Humans are social beings; we like to belong to a group. We need to feel included, connected and to have people who we feel allied with. Friendship, work, social and hobby groups; we find comfort and affiliation with those who have common ground, those with similar likes and dislikes and those who we feel will ‘get us’. People with whom you can be yourself and share your thoughts and feelings on a subject, and whilst they might not necessarily always agree, they will likely understand at least where you’re coming from.
We all want to belong.
And it is this sense of belonging that I have struggled with since the moment that Orla died. In which group did I sit? I quickly exited the NCT WhatsApp group chat because I couldn’t bring myself to share our news in the midst of other joyful live birth announcements, and we were never in contact again. I was clearly no longer part of a group that was going to be my ‘mummy crew’. I had no friends who had experienced a similar loss, so I felt somehow distanced and separated from those I loved the most. I could no longer even look at pregnant women in the street and share a knowing smile, because I was no longer in their team. Baby loss is excruciatingly painful exclusion that permeates almost every aspect of your life.
We found stories via online charity resources, but without interaction your mind starts to question if these are actually real people; maybe they were made up in order to make people like us feel better? But then, through the use of hashtags I wish never had to exist (#stillbirth #babyloss), I found my support online through the squares of Instagram. And suddenly everything changed. I had my group, the warrior women who just understood and with whom I could be completely myself. We chatted everyday, we set up our own WhatsApp group and we honoured each other’s babies. We were, and continue to be, a first line of support on those days when the clouds seem too thick and heavy to believe that there is actually the possibility of light.
When I announced that I was pregnant with Esme, I was terrified of no longer belonging. Would this group of women I had found still accept me as one of their own? After all, I was lucky to have fallen pregnant again very quickly, so there is no way that I would know the same pain of longing and hoping for a baby month after month. And this is of course true. Yet I know that being pregnant in the acute stages of grieving is complex in itself. It has its own ache and plays its own painful melody. I sometimes wonder if the anxiety of pregnancy after loss somehow pressed pause on my grief and has now decided to press play again. Only in fast forward with the sound turned up. But that’s another topic in itself.
Of course, I remained accepted and supported by this group, but I found myself gradually also becoming a member of another; those who were also pregnant after loss. I had morphed from a mother without a child to one that anxiously awaited a baby that I could take home. Sadly, these women were geographically distant; some I had met in real life, some I hadn’t. So I started to mix with other mothers; those who may or may not have suffered loss, because who would know without talking and sharing? I wanted to belong, but I wasn’t sure if I could. I would attend groups and sit on the periphery, holding back from sharing my full reality; the dark thoughts, the sleepless nights that were not through physical discomfort or an active baby, but because of the deafening silence of a baby that you fear may not be moving. A baby that you fear you will also have to say goodbye to.
And so this continues in parenting after loss; some groups you sit firmly within, some you skirt around the edges. Your position is somewhere in the middle of a complex Venn diagram, blurred between and within, and constantly shifting like grains of sand under the waves of the sea.
The sense of belonging is really significant for me as it is intrinsically linked to my self-esteem and self-worth, and this baby loss awareness week has amplified it. Now that Esme is here I somehow feel that my membership of this group who speak out this week is potentially seen as less significant or important. After all, I have a baby in my arms, so why should I still feel sad? What right do I have when there are others who would give anything to be in my position? Surely they deserve this week more than I do? Am I worthy of my membership anymore?
Yet the pain of baby loss is forever, because love is forever. And I hope that I can always be part of this group of parents who speak out and share their story, because even after the raw pain of loss ebbs away, the mark it leaves is permanent and no less significant. It leaves you changed, altered from your old self and the need to feel included, accepted and part of something is integral for you to survive, but also to thrive.