The Silence of Stillbirth: Why We Need To Start Talking
As women, there are certain life events we’re bound to discuss at length with each other. From PMS to our first hot flashes, there are so many situations we face that are completely unique to our gender and often alienate us from our male counterparts. Being able to compare notes and lean on our mothers, sisters, and friends as we go through these situations makes us feel supported and, often, less isolated than we would feel otherwise. [sc:shn-ad1]
Then there are topics we don’t touch, situations we block out until they happen to us. These topics probably have touched the lives of women we know, but we never quite knew how to respond to them. Maybe those women never even brought them up because the topics are too dark for conversation. It’s easier to talk about the things we’ve all faced, the things we know we can survive.
But what if not talking about these things is making it harder for those who’ve faced them to survive? Don’t we owe it to those women to start up the conversation?
Last January, my sister found herself in the hospital on New Year’s Day. She was nine months pregnant and past her due date, waiting for her first child to arrive. Only, she had found out the wait was over. Her child would be arriving only to be taken away and placed in a casket of a size that should never have to be made. Her beautiful baby daughter was stillborn. The whole situation just seemed unthinkable, perhaps even more so because I literally had never thought about that as being a possible outcome. How could she have a perfectly healthy pregnancy and end up facing this kind of loss?
As someone who has never considered having children, I admit I have an extreme lack of understanding when it comes to pregnancy. Still, the other people around me seemed just as shocked. I needed facts. I began Googling (as I incessantly do) and was floored when I discovered just how many women actually face this kind of tragedy. Shortly after, as we fielded phone calls from relatives and friends, stories came out of the woodwork about women I knew who had suffered this same experience. Why had we never talked about this? Why didn’t I know about these children that still counted as family, that still made a unique impression over nine months? [sc:shn-ad2]
Over the course of this past year, I have come to understand more about why I never knew much about stillbirth or the stillborn that have touched the lives of those around me. It’s just too hard for most people to talk about, or more specifically, for people to hear about. I’ve heard it from my sister as she tells me about the ways that other women avoid the subject entirely or question her actions during her pregnancy (for the record, my sister was insanely cautious during those nine months and my niece would have probably been the healthiest baby to ever be born in the U.S. so people need to stop with those questions). I see it in the way other women talk about their pregnancies and newborn babies right in front of my sister without ever acknowledging that she, in fact, was a mother. I notice it in myself when she calls me upset and I can’t figure out a single thing to say. “Just say something!” I tell myself, but the fear stops me. What if I say the wrong thing or make it even more uncomfortable by not reacting correctly to what she says? Silence wins.
This past year, I’ve also come to understand why we have to talk about the tough topics. We have to do it for the women who face them and then feel isolated from their own gender afterwards. Yes, it will be uncomfortable and you might say the wrong thing, but at least you’re acknowledging that something’s happened and that you care to be present in its reality rather than backing away for the sake of comfort. [sc:shn-ad3]
We should do it for ourselves, to learn about the difficult things we might face and reinforce in those around us that we want to discuss it all, everything that being a woman can entail.
It’s easy to be absent from a topic until it happens to you and then you find the severity of that absence, the pain of being left outside of what others seem to consider “normal” as women. By embracing harsh realities and stepping up for others, you’re developing a clear precedent of how you would want to be treated and what you believe is the right way to handle the dark and unexpected.
Lastly, we need to do it for women like my sister and for my beautiful niece Eve because our silence demeans their identities as mother and daughter. No woman who has carried a child for nine months should ever have to doubt her motherhood, but it immediately happens when that pregnancy falls into silence and the name of the child is never uttered. Simply asking a question about pregnancy or sharing a thought you had about the child can be enough to show that you see her as a mother and connect with her as a woman.
’m certainly no expert on womanhood or communication. All the lessons I’ve learned in these areas of life, I’ve learned from my sister. I supposed that’s what drove me to write this. Of all the lessons she’s taught me, this is the most important. This is the lesson that’s forever changed us, together and individually…and then together again.