Approaching Baby Loss Topics With Conscience

10 02 2013

Recently my friend Sammy at The Skeptical Mother opened her Wall to baby loss photos from grieving parents. The topic began when she noticed a controversial post done by Dr. Amy which only showed pictures of babies who had passed away, and their parents grieving over them. For those who know Amy, I do not have to tell you that this was not done in memorial, it was done as a propaganda piece meant to convey “Homebirth Kills Babies”.

Sammy asked the question to her fans– how do you feel about this manner of sharing? The answers were mixed but the majority was very uncomfortable with being shown– without warning– photos of babies that had died, and nothing else (no accompanying backstory, etc.). If I recall correctly, Sammy did not even expose the fact that it was a post by Dr. Amy she was referencing. It seemed a hypothetical, and still received this fairly negative response. Then she decided to delete the thread because it had turned sour for so many. She found a happy medium– she invited fans to post their baby loss photos and stories on the Wall, and gave readers the choice of whether they wanted to view and offer their support.

I want you to know something about The Skeptical Mother. She did this knowing that loss mothers felt left out. She did this under much criticism by Dr. Amy trolls. They told her she would never do something like this, having not the slightest clue what was in her heart (and their common claim, against any natural birth pages, whom they are mad only post “positive” stuff).  Her  concern was to strike a balance that is sensitive to everyone but without becoming a puppet for anyone else’s sick agenda. Sammy’s choice was carefully considered in an effort to be fair to everyone… from the mother who just miscarried whose heart could not bear to see images which reminded her, to the grieving mother who wanted the world to look at and remember her stillborn baby. She thought of women who had never lost but were terrified of the prospect and felt unready to view these images, as well as new mothers who openly said they would be more than ready to share in the memories while loss moms provided pictures. TSM’s motives are pure in an internet climate full of politics and ulterior motives.

The Wall is a place where users can submit anything they want, and the only way to view it is to go to the Wall yourself and see. This is different from Sammy directly sharing on the page herself, which becomes visible to all 40,000+ of her followers in their newsfeeds (many of whom were very sensitive and planning upcoming births, some of whom let her know they would have to unlike the page if her positive content started shifting to the shocking or the devastating). So, by opening her Wall to this, Sammy was able to accommodate a very real need for loss parents to not feel neglected, have their children acknowledged, while at the same time honoring the wants and needs of the majority who do not come to her page for such emotionally taxing photos.

Even a word such as “shocking”, used above, some would take offense to, but please remember that any image of death (regardless of who it is of and who that person was to you) is troubling to most people. “Those are not shocking, it is our sweet little baby, our only memory of her,” they might say, offended. Yes, but it is also true the picture of your baby has a sadness and heaviness that most baby pictures do not. You still deserve to celebrate, and we know that.  We still have to recognize how different it will be for those who don’t share your intense emotions. And how could they? You’ve gone through one of the worst things ever, and maybe they have not. Or, maybe they have, but they deal with their pain in a totally different way than you. Therefore, we need to take extra special care with your pictures.

But don’t you think seeing healthy babies all day can hurt, too?”
Maybe. But, people who feel that way probably didn’t “like” The Skeptical Mother. People “like” her page because they like her content, not because it causes them great anguish and they want her desperately to change her ways.

People can be especially averse to seeing babies in such a way, since they are our most precious and treasured ones. It is the ultimate human tragedy. People don’t turn away as a disrespect to your babies… they turn away because their empathy is actually much too great to bear it. I would be more concerned for the folks who weren’t stirred in the slightest at loss photos than the people who are moved too much to even look.

Babies dying is a sad topic (be it miscarriage, stillbirth, or something else entirely). It’s a reality that happens, true, and there is no woman alive who doesn’t realize this. Putting her in a position where she is forced to view one of the saddest events a human being could experience will not change this, and asking a stranger to look at a photo they feel would cause them any emotional disturbance is an ill-fitting memorial to any of our loved ones. You will not get the desired reaction, you can’t force the desired reaction, and that is nobody’s fault.

I don’t think most loss mothers would expect this, but there were many disturbed Dr. Amy fans who felt strongly that this was not anyone’s problem but the person averse to looking. I say, everything in it’s right time and place. Appropriateness is paramount. Just as you would not walk into a Lamaze class and start shoving photos in the faces of people without a word, there is a manner in which we as humans interact and share that is healthy and fair for everyone. “Appropriate” may sound like a cold word to someone feeling intense grief, but their reality is not everyone’s reality, so “normal” to them versus the outside world can change significantly. If Amy fans expect everyone to change with that to the point that the Lamaze scenario above would be the new normal, I don’t think that’s a realistic or even sane goal. No, “appropriate” is in this case just another word for being considerate to everyone at the same time. It can be done. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It’s about respecting the needs of everyone and trying to find how to fill those without being a knife in the heart of the other party. I feel Sammy succeeded with that.

Many demanded all people be made to look, regardless of their sensitivities or feelings, because they contended to not was a disrespect to all baby loss victims everywhere. Some said to feel uneasy about it was the same as spitting in the baby’s face. Some openly said that their feelings were the only ones that counted, and they mocked the delicate feelings of mothers-to-be. “Think of how the loss mothers feel” got repeated a lot by Amy trolls and just other women in general, but I don’t think our sorrow for anyone can negate the human emotion of wanting to avoid subjects that are painful on purpose. Nor, a human being’s right to tell you what their tolerance level is (personally) for tragedy. Our readiness towards anything is a personal matter and depends on where we are in life. If we can’t respect that, it’s the same as saying everyone else is just a player in the story of your life. If it were that easy, you could write the script yourself and give everyone the correct emotions to feel. It’s not that simple. Humans are complex and have their own stories, and we can’t force ours on others.

*** Here is the part where I tell you that we all want stories and photos shared, but we warn “with discretion” because we understand that the way a grieving mother sees her photo versus a member of the general public are very different things. This can be very hurtful to loss mothers to hear, but I implore them not to take it as society’s rejection of you or baby, but rather a reflection of our fears. Let’s face it– no one wants their baby to die, or anyone’s to die (unless you’re an Amy troll, in which case, you want mine to die).  We are not in the habit of regularly viewing things we would never want to go through ourselves. Any image of death is usually upsetting to most people. Many have called for the changing of this taboo, and it is a separate argument entirely to discuss if it is our taboo to change. People come from all different walks of life with different philosophies and customs, and I think understanding that is very important. Where you may see your little angel, others may not, and instead be triggered into a traumatic memory, for example. Some will frankly only see death. On a cheerful and positive birth page, it would seem obvious that this content would not be typical.  Sometimes this explanation still fails to suffice for a mother so deep in her own emotions. TO BE CLEAR, Sammy and I both agree with sharing things which are accompanied by WARNINGS (to alert the sensitive) or stories (so that the picture itself is not just exploited for shock value, but contains a message, or something poignant and meaningful). ***

I want you to know that even after she decided to open her Facebook page’s Wall to this, she was accused of not really meaning it, not being genuine, not doing enough (by the Amy trolls). That’s right– first they said she would never do this at all, but when that was obviously not the case, they found something new to complain about. They make it a mission to be offended unless you not only jump when they say, but ask “how high” first. I told her this would happen but she did it anyway because her heart meant it.  She was accused of doing it just for extra likes (even though she did it knowing she could actually LOSE fans). In light of this, I have watched shady loss organizations (associated with/ran by Dr. Amy fans) disregard her intentions and vilify her. I was made privy how another major birth page made posts and statements about how *they* always have a place for loss mothers, as they attempt to constantly one-up her on her every post since TSM’s popularity spiked. Loss should NOT be a platform for competition.

This outrage is a violation far worse than taking into consideration the feelings of people averse to death scenarios. It doesn’t take the topic seriously, it only seeks to gain from it.

There are tons of places for loss and remembrance, and the good thing about those places (so long as they are healthy and not run by hate groups) is that they are already aware of the subject matter and prepared to respect and grieve with you. There are tons of natural birth pages and similar topics which occasionally share your losses in a tasteful and non-exploitative way. I assure you that just because your average birth or parenting site isn’t daily sharing photos of babies who have passed away, it is not due to not caring. It is simply not the usual subject matter of the page and not the voice they are projecting. That is all. For a parent to lose a child is a very specific facet of life and birth, and not every page is going to address it on a nonstop basis. Not every page is qualified to regularly address this with the sincerity the topic warrants. When people describe being “swept under the rug” (something we hear the Amy fans say a lot), I hope it is not for this reason anyone describes it as such.

I know I speak for most when I say “we still love you, even if your issue isn’t the one discussed the most”. I don’t talk about lots of (birth and parenting) things every day, such as adoption, or c-sections, or maternal/paternal death, but I still love all families for whom these are the big issues, as well. Every page has a unique voice and they are speaking from their own life experiences, so please don’t feel left out if the type of content doesn’t constantly address the issue dearest to your heart. And if a page isn’t speaking to your heart and needs, find other pages which do. Not everyone can be everything to everyone, but there is someone out there who understands you, and no one is ever truly alone. There is a place for all of us, it just isn’t always the same place.

Due to the outpouring of support and participation her Wall inspired that day, Sammy has decided that every 8th of every month will be The Skeptical Mother Loss Remembrance Day. Please feel free to participate if this is a subject you would like to take part in. Because it shouldn’t be about homebirth, or trolls, or popularity, or moneymaking… it should be about your babies.





Getting Qualified Care: After A Loss

18 01 2012

First, let’s consider what makes a person healthy or unhealthy in the grieving process.

If you suffered a loss, what kind of care would you seek? Does suffering a loss alone make one qualified to mentor another who has suffered a loss, too?

Mental health and emotional health are serious. If you are suffering a loss, it is very important to get help on a professional level, particularly if your grief is intense. At the minimum, you do want to make sure that the person you have helping you is in a healthy mental state. Even with the loosest interpretations of what makes one “qualified” to provide appropriate care, most of us can agree on this basic starting point. Please be careful whenever you are selecting any form of help or care.

Joining me again is Michelle, a pregnant mother of 4 who has experience with natural birth, home birth, and loss. I have watched Michelle come under fire by other loss moms in the anti natural birth groups for not automatically placing blame on her caregivers when her loss occurred.

Deb O'Connell is a CNM with Carrboro Midwifery in the area of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The same camp has taken offense to some of my writings about healing and trauma as well. The philosophy seems to be that nothing can heal you from the loss of a child.

I am reminded of one attacker in particular who told Michelle that she did not love her child not only because she had come to terms with it in peace, but mainly because she did not blame her midwives for her child’s stillbirth. In fact, what had begun as a peaceful conversation took a swift turn for the worse when the woman started in with obscenities and accusations, all a reaction to Michelle’s take on loss and the sharing of her own experiences.

Doulas ARE very natural childbirth-minded... most people don't find a need for doulas outside of that practice, because it would be too "woo". Most people giving birth in the mainstream don't feel so much of a need to have a doula; they have their doctors, nurses, significant others, and family members as their support.

This same woman wants to be a doula for women expecting a loss, and also has signed up to mentor loss parents through a program called Stillbirthday (featuring and run by people who are part of the anti natural birth movement). Are people with these philosophies in a good position to be offering qualified care to the bereaved?

Let’s start with a simple question:

How do you counsel the bereaved? What is best for them? What kind of guidance do they require?

Michelle says: Having been to a REAL therapist to deal with things like my loss, my childhood, and my abusive ex-husband, I have a somewhat good idea of what they do and why they do it that way. My therapist never projected anything on me. She listened to me and what I had to say and then ask questions which made me look at myself not anyone else. I think it is good for loss mothers to have a place to say how they feel and express some of the normal stages of grief ( and anger can be one of them). However, if what they are looking for is healing then I would recommend a professional who can deal with the psychological aspects of loss and its effects on people.

I do believe we are all entitled to enlist the help of those who we feel are best to serve us. To me, this goes beyond training and credentials and is a personal choice. I’ve made that quite clear. When it comes to birth, anti-NCBers cannot be more opposed to this philosophy, but do they extend the same strictness to mental health?

The importance and seriousness of good care does not end for the mother and child once the baby is born.

Most healthcare professionals could probably tell you that people become consumed by, addicted to, their grief. It’s a hard process and takes years of therapy for some to cope well. Surely nothing can be as devastating as the loss of a child, so it would be totally understandable to think that this could mentally and emotionally damage someone more than possibly anything. When a person is in pain, they are capable of inflicting pain on others, sometimes as a way of projecting their self-loathing. If a person is so deeply affected in a negative way by a crushing loss, are they in a position to help others in a truly healthy way to cope themselves?

To make a comparison, would we expect someone suffering from severe alcoholism– who admitted they saw no hope in sight for finding peace– to be an ideal mentor (or even “buddy”) to someone just entering Alcoholic Anonymous? When do two people suffering from the same disease no longer serve as a support system, and instead become the blind leading the blind?

Putting oneself in a position of sensitivity and responsibility to those in need when your own psychological needs are not being met and, in fact, one believes they cannot be met, may not be the quality of care the grieving deserve. However well meaning, if you were to fail at your responsibility, you are affecting lives and have the potential to do more harm than good. This would be like if a good midwife who means well were still not qualified enough to do her job. The results could be disastrous.

This is what I want to examine, and you’ll see that before I’ve even had a chance to get an answer to my questions, I am causing great offense for looking into this subject matter. But, in all earnestness, what could be more important than a mother’s mental well-being? You could have a dozen successful births of healthy children, but if the mother is unable to receive right care, everyone loses.

This is one of the anti natural birth pages, and the bottom comment is from the would-be doula and mentor for grieving mothers. She is seen here participating in the manner normal for her within these groups.

While we believe that you should be able to choose whomever you like for any form of your own care, regardless of title or degree, we do always urge that you exercise caution and common sense. Anti natural birth groups insist that certain classifications of midwife are unfit to practice, but they seem to feel that any laypeople in various stages of intense grief make good mentors to those who are just beginning their path. They do not seem to require any special qualifications– no degrees, no higher education, and not even psychological evaluations to conclude that said individuals are sound enough to be assisting the grieving.

In Search of the Perfect Birth and Michelle both ask,

Why the double standard?

To be continued…