17 October 2011

Learning From "Say Their Names"

When I started pulling together the details for the idea I had of what would later become the Say Their Names project, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get 239 names.

239 names

It is 239 more names than it should be. But what I loved about doing it is that those are names that we all remembered together, our voices and stories proclaimed in unison. Losing a child can make a parent feel incredibly isolated and marginalized, wondering if we are the only ones who will ever acknowledge the existence of the little one we lost -- but none of us were alone in our remembering on October 15. And I hope our children were honored by what they saw.

The project spanned some decades worth of losses. Names were gathered from losses that occurred over forty years ago, all the way up to just days before the video was made. All types of losses were represented: miscarriage, stillbirth, and the death of a child before one year old. Names were submitted by mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters and friends. All of them care, and all of them continue to feel the absence of those who aren't here.

this christmas
Having no baby to hold after Ewan died, I often clung to and slept this little sleep sheep, our first baby gift and the one thing that we brought to the hospital for him to keep vigil at his bedside.

I got some of the most incredible messages from you. People saying that this is the first time someone else had acknowledged their loss as a loss. People saying that they've never heard anyone else say their child's name out loud before. People saying they were in tears hearing all those names. And sadly, people who are wondering if they will have another child's name to add to the list next year.

In doing this video, I learned some important things. I have to confess as to being largely ignorant about how the rest of the world treats miscarriage. James and I have always cherished our pregnancies from the very beginning -- as soon as we had a positive pregnancy test, I kid you not, we shared the news -- I was calling grandma and grandpa and telling friends at work. We both appreciate and understand the reasons why people wait to share their news until they hear a heartbeat, or until the second trimester (especially when there have been prior losses). But our thinking was:
She or he may only be the size of a speck, but there is a new person here, and we want to celebrate that. We want people to know that we are hoping and planning for and expecting a baby -- that there is, even now, a new member of our family. And God forbid anything should go wrong in this pregnancy, but if it does -- we hope that those who celebrate with us at this good news will also mourn with us in what we've lost, because it is a loss. Because even if we didn't know the child we bore for a little while -- even if we didn't get to know if it was a boy or a girl and get to give them a name or hold him/her in our arms , we still have lost a member of our family.
So it surprised me just how often I saw a comment of thanks for acknowledging the loss of miscarriage alongside those losses like my own. Our losses may be very different in the particulars of how they occurred, but they are still losses and as such, are all horrible and awful -- just horrible and awful in different ways.

After hearing from those of you who have experienced the loss of miscarriage (many of you multiple times), I learned just how little those losses are acknowledged in the world at large. I learned from you just how taboo it is to speak of it. I can promise you that this will never be a space where you will find miscarriage dismissed as anything less than the loss of a child. I'm not someone who sees the point in measuring losses one against the other to see whose was worse. Even if you could win that contest, what would you gain? Losing a child is losing a child and no matter how that occurs, the loss cannot be quantified.

Now, you may not be able to say to me, nor I to you, "I know exactly how you feel," and that's perfectly okay -- the particulars of what we've experienced are incredibly different. The traumas we've suffered may look nothing alike. But we are both mothers without a child to hold. We both mark milestones with a piercing ache in our hearts. We all know what that is like.

Whether by miscarriage, stillbirth, or death before a first birthday, we all know what it is to lose a child. And we all know how important it is to acknowledge that loss for what it is.

So as long as any of us have voices, we will say their names.