10 October 2011

Why It Matters

I wanted to offer a heartfelt thanks to all of you who have submitted names for my memorial project, "Say Their Names." The trust you're giving me is a sacred one, and not something I take the least bit lightly. I know that each name represents your love and your heartache. Each name represents a human life that ended too soon. Each name represents a story, a family, a hope, and an unspeakably deep grief.

Each name takes an abstract "1 in 4" statistic and makes it deeply personal. 

And that's why it matters.

I have heard and read a lot about how child loss from miscarriage, stillbirth, and early infant death is a taboo subject -- something that nobody wants to talk about. And while I don't doubt that this is at least partly true, I don't think it paints a complete picture. I say this because I see online communities where we are talking about it openly. I see women bravely speaking up and writing about their losses. And there are a lot of us out there.

Before we received the prenatal diagnosis and before we lost Ewan, I had no idea that many of my friends had already suffered miscarriages. I knew what stillbirth was, and that babies died before ever seeing their first birthdays, but the fact -- though incredibly sad to me -- was not a personal one. Where I was concerned, it was an abstract notion. There were no faces attached to those facts. There were no names.

For me, there was no personal application in that information, and so it was about as compelling a fact as knowing the average annual rainfall in Greenland.

So I wonder if the topic so frequently called taboo suffers in equal measure from the fact that there are people out there who know very well that children die in pregnancy or in infancy, but the information isn't the least bit personal. It hasn't happened to them and it hasn't happened to any of their friends. Even if it had, what could they do?

The truth is, they probably couldn't do much. But if they heard a name, saw a face, got glimpses of the larger story -- then they just might talk about it.

Raw facts aren't so compelling or terribly memorable, but real people and their stories are. 

And then say someone like you or I comes along with our losses in tow, maybe it wouldn't seem so taboo to either of us. Chances are, they would tell a friend or two. Chances are, it would be a little more personal. We just might be able to talk about it.

When it comes to things like Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, and things like the I Am the Face campaign -- and things on a smaller scale like I'm doing here -- that is my hope. That by showing our faces, saying their names, making our stories available, those for whom the notion of miscarriage, stillbirth, and early infant death isn't personal will see the face of someone they might know. They will hear the name of their own child, or the child of a friend . It will bridge the gap between mere facts and real life. They will see their neighbor, their sister, a co-worker. And it will click: these aren't just statistics, but this is real.

They just might think: "In fact, this could be me."

I felt incredibly alone in the days after that diagnosis because I felt like I was the only one. And when Ewan died, it was an incredibly lonely feeling -- but by that time, I had learned about many of my friends' losses for the first time, and I had met many more who were fresh in their grief like me. Though they were different in their particulars, it was helpful to know many others who knew the unspeakable sense of loss and grief that comes from losing a child, whether early in pregnancy or after his birth. They knew intimately that feeling for which there are no words.

One of the things that excites me most about doing this is knowing how powerful each of our individual stories and each of these children's lives truly are -- and when we say all these names together, each name standing for a real human story, each name tearing the veil off an abstract statistic and making it personal  -- then our stories don't stand alone or under a veil of anonymity, but as a collective and deeply personal whole. We give the statistic a face. And that's almost impossible to overlook.

Just think how powerful that is -- all those voices together.

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say their names

There is still plenty of time to submit names for the Say Their Names project. Names will be accepted through 3 pm (EST) on Friday, October 14.