I was under no illusion when I decided to write about Alex and our life after losing him that it would not be to everyone’s taste. Us British do not like talk of death and grief, we prefer a stiff upper lip over tears and emotion. I was recently told by a friend that someone who had read my blog had commented that it was morbid, and despite being prepared for negative comments, I have to admit that it bothered me. Morbid felt like a strong word and I felt that familiar feeling of shame after hearing it. And then I got frustrated, frustrated with our society and its ignorance of stillbirth and frustrated at its willingness to turn the other cheek because talking of a baby dying makes us feel uncomfortable. So in light of that, I thought I would write a blog on why I feel talking about Alex is so important.
Morbid is defined as an abnormal and unhealthy interest in disturbing and unpleasant subjects such as death. And that is the basis of why the word bothered me so much. My interest in Alex is not at all abnormal and unhealthy, my interest is exactly the same as any other mother has in their child, it is healthy, natural and fierce. I cannot help that Alex’s story centres around his death and I cannot help that this makes people feel uncomfortable. And yet because of that, over and over again families of stillborn babies are ostracised and ignored by society. I’ve always said that I wouldn’t wish losing a child on my worst enemy and its true, I honestly wouldn’t. The pain is indescribable. But there is the odd occasion where I just wish that people could walk a mile in our shoes to have a better understanding of what its like. Hopefully then they would see that the stigma and taboo surrounding child loss is a constant battle for us. Losing a child is painful enough without having to put the feelings of the masses before our own.
And yet it is hard to blame people for their ignorance when the media and government do so little to light the way and open up the conversation around stillbirth. The BBC recently declined to show Still Loved, a documentary showing peoples experiences after losing a baby, as it was deemed to be too upsetting. It was then shown in selected cinemas around the UK but some of those also declined as ‘who would want to see that?’ 1 in every 200 babies are born still. 10 babies a day! This is not something that should be easy to ignore, we need to talk about it, we need to educate ourselves and we need to get better at supporting those 10 parents who lost a baby today. As parents to stillborn babies one of our biggest fears is that our children will be forgotten. The only way to stop that is by talking and people need to understand that this is totally normal.
By myself and other parent sharing our babies stories there are so many amazing things which can be achieved. The first has to be more funding of research into miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death. This area is massively underfunded by the government and that means that the all-important research into preventing so many babies dying is simply not happening. Only by talking and getting the issue out there will we be able to accomplish this goal.
By opening up the conversation around stillbirth, family and friends will hopefully have a better understanding of how to support parents grieving for their baby. Everyone grieves differently but having more awareness of grief and its different forms will allow families to grieve in whatever way they need to and not feel judged. Parents themselves will also know that what they are going through is normal. When we lost Alex I had no idea that what I was feeling was so common following a stillbirth. It is totally normal to feel angry, ashamed, confused, lonely and guilty as well as being desperately sad, it is normal for your arms to physically ache for your baby. Reading other peoples experiences of stillbirth and seeing that they felt the same things as me helped me not feel so alone. Those stories filled the gap and answered the questions that my family and friends couldn’t.
And lastly, I have found that by talking openly about Alex we are creating new, positive and exciting memories in his name. I have had a couple of friends come to me in recent months wanting to do things to raise money in memory of Alex for charities like 4Louis, SANDS and Tommy’s (I will post details of these on the blog as soon as I have them) These wonderful events not only help these incredible charities but they will give us an easier way to bring Alex into a conversation. It will always begin with “we are doing this because our son was born sleeping” but hopefully when coupled with a charity event people will find it more palatable.
I will never apologise for speaking out and telling Alex’s story. The silence needs to be broken and how can we do that if we conform and stay silent? I made Alex a promise before I left him in the hospital, and that was that I would always speak about him, I would never be ashamed and I would never let him be forgotten. I intend to keep my promise and by speaking about him I intend to make the noise that he never had the opportunity to make.
Rachel & Alex x