October is Baby Loss Awareness month, the 15th of which sees the annual event The Wave of Light. Tonight we light a candle at 7pm in the hope that a continuous wave of light will be seen around the world to remember our little ones who did not get the chance to stay.
And I’ll be honest with you, this idea bothered me a lot in the early days, the lighting of the candles for just one hour each year. That awful realisation that for the rest of the world, the loss of my baby was something that they allowed to pass through their minds for just one day, perhaps even just one hour, most likely prompted by a friends Facebook post or something that they had read about on Twitter. It bothered me that whilst many people lit their candles, uploaded photos to their social media with hash tags and sad faces, when they blew out that candle sixty minutes later, their involvement in raising awareness for baby loss was done. They might have let the candle burn out a little longer whilst watching their favourite soap on TV, perhaps blown it out and headed to bed for an early night, maybe stopping by their children’s rooms to kiss them goodnight as they slept. They may have got into their beds, their heads hitting the pillow, closed their eyes and gave no second thought to the fact that for us, our pain carries on.
Because baby loss is so much more than this. So much more than generic posts on Facebook, photos of tiny little footprints or abstract designs of broken hearts. It is so much more than an Amaro filtered Instagram quote telling us that “Everything happens for a reason”. More than a sad face, a broken heart emoji, a message of (((hugs))) to a friend. It’s more than pink, more than blue, more than beautiful sunsets and butterflies. Baby loss is real, it’s dark, it’s scary. It’s that great big ugly elephant in the room. It’s so much more than just this one day.
Baby loss is coming home from the hospital with empty arms, to an empty crib, with a broken heart. It’s a mothers face contorted with grief, a fathers desperate cries, a family torn apart by grief. It’s a tiny little coffin, small enough to fit in your hands, a shallow grave, a mound of earth, the saddest of Goodbyes. Baby loss is boxing up the nursery, folding away those tiny little babygros, the little mittens and hats, the beautiful little pram suit that you had imagined would be perfect for the winter. Baby loss is having to return the bigger items to the shop, to deal with the looks of sympathy as you hand over your un-used items, knowing that as painful as this is, you need the money for your child’s headstone.
Baby loss is years of pain and misery, of countless tears and cries of despair, of “whys” and “what if’s” , that indescribable feeling of injustice. Baby loss is the guilt, the sense of failure, the overwhelming feeling that you have let your baby down. It’s the gnawing feeling in your stomach, the aching in your chest, the never-ending cycle of “If only?” in your head.
Baby loss is the empty seat at the dinner table, the missing hand in yours, the absent card on the mantelpiece on those special occasions. It’s the lost birthdays, the lost Christmas’s, the sadness that instead of birthday cake and stocking fillers, a bunch of flowers and a balloon sent to Heaven is as good as it gets.
Baby loss is being robbed of a future, of seeing your child start school, go to college, waving them off to university. It’s the loss of saying your goodbyes when they leave home, comforting them through their first heartbreak, celebrating their successes. It’s the loss of being there on their wedding day, lacing up their wedding gown, telling them that you have never been prouder, walking your baby down the aisle. It’s the loss of the grandchildren, the babies who look so much like their Daddy, the extended family that was all to come.
Baby loss isn’t just about losing a baby, it’s about losing a whole lifetime. Losing a child, an adult, a whole person who you never got the chance to know.
So tonight, go ahead, light your candle, watch that flame burn brightly and remember all of the babies who never got the chance to take their first breath. Think of all of the babies lost in neonatal, of your friends who have experienced such a loss, of the one hundred parents each week in the UK who won’t get the chance to bring their babies home. But don’t let it end there. While your candle burns, spread the word! Shout it from the rooftops!! Point your friends and family in the direction of SANDS, of fundraisers and Just Giving. Think of small ways that you can help, dig deep and donate, support your local neonatal units, your nearest children’s hospice. Do whatever you can to raise awareness and make sure that this time next year, there are fewer new parents sitting here with empty arms.
And remember that when you blow out that candle, when you change your Facebook profile picture back to one of you and your beautiful healthy children, just spare a thought for us, the parents sitting here without our babies.
Whilst your candle smolders in the darkness, my pain and my loss burn as brightly as the day that our son was born.
Joseph Allan Emmerson. 19.07.06