Babyloss, Grief, and Perception

The Telegraph has today published an article by Marina Fogle about the tragic death of her son.

The little boy, whom she and her husband Ben named Willem, was born sleeping when Marina suffered an acute placental abruption that also left her near death.

It is positive to see an article about baby loss in a national newspaper. It is sad that it takes a tragedy experienced by people in the public eye for such issues to receive a higher profile, but such is the way of the world.

Grief needs to be talked about openly and honestly to help those enduring the grief process to understand that those strong, terrifying emotions are a natural response to their loss.

In her interview, Marina explains how grief changes constantly, like the weather. I can relate to this: it makes it difficult for me to know who I am, to trust myself, or to make plans.

I too have experienced the lack of concentration and memory problems: for a while, as Marina connected this to the haemorrhage she experienced, I connected mine with HELLP syndrome. Ultimately, it is connected to the exhaustion that goes hand-in-hand with grief.

Talking about what has happened is great advice. I have barely stopped talking about Hugo. It is a useful way of helping me process everything. Talking about your baby doesn’t have to be public, though: you could talk to friends, family, write your feelings in a diary, or write letters to your baby that no one else has to see. Whatever is right for you.

Marina suggests getting professional support to help deal with grief – I agree that living with grief is a skill that needs to be learned. However, getting such support is much easier said than done, as I discovered. That means living with grief is a skill I am still trying to master, some 10 months after Hugo’s death. Marina does acknowledge her luck in receiving such good support, however.

Perhaps most importantly, she talks about spending time with her baby. When Hugo died, this was something I was uncomfortable doing because it felt so morbid. It meant I don’t have any decent photos of Hugo without his medical paraphernalia, which is one of my biggest regrets. Helping parents understand that spending precious time with your baby after they have died, and making memories with them, is invaluable. Such regrets cause further heartbreak.

The fee donation to Child Bereavement UK will help so many in need of support, too.

I must admit that at first I felt the article was lacking in emotion. I don’t know if this was the intention in the way it was written, or whether the emotion was edited out. What irked me was that it made grief seem while awful, rather neat and tidy. So much British restraint. Where was the wailing, the ferocity of sadness?

After thinking about it for a while, I realised the tone is wholly appropriate for a broadsheet newspaper. Death is taboo, baby loss even more so. We already know that many people don’t like to engage in genuine empathy because it involves connecting with scary emotions.

The interview has been published on a Saturday morning. Readers may be enjoying a lie-in, getting jobs done around the house, or preparing to go out and do something fun. I asked myself whether people would be likely to read an emotive interview that would make them cry, or feel sad on their Saturday morning. Possibly not. On balance, I would rather people read about baby loss, learn from a bereaved mother’s experience of grief, and perhaps learn how to better support someone through baby loss than ignore it because it is too emotional, too scary to think about.

Perhaps people did shed a tear reading the interview. Perhaps I am being too harsh.

Irrespective of my views about the tone of the piece, I hope that people with half a heart would be able to imagine how difficult the article would have been for Marina to write. That there were undoubtedly many tears shed, too many tissues to count used, and time out taken to regain composure.

It is this thought that struck me when I re-read the article. When I first read it, I scrolled quickly past the headline, photo, and standfirst, eager to get to the interview.

On my second reading, I took time to look at the photo of Marina. She is well-presented, just as I would want to be if my photo was going to appear in a national newspaper. I looked in to her eyes: so sad. Of course they are going to be. I could not help but wonder, though, how many would look at the photo and think: “Well, she’s not crying and her hair looks good, so she must be ok.” Our image-obsessed culture does like to make judgements on how people look, after all.

Since discovering Instagram last summer I have been posting selfies. I like to make an effort with my appearance; it’s kind of my armour. I also don’t get out much at the moment – a self-inflicted method of protection and control – and Instagram gives me an opportunity to show off a haircut, or an outfit.

Looking closely at the photos, however, I am struck that while my mouth is smiling, my eyes are incredibly sad. My eyes used to sparkle. A recent selfie is below.

This made me realise just how important articles such as Marina’s are for helping the population in general better respond to, and support people affected not just by baby loss, but by any kind of bereavement.

To help people realise that a person bereaved might have got out of bed in the morning, and made themselves look presentable to face the day. That a person bereaved might be able to talk or write eloquently about their loss.

To help people realise that just because that person bereaved is not crying at that moment, or otherwise openly showing painful emotions, it does not mean they are not shattered, or that they are not utterly broken inside.

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10 thoughts on “Babyloss, Grief, and Perception

  1. mrshsfavouritethings says:

    Leigh, this is another brilliant post. I had heard about Ben Fogle’s son but I haven’t yet read the article by his wife. As you say, it is good that this article appeared in a broadsheet on a Saturday morning. But why does it have to lack emotion? In a paper, that should be printing articles about war, disease and famine etc. Why can’t they portray the feelings that accompany the tragedies of life?! Hugs Mrs H xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thank you, lovely Mrs H. You’re quite right. I think however death is still such a taboo, a softly-softly approach is perhaps needed, to get people used to talking about it – and if we keep having these open conversations, we can be more open about the depth of emotion xxx

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  2. claire says:

    I agree with you that the article made it all neatly packaged. My sister in law emailed it to my husband saying it made her cry and she thought it was a good article. My husband (who is a bereaved parent, as I am) was really angered by it! He just felt it was too simplistic. I did wonder if it was the editing too.

    I’ve looked over photos from last year (my son died in nov 2013) and I look absolutely knackered. And in photos before he died my husband and I look so happy and joyful.

    I think you’re right that if people see you looking ok, they think you are ok. They don’t realise we wear a mask to get through the day.

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    • Leigh Kendall says:

      I’m so sorry for your loss. Yes – I think it’s so important to show what goes on behind the mask. It’s good to have these conversations in the open. Little by little, hopefully we can encourage more open and honest conversations xxx

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  3. staceytangerineowlproject says:

    I understand exactly what you’re thinking and feeling Leigh. You look beautiful in your pic, and even if there is sadness behind those eyes, it does a world of good to know that you, like many others, continue to fight through the sadness. You make the choice to get out of bed and you make the choice to let yourself feel these emotions, and examine deeply others experiences to broaden the understanding of your entire readerbase. So proud of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Emma says:

    I read the article earlier this morning, and for me it seemed a bit detached too- I think because she speaks quite generally. Maybe the raw emotion is too much for a weekend broadsheet, maybe it was too personal for her to share, maybe it’s just my perception… But I sort of feel like it’s not the full story without the raw emotion. Yes, it’s brilliant that the subject’s being raised, but if we’re going to talk about this we need to really TALK about it, you know? Not tone it down to make it more palatable… It denies people the chance to try and understand how earth-shattering it is, how utterly destroyed you feel, even if you look put-together on the outside. It’s a great article and I admire her for starting the conversation… I just think it’s skirted an opportunity. X

    Liked by 1 person

    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Yes, I can definitely see that side of it Emma – people do need to understand exactly how earth-shattering, destructive, grief is. Hopefully, by having more such conversations in the national media, we can get people more used to openly discuss death and grief, and not have to feel like emotions need to be toned down to make them more palatable. xxx

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