I wasn’t sure I’d be strong enough or brave enough to publish this post. I started writing it at the end of Baby Loss Awareness week which commemorates those families – one in five in the UK – who have suffered the loss of a child either in pregnancy or at, during or after birth. It ended at 7pm on Saturday night with a wave of light. Candles were lit across the globe to commemorate all those sleeping angels: gone too soon but never forgotten.
As I write this, my candle is burning brightly beside me. Two years ago – six months into my pregnancy – we lost our much longed for third child. I gave birth to our sleeping girl on November 12 2014. We named her Poppy because we knew we’d never forget her. I may be a writer, but even now I struggle to put into words the extent of the shock and devastation of our loss.
In the days and weeks afterwards, I felt bound by my grief. I stayed in my house, unable to face anyone other than close friends or family. I’d announced my pregnancy on Facebook, but couldn’t bring myself to announce our loss there. People wouldn’t want to know, I thought. Or know what to say. Babies are meant to symbolise hope, happiness, the future: the beginning of something, not the end of dreams. I felt intensely protective about her too, as if by not telling everyone, it might keep her closer to me for longer.
Conversely – and confusingly – there were also times when I wanted to scream from the rooftops what had happened in all its tragic detail. Sometimes, caught at the wrong (or right?) moment I’d blurt it out to someone I barely knew. Then the guilt and shame I felt for oversharing would make me put my grief back in my metaphorical box. Just like the box in which I keep my one precious photo of Poppy – and her footprints. Safe. Private. Just for me.
“There is no footprint too small that cannot leave an imprint on the world.” – Author Unknown.
My husband, family and friends rallied around me, but ultimately my grief felt like something I had to carry alone – just like I’d carried Poppy. I stopped working. I had counselling. I focused on our two beautiful children who, of course, helped me through that terrible time. And so I let my silence swallow my grief. People told me I was doing well; I was happy because that’s what I wanted them to believe. Sometimes, I even started to believe it too.
The phrase ‘suffering in silence’ is one which I think many of us can will relate to. Silence can be reflective, but when you’re immersed in it for a long time it can become oppressive; inciting feelings of guilt, shame and loneliness. Gradually my loss began to feel like my secret; shared with only those who knew and love me – and often, not even them. It was only recently, after having counselling again, that I accepted that I will never move on. Nor do I want to.
Poppy has changed my life immeasurably: for better, for worse, for good. She is something to cherish, not something to forget. I realised tonight, as I lit my candle, that I cannot let another Baby Loss Awareness week go by without speaking out. It’s time to break my silence.
I hope that by sharing my story here, in the safe, happy, supportive place I created with two of my best friends, I can reach out to all the women who, like me, have suffered in silence for too long. To them I want to say you are not alone. Every candle that was lit last Saturday night shone not just for the babies that we will never forget, but for us too – their mothers, who carry them in our hearts forever. I know Poppy’s light will shine more brightly, now that she isn’t my secret any more.