Today, 15th October, is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, or “Wave of Light”. It’s a day where all the bereaved parents, family and friends around the world come together in spirit, or in person, and light a candle for their lost children.
Even writing those words brings tears to my eyes, and a rock hard lump to my throat.
All the lost children.
It’s been a sad, sad day.
3 months ago, on a sunny July weekend, I received a message from home as I sat nursing my 11 week old son. It informed me that a friend I was once extremely close to had given birth that Thursday, to a beautiful, full-term, baby boy…who died on the Friday.
How could this possibly have happened? How could a baby die, at 37 weeks, when Mum was in the hospital – a highly regarded teaching hospital, no less – surrounded by the most high-tech equipment imaginable. A hospital with one of the best neonatology units in the country right there. How is it possible that the outcome could be anything but good? How? Why on earth did that sweet baby die?
Incidentally, our firstborns were born 9 weeks apart – we had shared all the baby blues, the husband-bashing, the sleep deprivation and the (purely medicinal) bottles of wine together, as we survived the rollercoaster of the early days of parenthood. But this? How could I even begin to comprehend the pain and shock that she must be going through? What words could I possibly find to express how deeply, awfully, unimaginably heartbroken I was at the news? And how could I ever rub the salt of my bouncing baby Henry into her terrible wounds?
Choosing a condolence card for a newborn baby has to be the saddest thing I have ever, ever done. And yet, I’m surely not the first person to be found sobbing in front of a rack of Papyrus stationery.
In August, Gary Barlow and his wife were devastated when their daughter, Poppy, was stillborn at more than 8 months – well past the “safe” period.
Amanda Holden has lost two later term babies, as has Lily Allen. Another friend of mine lost her little boy too soon – late enough to have named him, decorated the nursery and taken home those all-important 20-week scan photos…but not late enough for the doctors to save him when his health suddenly deteriorated.
I am a long term reader of the blog of Heather Spohr, whose beautiful, sweet daughter, Madeline, was born at 29 weeks gestation. Defying all the odds, she went home with her parents as a healthy, happy, tiny little princess, and lit up their worlds (and those of her readers) for 17 months. And then, on my birthday, her light suddenly and inexplicably stopped shining.
There are too many stories to tell, of these dearly loved, cherished and lost babies.
And what of the truly lost children?
Just this month, another child has gone missing in the UK – my Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds have alerted me to the plight of poor April Jones, the missing 5 year old girl, plucked from the Welsh street outside her house, where she played with friends. And what ever became of Madeleine McCann?
Soon after we arrived in the US, a young boy went missing just down the road from where we were staying, in Bellevue. Despite the fact that all fingers seemed to point at his mother, the whereabouts of Sky Metalwala remains unknown a year later.
How do these parents grieve on a day like today? Do they grieve at all, or would grieving mean admitting that their children are never coming home? Do they instead light a candle of hope? Or do they bury their heads in the sand and pretend that the events of today have nothing to do with them.
This isn’t supposed to be an overly maudlin post, it’s not meant to cause you to roll your eyes and complain that I’m being too depressing today. But I feel it’s important to recognize, for just one day a year, these little people that we never had the chance to know. Just because they never laughed, crawled, or said their first words, doesn’t mean that they weren’t real people, children, tiny lives full of hope, dreams and potential.
Evie and my dear Henry have both been particularly sweet today – full of giggles, squeals and general joie de vivre. Almost as if they wanted to remind me just how very lucky I am. As if I didn’t already know…..
I can’t promise that I won’t lose my patience with Hurricane Evie as she cartwheels off the sofa and crushes chalk into the carpets. Or that I won’t ever raise my voice to a screaming Henry at 3 in the morning. But I will be squeezing my babies a little harder this week, and trying hard to appreciate all the great things about my healthy, happy Pepperlings.
In the meantime, for all the broken-hearted parents out there? All I can do is say that I am thinking of you, my heart aches for you, and today, I burned this candle for your dear children.