I want to preface this post by saying that this post is not solely about me. This is about other loss parents too, and is just something I feel like could be helpful for people who aren’t sure about how to handle the situation. Onto the post.
Milestones are a really big deal in the lives of loss parents. Whether they had an early miscarriage, a stillbirth, or infant loss, dates will always be remembered. As time goes on, people outside of the loss continue to move on with their lives. Those losses will be remembered in the backs of their minds, but the constant comfort given to the parents that their child is remembered starts to fade. This, of course, is normal, and maybe I’m only speaking for myself, but I don’t think that loss parents expect people to wait on them and care for them (in that manner) forever.
However, the dates are a big deal. Depending on how outspoken a parent is, those dates might be well advertised. If the parent has lost a baby full term or after they were born, they might kind of expect birthdays to be remembered by family. I’ll be honest and say that this is me. Our families do a great job remembering when Carter’s birthday is, and are kind enough to include him on the family birthday calendar. You might be thinking, of course he should be included, he is part of the family, but I know there are some families who don’t feel the same way as ours does.
But what do you say when those milestones come around? A lot of people who haven’t experienced a loss might feel so unsure of what to say that they don’t say anything at all, which might be fine depending on the who they are talking to. For the majority of loss parents I know though, we would rather have our babies acknowledged than not. Personally, I don’t expect people to say anything on the day we lost little bean, or the day she would have been born, or the day we had our last miscarriage. It’s hard to know what to say for those situations. But Carter was born. I labored and delivered him. Even though he wasn’t born alive, he was still born, still birthed. Which means, to me anyway, that he has a birthday. He may not physically age on his birthday, but we still consider it his birthday nonetheless.
Saying “happy birthday” on the birthday of a child that was taken too soon might seem strange. You don’t want to seem overly happy because it’s just a bittersweet day. But you also don’t want to necessarily say “today is the second anniversary of the day you lost your baby” because that just sounds sad. I can’t tell you exactly what to say, because every person is different. What I can tell you to do though, is ask. Ask the parents, or person who has experienced the loss, what words they would like to hear on that day. Last year on Carter’s birthday, one of my sister-in-laws asked me directly what she should say to us on October 27th each year, and I loved it. It was so considerate of her to let us know that she is thinking about him, and that she wants to tell us each year in the way that will work best for us. We told her she can say happy birthday, but that might not be every parents response.
One time last year, Brandon and I went to a support group. A question along the lines of “what do we do when people seem to avoid talking about our child” came up, and I gave an answer that wasn’t entirely well-received by the parents. Loss is not the most comfortable topic, and so many people avoid talking about it because they don’t want to hurt loved ones, but most of the time, they end up doing just that. Most people would rather their loved ones be talked about, because it means they are being remembered. I told the mom that asked it that I feel like we as loss parents need to let people know what we want and need. If we want our baby to be talked about, we have to set the example and talk about them. People won’t know how to handle the situation/conversations if they don’t ask or if you never tell them. It sucks that they can’t read our minds, but that’s the reality. We can’t expect people to automatically know what we want or need from them.
Maybe this sounds petty. To someone who hasn’t gone through something like this, it might seem ridiculous that we want our babies talked about and remembered. It might seem aggressive that we would like people to acknowledge birthdays or milestones. But please remember that this is all we have of our babies. We don’t get to post pictures of them each year and have people telling us how big they are getting. We don’t get to shower them with gifts and plan silly parties. Instead, we visit them at the cemetery and pray that people don’t think we’re crazy for wishing them a happy birthday.
To parents that have lost a child: I know it sucks, but if people aren’t giving you what you need, you have to tell them. Chances are they want to say something, but don’t know what, or how to even start the conversation. Help them help you.
To those who care about someone who has lost a child: Thank you for caring, and thank you for taking the time to acknowledge both the life and loss of their baby. If you feel like you don’t quite know the words to say, ask. Not only will you then know what the parent needs to hear, but you will also bring them joy in simply asking. Because asking means that you haven’t forgotten.