She was twenty years younger than me, bless her. She had so much ahead of her that she made me feel like I should have been wearing a babushka, with voluminous skirts and a live chicken under one arm.
She keeps crying, someone had muttered to me. She should know that this happens to everyone. It’s not a big deal.
I went to sit next to her with my plate.
“How are you?” I made sure to make eye contact. Someone did that for me, once. She knew, I think, what they were whispering about her.
“This is really hard,” she said, eyeing the lineup for the potato salad. People shuffled cheerfully. Her eyes were red. “It’s silly. I know I’m being silly. Everyone keeps saying. I just… we really…”
She started shaking again, on an edge.
“I know. I went through something similar." I didn't specify. It wouldn't have felt right, somehow. She was crushed, and she was throbbing with a form of the same isolation I had felt. "It was awful. It was just awful. I wasn’t silly, and neither are you. What I went through was a long time ago, so I can tell you: this moment isn’t your whole story. It’s just a chapter of it. This is an in-between space. You’re doing just fine. You’re doing the hard and lonely work of integrating it. Don’t worry about what anyone else says. Just know that you can’t see around corners. This feels like a catastrophe, and it is. But it’s not a defining catastrophe. It doesn’t necessarily extend into the rest of your life. Nothing does.”
We huddled in a corner with supper on our laps and talked about pasts, futures, other abstractions: all hers, not mine. Someone did that for me, once.
When someone says What you went through was awful and you say Thank you, what happens next is shared sorcery. You calm down. You breathe in and out. You will try again tomorrow. You might be alright someday after all, no matter what’s around corners.
Way back when we founded Glow in the Woods—when there was nothing online for bereaved parents who had experienced infant loss, and certainly nothing secular and relevant for everyone—we had an interesting moment. It was the point at which we had to consider our scope: In our search for writers, who should we look to? And who will they write for?
Infant loss. This is what the first two of us knew. It’s how we met. We would explore this horrible no-man’s-land of grief in which you’ve lost a person, a beloved, who has gone mostly unwitnessed by your community. Your child might have had minutes, weeks, a couple of months, or not a breath. His or hers was such a short life that not many people have accumulated memory with that soul—if any at all.
Thankfully, infant loss is rare. So much so that those of us who suffer it then also have to suffer the isolation of its rarity. And so finding each other and sticking together is an exhale that’s more powerful than any of us realized.
But then, here and there, other voices have cropped up here.
I’ve had three early miscarriages after trying for years to get pregnant and stay pregnant. Do I belong here?
I’ve had a medical termination. It was the saddest day of my life. We wanted our baby so much. Do I belong here?
I lost my baby at 19 weeks. They are calling it a miscarriage, but I’m gutted. Do I belong here?
Yes, we would always say. Yes. Always yes.
We didn’t expressly seek to represent other forms of loss and grief, because we knew we couldn’t be everything to everyone. We wanted this to be a safe space for parents of lost infants. We wanted the company to be raw and true to how this feels, without having to mince words too much. We all spent enough time in our day-to-day lives wearing a façade to protect ourselves from the mixed company of our day-to-day lives.
The more we tried to cover, the more we would be throwing a well-intentioned pot of tea into a hurricane. Would it reach you? Maybe. A drop or two. Would it ring the bells that need to be rung? Possibly not.
But they are here: other losses. You are here. Everyone reads, many quietly, and contemplates. Always yes.
Let’s stick with the presumption that everyone grieves, and justifiably, for all kinds of reasons. The Buddhists sit accordingly. Our suffering unites us. Our longing for things to go the way we would like is the most human of all. We are the only animals to despair.
Compassionate allies are often carrying loss, too. And we might be company for them as much as they might be for us, no matter how the details of their particular story may or may not compare to ours. This is not a question of ‘better’ or a ‘worse’. Devastation is relative, riddled with context and baggage unique to each individual. It’s all deeply personal. So let’s leave that aside.
Here’s what’s been on my mind, since I’ve been researching it: given that our extended community includes those who have experienced pregnancy loss—miscarriage being on a shared spectrum—how does it change our concept of community and healing to consider that a wider breadth of parenthood loss is the same kaleidoscope, given a twist?
What have you experienced? How has it shaped you and your healing, your relationships, and your conversations? In this new ‘three questions’ feature, Tell us a little about your capacity to contemplate other stories of loss:
- In the early pain of your baby’s absence, was your frame of reference and your compassion different than what it is now?
- Do you situate yourself in a different spot on the spectrum after you talk to others? Does this shift change how you feel?
- How does your empathy change conversations? How does it change your sense of yourself?