Loosing a baby is a very harsh lesson in perspective. It really levels the playing field in terms of what is important and what just isn’t. When you can say ‘well it’s not as bad as my baby dying’ then everything falls into place…or does it?
I know I’ve just said that experiencing such a tragedy makes you really not sweat the small stuff but I must admit there were many times when the little things were all I could think of.
My pregnancy with my second daughter was a contradiction of not being able to see anything but the bigger picture and focusing on tiny annoyances.
The pregnancy was tough for many reasons:
- my body had not recovered from the deliver of Evie and getting pregnant only six months after meant the hormones coursing through my veins played havoc on my stretching muscles.
- It was a constant battle to keep me mobile and independent. By the time I got to 19 weeks I started having physio at the same hospital where Evie died. The almost weekly trips to have painful muscle massage to help me walk for the rest of the week were exhausting.
- Trying to control my anxiety was also a constant battle. Managing my fear of losing this baby and trying to function threatened to bubble up and drown me at any moment.
- I was trying to hold down the new job I had got at the University of Oxford, do my share of the housework, cooking, oh and appear sane and not let on that I was going mad.
SO… quite a list really!
I often found the enormity of the ‘big picture’ just too damn scary, the realities of death and the genuine possibility of babies dying was overwhelming. So in a way the ‘little things’, like whether my blessed husband had put the towels back properly in the bathroom, became much more of a priority. It was easier to be swept up into petty arguments to distract from the grim reaper permanently sat in the corner of the room.
I’m sure you’ll agree the whys and the wherefores of how much cleaning each person has done that week are insignificant in the scheme of things, especially when compared to – is this as bad as Evie dying? Honestly though, I really do think it morphed into a competition between my husband and I to see who could be the most tired or hard done by. We irritated each other frequently in our independent struggles to keep going. I think I nearly drove my other half mad by rearranging the fresh washing he had spent half an hour laying out. This was exacerbated because increasingly he had to take on the lion’s share of household tasks as I drew nearer my due date. He also had to navigate my Jekyll and Hyde mood swings which would give UN Peace Keepers a run for their money – (I blame the hormones, oh and the huge stress I was under). So part diplomat, part housemaid = being my husband in 2012, and was a feat worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize – God bless my husband.
People don’t talk about the strain losing a baby puts on a healthy relationship
It was a very intense time with reality and our senses in a constantly heightened state. Our nerves were raw and frazzled and we had little reserves or resources to cope with the little curved balls life always throws at you (parking tickets, dropped jars of jam, bad driving of others – you get the picture). It felt more like a haunted house ride with one fright or scare after another or Total Wipeout (naff TV show with obstacles presented by Richard Hammond). Life had gone from feeling reasonably easy and straightforward – a ramble through country lanes if you will – to full on attempting to summit Mount Everest.
Now for the pseudo – psychology – wisdom according to me…
Within a healthy relationship there is a normal ebb and flow where each person needs to take from the other and both are happy to give to the other. This flow of support from one to the other and back again can be for small and big things, for example:
- Man reassuring woman regularly that she’s beautiful no matter her size and woman supporting man through applying for a new job.
- Woman putting man’s clothes away that have been there all week and man taking out the bins weekly.
In scenario 1. He may be annoyed that she doesn’t seem to hear him when he tells her she’s gorgeous but he loves her so will tell her as many times as she needs. She knows he’s shy about talking about himself and his achievements but he wants the job so she’ll talk interview tips with him and say how proud she is of him until he feels ready for it.
In scenario 2. Both parties are compromising to help the other and get the chores done. She doesn’t like doing the smelly kitchen bin so he does it. He’s often deals with work calls in the evening so doesn’t get chance to tidy and she is happy to help keep the bedroom tidy for both their ease.
In both scenarios neither partner feels compromised and both feel their efforts are appreciated, recognised and add to the overall well being of the household. Crucially neither feel taken for granted.
When a baby dies there are huge discrepancies between what each person needs at any one time in order to survive the day, moreover asking for what you need becomes ten million times harder.
So you’ve got two people who were very happy, felt equal and valued in their relationship who experience a trauma that tears at the very fabric of that well stitched union. Both want to take support from the other without being able to return the favour – something’s got to give.
For us, initially I was very needy both physically and emotionally. I was a support leech; you would offer it, I’d take it, and I wouldn’t be able to give you anything in return. But perhaps more significantly, after the first 2 years when my physical needs lessened, I still felt the dire need for emotional support and that it was my husband’s job to give it to me. I didn’t realise it but I believed he owed me. He owed me for suffering the physical trauma of our daughter’s birth and getting off without a visible scratch. I weighed our suffering and ruled my was more/worse and so he had to make up for this huge injustice and inequality of pain.
In essence my daughter’s death created an imbalance between us – a black hole that threatened to drag us down. There isn’t a statistic on how many relationships in the UK breakdown after the loss of a baby but it doesn’t surprise me. The strain can be intolerable at times and take you to breaking point. The long-term effect of me believing that my husband had the responsibility of making me feel better about what happened could easily have spelled disaster but it is not all doom and gloom.
Grace – sometimes it’s all you can have for yourself, your partner, your relationship.
This is what I think grace means:
Grace is the free and unlimited favour given to someone regardless of whether you feel they deserve it. It means forgiving and understanding someone when they cannot necessarily see the consequences of their own words and actions on you or others. You can also demonstrate grace towards yourself.
I truly believe this is what saved us – grace.
We needed it in spades but by hanging on in there when it was really tough, by remembering why we ever loved each other and holding on to the belief that we were stronger than this trauma helped us muddle through the darkest time of our lives and our relationship. We did not want our daughter’s death to come between us and destroy all the good between us.
The most difficult thing to tolerate is each person grieving differently and not understanding the other person’s demonstrations of grief. This is where grace can be a light in a dark place.
If you are reading this and feel you can relate to anything I have said, remember this:
You are not alone in your grief, you will survive this time, you only have to be good enough and try your best – it is all anyone can ask of us and the most we can asked of ourselves.
Relationships are so private and unique to each pair of individuals but I wanted to share what needs to be talked about so we can support each and not feel alone. I’d love to hear your comments if you feel the same.
Until next time, do what you can to find your smile.