4 weeks ago a lady on a support group I’m a part of sent me a message. (Please note, I have been given permission to use her words). She said; ‘please help me. I’m going crazy! I don’t think the way I’m feeling is normal.’
I asked her why; I asked her to be honest with me about how she felt. She proceeded to say; ‘It’s been 7 months since my little girl was born and I still cry every single day. I get angry at every one around me for absolutely no reason and when people ask me how I’m doing I really don’t know how to answer because I don’t know how I’m doing. Am I going mad? I can’t even think straight anymore.’
The most heart breaking part about receiving this message was knowing every single thought she has, every feeling that she feels; it is all completely normal. Rational? Maybe not to someone who has never given birth to their dead child. But, sadly, completely normal to those who have. Completely relatable to those who have …
I HAD to write after reading that message. It genuinely took some considerable time before it was definitive that I would share our story. Writing about Otis, especially so soon after losing him (it’s only been 6 weeks), is emotionally exhausting. It really does take it out of me; but after reading how this poor woman felt so isolated in how she feels I knew I had to do this. I had to write because I realised that there would be hundreds, if not thousands, of other women and men feeling the same way that she does, and I felt it my duty to reassure those people that there are so many variations of ‘normal’ when it comes to grieving for your child.
Losing a baby – giving birth to a fully formed, viable baby – then having to plan that baby’s funeral, having to bury or cremate your child, is not within the ‘normal’ realms of the natural cycle of life. It should not happen. Biologically, we have it wired in to us that we will lose those close to us who are older than us. It’s like we don’t have a biological instinct on how to grieve for our babies. I know, from personal experience, that grieving after losing an older relative tends to be fairly ‘straight-forward’, if you will. It’s hard, it’s upsetting, we cry, it’s painful to say goodbye, it’s difficult to watch their coffin be lowered in to the ground; but it’s something that you eventually move on from. Eventually.
It doesn’t matter how many minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years have passed, you just never move on from losing a child, you really don’t. And for those who don’t know this pain, do you want to know something? Believe it or not, that is completely ‘normal.’
Every single time I feel a new emotion when it comes to my grieving for Otis, I reassure myself that it’s okay to feel that way. Today, I feel a lot of anger, and that’s fine! I feel like this after receiving a comment telling me that I speak of Otis like I’m the only person who has ever gone through stillbirth. This angered me for two reasons:
1.) I do not do this just for myself. If anyone takes the time to read every one of my blog posts you will read how determined I am to help those around me through my writing; about how I hope that my blog not only provides comfort to those who are suffering the same loss, but that it educates the people around them on how to spare their feelings, and about the harsh reality of stillbirth.
2.) It is fucking HARD to write this blog. Forcing myself to remember every last detail of our experience is mentally exhausting, and I wouldn’t be doing this just to make the world feel sorry for me. I force myself to remember to HELP others suffering, to SHOW those who may feel they’re struggling with their emotions that how they feel is okay. To show people dealing with stillbirth that they are NOT alone.
You see, the world of a grieving parent is such an isolating one. You can be surrounded by all the family and friends in the world; you can see someone every minute of your waking day; you can go to playgroups and meet up with mum friends with your other children; you can bump in to someone at the shop and say hello; you can see a counsellor and talk about how you feel in depth; you can be cuddled every day by your family for reassurance; but you will STILL feel alone. And do you know something? That is completely ‘normal’ too.
This journey of grief is so confusing – it really would help if ‘Becoming the Mother or Father of a Stillborn Baby’ was an existing instruction manual. It really would help if we were ‘taught’ how to grieve. But we can’t be. Every single person’s journey of grief is so different. I have a friend, who gave birth to her daughter sleeping at 35 weeks gestation (the same as me with Otis), 3 months prior to me losing my little boy. She’s probably the closest I have to the circumstances surrounding Otis’ death and you’d therefore think that we are grieving similarly.
If you do think that, you think wrong. Despite being completely relatable; despite knowing the EXACT pain one another is feeling; we are dealing with the death of our children completely differently. I’m putting the time I would have spent being a mummy to Otis in to writing, doing charity work and trying my God damn hardest to raise awareness on this awful, awful experience. My friend spends most of her days inside, crying in to the chest of her little girl’s teddy bear that stores her ashes. And do you know something? THAT, is also completely ‘normal.’
I’ve been told countless times that I’m ‘strong’ because I’m not spending all my days cooped up crying over the loss of my son. I’ve been told over and over again how I’m amazing because I’m dealing with Otis’ death in an admirable way. For those who think that – I cry myself to sleep every night; I cannot visit my son’s grave without my sister, my brother-in-law, Chris or my dad; I cannot look at another baby without crying for my own; I cannot go to the shop for fear of bumping in to someone I know … Putting on a brave face does not make me a strong person – it’s my coping mechanism. Just like my friend’s coping mechanism is to cry all day, most days. To COPE is all that matters, regardless of how it’s achieved. She is strong, too.
I literally beg inside most days for this stage of my grief to pass – to skip to the part where I find my new normal and learn to live with Otis’ passing away. It makes me feel guilty (again, another completely ‘normal’ emotion to feel). I know I only feel that way because of how agonising the pain is while it’s so raw. I know I only feel that way because I don’t WANT to feel this dagger through my heart every single morning when I wake up and realise it wasn’t a dream; that my son is dead. I didn’t CHOOSE for this to happen. It’s okay for me to not want to feel this pain.
But then, I invite it. This pain makes me feel close to Otis. This raw, physical ache makes me really FEEL that I miss him. I invite the grief, I invite the crying, I invite the emptiness, I invite the sadness. The longing I have to hold my son; that’s the one thing that makes me realise I’m still his mummy, regardless of where he is now. The pain in my chest and the aching of my arms to hold my son; it reassures me that he was HERE. That he DID exist. That he was (and is) a little person who DID grace the Earth, even if he didn’t stay too long.
I have grown so much over the last 42 days since Otis was born sleeping. I see the world so differently now; I see life in general so differently. I have ALWAYS appreciated Cora and Maisie (my two girls) and I know how lucky I am to have these beautiful children in my life, but my appreciation for their existence has increased ten-fold. I cannot even look at them without counting my blessings.
When I got told Otis was going to die its like a switch flipped in my head and I changed. I actually could probably tell you to the second when I realised I’d never be the same again.
I guess what I’m trying to say is:
For those who live every single day with an unbearable amount of conflicting feelings; know that it’s normal, that it’s okay and that you aren’t alone.
For those who have never been unfortunate enough to deal with this pain; be kind. Be kind to those you know who do. Realise that, such an event will probably have changed your friend, sister, brother, child etc. Understand that they won’t be the same person they were before their child’s heart stopped beating; understand even more that they will probably NEVER go back to being that person, so don’t try to make them.
Otis Dominic Anthony Cullen; we miss you, we love you, we will do both eternally.