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"You should focus on your living children": What I struggled with the most after losing my son.

This post deals with child loss and might be triggering for some readers.

Imagine I told you I no longer love my first-born child. Imagine if I said: 

"I’m over him."

"I moved on."

"I have two other children to focus on."

You’d be shocked! Not only would I be labelled a bad mother, but a bad person.

Hold on though! Before you judge... let’s add another layer to the story. What if I told you, my first-born child died before he got to live? What if I said he was born silent and without breath?

Imagine the moment of birth. The midwife gently saying, "You’ve had a little boy." He’s placed on my chest, like most newborn babies. My husband and I soak him in. Admire his features. Wrap him up. Bestow his name - Xavier Rocket. Our son is here. But he’s also not. His little heartbeat still.

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Now are you okay with me saying I no longer love him? I bet not!

Then why? Why are bereaved parents everywhere, asked to stop loving their babies who died?

They aren’t! You may be thinking: Who would ask a parent to stop loving their child? 

No one would actually say that! Surely!

And you’d be right. In my contact with hundreds of bereaved parents, I’m yet to hear of someone being directly told to stop loving their child. But what I do hear often, is well meaning societal suggestions like:

"It’s time to get over it."

"You really need to move on."

"You should focus on your living children." (Which I’m grateful to do, every single day!)

These statements come from people who innocently believe they are asking us to 'move on' from the grief. And I get it. They don't want to see us sad, or in pain. But herein lies the disconnect.

Most people don't realise that inside the grief, lives the love. 

So, when you ask someone to stop grieving, you accidentally ask them to stop loving.

How so? Well, grief and love are enmeshed. 

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There is no visible line where one starts and the other ends. It's like breath and air. One doesn't even exist without the other.

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The only way I can describe it for myself is like this - when my son died, I had all the love inside me, bursting to be bestowed in physical ways. The newborn snuggles, feeding him, rocking him to sleep. We were lucky to get some snuggles. But a week after Xavier was born, we buried him. So I felt like I had nowhere to place my love. But it was still there. In endless supply.

For me, grieving is an ongoing reckoning of where to place the love I have for my son. The love that keeps on coming, even in his absence.

In simpler terms, it can be described like this - think of someone you deeply love. They exit the room. You can't physically see them. Does your love for them now cease? No. What about if they leave the house, or the state, or move across the world? No. Your love remains, even in their absence.

It is the same in death.

Which is why bereaved parents need acknowledgement and support from the very beginning. I believe most people want to support us. They just aren't sure how. So I’ve made it my mission to help.

As it happens, I am a qualified Social Worker trained in grief and loss. I was working in the grief space at the time my son died. So with my deepened understanding, and professional background, I’m here to support the supporters! Through The Baby Loss Project online training, I am now educating workplaces to proactively and compassionately support staff who experience pregnancy loss, stillbirth, neonatal loss... in fact, any kind of baby loss.

This is a learned skill. Our society - not well versed in grief - has to unlearn what we innocently thought was helpful (the get over it/move on philosophy) and relearn a fresh way (sitting beside grief without trying to fix or abolish it). It's uncomfortable, but entirely possible.

Now. Back to the start. Was there love in our birthing suite? Abso-freakin-lutely! There was also immense pain and deep sorrow. 

But the love? Oh, it was bigger! Bigger than the pain. Bigger than the sorrow. Bigger than all of us in that room. 

Xavier is our son. Of course we love him. He was loved before he was born. Perhaps even before he was conceived. And the love (as Celine Dion sings) will go on... and on!

Learning to support grieving parents is learning to support loving parents. It's really so simple in its complexity. And The Baby Loss Project can show you how.

Ann-Maree Imrie is a mother of three boys, the first of whom was stillborn. She is an ambassador for Stillbirth Foundation Australia, a qualified social worker, trained in grief and loss, and author of 'You Could Have Been...' - a children's book for bereaved parents. She saw firsthand the value in workplace support when her son was stillborn, which led to her passion, 'The Baby Loss Project', an online training program that upskills employers to create policy, and respond proactively to pregnancy loss, stillbirth and infant death. 


You can download Never Forgotten: Stories of love, loss and healing after miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death for free here.

Join the community of women, men and families who have lost a child in our private Facebook group.

If this has raised any issues for you or if you would like to speak with someone, please contact the Sands Australia 24-hour support line on 1300 072 637.


Feature Image: Shana Dennis at Wolfe St Fashion Photography.