisions regarding future biological children.
- As a stranger, you have NO idea what my or Kenny’s physical health or fertility is like. You don’t know if we are dealing with an infertility diagnosis, or if we are not able to get pregnant due to other health issues. I know at least one woman who had to have a hysterectomy due to life-threatening complications during childbirth. I know at least one couple who experienced infertility. I know at least one couple who had unrelated medical issues after their child died. You don’t know because these aren’t things that you can see, so don’t pretend that you do.
- It is a huge assumption to make that someone wants more kids. If Kenny and I had decided we were done after Theo died, that we weren’t willing to have more children, there would have been nothing wrong with that. It is such a hugely personal decision to make, how many children you have in general, and having children after loss is really fucking hard. Saying you “know” we will have more kids is inappropriate, because you are essentially saying it is not ok to not want more kids. And that’s not true.
- This statement just reeks of the idea that having a living child somehow makes the other child dying ok. It doesn’t. Having a living child who was born before the one who died doesn’t make your loss any less. It doesn’t mean you aren’t grieving as much because you have a living child. And the same goes for having a living child after the one who died. Your love for your children are mutually exclusive of each other! I am not going to love/miss Theo any less if Steam Bun lives; just like if Theo was alive, I would not love him any less just because we had more children.
- Let’s assume we are physically able to have more kids and want more. And we are successful, and get pregnant again. You don’t know that this child will live. You can’t predict the future, you can’t tell me you know this child will live. I know at least one couple who has lost all of their children. It happens. It is indescribably awful, but it happens. (Personally, I’m ok with people having hope Steam Bun will live. Saying things like “I will pray Steam Bun is healthy and outlives you”, “I hope everything goes well”, etc. is totally fine with me. For me, these statements are different because they acknowledge things might not go as we want, but still have hope they will.)
- And, it bugs me how talk of my dead son turned to talk of future children. It felt like Theo was being overlooked, like he isn’t good enough to be acknowledge because he’s dead. He is his own person. He is my son, and he is worthy of being talked about for his sake and not the hypothetical future children. There are so few ways I can talk about Theo compared to how I can talk about him if he was alive, and it hurt so much that at a memorial for the dead, Theo was brushed aside like that. You wouldn’t tell someone who lost their dad “Well, maybe your mom will remarry and give you a new dad!”.
Ok, first rant over. Continuing with the evening…
Once everyone was seated, the event began. A woman who leads grief workshops at our church spoke, and I was really impressed by her talk. I will be looking into her workshops. She talked about how important it is to let yourself feel everything you are feeling. That all of your emotions, even the “bad” ones, are normal and healthy, and denying that you are feeling them or shoving them aside will only hurt you more than help you. But she also mentioned how important it is to not let the bitterness, resentment, anger, etc. swallow you and consume you. That, as Christians, we must hold onto the hope God gives us. I loved her talk because it is hard, for me at least, to balance that hope God gives me with the awfulness of our situation. It often feels like acknowledging these less-than-happy emotions means I am denying God, but that is not true. And remembering the hope I have in Heaven sometimes feels like I am denying how hard it is to live without your child, but that’s not true either.
Then we sang a few Christmas songs. These were hard to hear, and I kind of wish they had picked more generic worship songs to sing instead.
Then another woman spoke, this time about her personal experience with grief. Her 5 year old son died 23 years ago, and she talked about how her grief has changed through the years. I really enjoyed her talk too, though I’ve been really struggling with the fact that her son died 23 years ago. It hit me while she was talking that this isn’t a temporary thing I’m going through. And I’ve known that this entire time, that Theo won’t come back and we’ll always be grieving, but hearing her talk about grief 23 years later…. it hit me hard. It forced the knowledge that this is truly lifelong to come right to the front and confront me.
Now was the time for the slideshow of those who died. As each picture was on the screen, the family of the one who died went up to the front and placed the paper ornament on the tree. They could also say a few words about the one who died. There were three other babies who died, ranging from 2 months to 9 months. When it was our turn, we opted to not say anything about Theo and simply placed the ornament on the tree. The pastor who was running the evening was the same one who did the funeral for Theo, so he spoke a few words on our behalf instead. As we returned to our seats, someone gave us a gift bag of resources.
After everyone had the change to place the ornament/talk, the evening was done. I went back to the tree to take a picture of Theo’s ornament. I spoke with the pastor and he asked me how the pregnancy is doing. Then he said “Oh! I should have told everyone about the pregnancy. **Gets everyone’s attention** Hey everyone! I wanted to let you know Cassie pregnant!” I never told him the pregnancy was a secret or shouldn’t be announced, so I’m not upset he announced it, but I did cringe a little at everyone’s reaction. They cheered and were very happy. As I was walking back to Kenny, I was stopped by a lot of people saying congratulations. My response to each of them was “Thank you. And I’m so sorry for your loss”.
The parents of the 9 month old who died was talking to Kenny when I found him again. The mom is also pregnant and she asked me “Don’t you just hate everyone’s excitement over the pregnancy?” To which I responded enthusiastically “Yes!”. We had a good talk with them and exchanged numbers, and I hope we’ll be able to get together soon.
Kenny and I kept trying to leave at that point, but more people were coming up to us and saying congratulations, that they will be praying, etc. We thanked them and talked with everyone briefly. But one lady said something that really bothered me. She asked if we knew what we were having and we said no. And she responded with: “Oh! I just assumed you are farther along because of how big you already are!”.
Ok, let’s talk about how crappy of a statement this is to say to ANYONE, not just someone who has lost a child.
- Let’s begin with the obvious: making statements to complete strangers (or even someone you know, but especially strangers) about what their body looks like is just a very bad idea. It’s like going up to someone you think is pregnant just because they have a few extra pounds on them and say congrats only to find out they aren’t pregnant.
- A lot of people have body image issues. You don’t know if the person you’re talking to struggled with an eating disorder, or just feels very crappy about how they look that day. Many women struggle with weight gain during pregnancy even though they know it’s best for the baby. Pregnancy can really screw with your body image, please don’t add to it by commenting on how the woman looks.
- When I was pregnant with Theo, I was pretty tiny until the third trimester when all of sudden my stomach grew every single week. People would comment “Oh, you look so small for being X weeks!” and it really messed with my head. Though my doctor was happy with my weight gain and Theo was measuring on track at every ultrasound, it really made me worry that he was too small and wasn’t developing properly (and I know now he wasn’t, but his lung issue had nothing to do with his size or my weight gain). And then in the third trimester when I suddenly starting growing all the time, people commented on how big I was, which made me worry he was getting too big and something would go wrong during the birth. At the time, we all thought my pregnancy was normal and healthy and I thought pregnancy was easy, but these types of comments still managed to worry and upset me.
- These fears are magnified 1,000x now that I’m pregnant with Steam Bun. You have no idea how much time I spend worrying if I am too small or too big, if I have too little amniotic fluid or too much. I haven’t taken very many bump pics, but the few I have taken I’ve compared to me at the same point with Theo, seeing if I am bigger or smaller. You have no idea how many times I’ve asked Kenny to look at the bump pics from each pregnancy or to reassure me that I’m not too small or big. You have no idea how many times I ask my doctors to double check my fluid levels during ultrasounds. At one of our appointments, we got sonograms and I spent an hour that night comparing Steam Bun to Theo at the same point. I thought Steam Bun looked too “blobby” for how far along I was, so I immediately emailed my doctor and asked her to review the sonogram and see if Steam Bun looked how s/he should.
This woman’s comment about how big I already look HURT. It added to my already high anxiety over the health of the baby and pregnancy. And it just made me feel very crappy about how I look in general (and made me rethink what I was wearing). Alright, moving along…
We were finally able to leave. Overall, I’m really glad we went and we’ll probably go again next year. The event was good, and I’m glad we got to connect with the other loss parents. It was a sweet way for our church to remember those who have passed during the holidays.