This past spring, the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team won the NCAA national championship. After the buzzer sounded and the victory was official, the confetti fell a little late. Commentators assumed there was a malfunction behind the awkward timing. The real reason was that UNC’s head coach, Roy Williams, knew how much it hurt to lose at the same time someone else is celebrating, so he requested the delayed release. One year prior, UNC barely lost that same final game. They felt the other team’s confetti raining down as they walked off the court in stunned silence. Roy didn’t want that moment to happen again, to anyone.
I’ve spent the past 16 months struggling with comparison: comparing myself against my peers, comparing my current life against what I thought it would be, comparing my broken heart against my friends’ full ones. I no longer expect the confetti to fall down on me; I’m used to the tears falling instead.
But I’d be lying if I said I weren’t sick of watching the confetti rain down on everyone else.
The confetti is everywhere. It’s in the pregnancy reveals, the baby bump updates, the assumptions of happy endings, the birth announcements, the developmental milestones, the Halloween costumes. It’s even in the Christmas cards I no longer receive, the birthday parties and baby showers I’m no longer invited to, and the conversations that become silent when I walk by.
It’s not like the confetti reminds me that my daughter is dead. I’m always aware she’s missing. Her absence and my presence are one and the same. The concept of “triggers” irritates me for this reason; it seems like an excuse to pretend that grief can be contained and neatly packed away, if we just avoid this or that.
The confetti does, however, underscore how fundamentally different my life is from that of my peers. Before that confetti fell on them, we were all playing on the same court. We were passionate about the same thing, headed in the same direction, in the same place at the same time. Then the buzzer sounded, signaling the end of life as I knew it. My peers received their trophies, and I walked off the court, out of that world, into my empty home where the “Welcome, Baby!” banner still hangs over Cora’s crib.
Comparison is the thief of joy, I tell myself constantly. When I compare, I always lose.
I’ve never signed my name next to “Mother” on anything besides funeral home paperwork. I’m not having playdates. No one’s asking for updates on my child. My plans for Cora’s first birthday party are forever stuck in a detailed Word document. I’m not looking up parenting advice online. Instead I follow bereaved mothers, learning tips like, “Put your child’s name on your order at Starbucks so you can hear someone say it out loud.” And Cora won’t have back-to- school photos, or monthly growth updates, or silly pictures with spaghetti sauce smeared all over her face and hair. She’ll never weigh more than 8 pounds and 4.6 ounces. She’ll never be taller than 21.5”. Her Apgar score will always be 0. Her lips weren’t as pink as a live baby’s, and her skin wasn’t as peachy. But I’ll be damned if I’ve ever seen a child I thought was more beautiful and exquisite, or who had the potential for a more impressive life, than my girl.
I didn’t win the parenthood game in the conventional sense. Yes, it feels like the confetti is falling in great abundance on everyone else, while the hurt in my life grows deeper and deeper. It stings, burns, and rattles me on a daily basis. With child loss, there’s no stopping that confetti, no delaying it, no pretending it’s not coming.
As those slivers of shiny paper swirl about the air, and all the fans cheer for the very thing I just barely lost, I’ll head to the sidelines, where I make more sense now. There I’ll wait, with Cora as my teammate, and with my deep and abiding grief and love, all of which defy comparison.
Cameron joins us today as a regular writer at Glow. On the occasion of her first post, we'd like to hear from you: how are you doing, as you move through an otherwise oblivious world? The international news thrashes and breaks the collective of us apart, with suffering, pain, and anxiety around every turn. Yet still, on the micro, individual level—on my level, and yours—regular good fortune falls blindly on regular people in regular ways. How are you coping, on a broad scale and in the everyday?