I reviewed her chart as she sat in front of me for her new OB appointment. Two of her children had died in a freak accident in the recent years and now she was pregnant again. She told me this was a planned pregnancy. “This must be a complicated happiness,” I said. She nodded in complete agreement. I shared, that I too had lost a child- under very different circumstances- and we had a little side conversation about child loss.
“I had some people tell me ‘I know exactly how you feel because my child died too!’” she said, “But I’m like, ‘no you don’t. Your child died in gang related gun violence. He was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing. My children were innocently sitting at home!’”
It was a powerful statement.
Hierarchy of loss. It is something we discuss a lot in the loss community- loss is loss, we say. Is there a hierarchy? I think yes and no. I think it is a different loss experience having a miscarriage at 5 weeks and one at 12. I think it is different having a stillbirth versus a neonatal loss. I think it is different having a neonatal loss versus child loss. I think it is different having a child die from something preventable versus random. I say I think before each of these statements because I have only experienced one such scenario. I know there are some people out there unfortunate enough to have experienced more than one of these and perhaps these people can speak better of how, if at all, the losses are different.
I often feel almost guilty in the loss world because my baby was born alive- I got to meet her, though briefly. Many of my loss friends never had the privilege of hearing their baby cry- whether it be through miscarriage or stillbirth. Weird, right? To feel some sort of guilt about my baby living? I had to experience other loss, like the loss of a carefree pregnancy and the pain that comes with wondering if my child is suffering. But I also know exactly why my child died, while others won’t ever have that knowledge. I could go back and forth about how my loss was harder in some ways and easier in others- but it isn’t a competition. There are no winners in babyloss. All I really want is the pain related to my loss acknowledged as real and legitimate.
My patient is right in a way- her loss is different because her children were dong nothing wrong. The other woman’s child was engaged in risky behavior. But my patient is misguided in a way too- I’m sure that other woman was not only mourning the death of her child, but also the loss of what he could have been- the child not involved in gangs. She probably had complicated guilt over her child having some responsibility in his own death or maybe feels responsible herself for being unable to keep him out of gang violence.
I think what it comes down to is no one knows exactly how each of us feels, but we are all sad over our losses- the early ones, the expected ones, the preventable ones and the random, unexplainable ones. I know I am constantly seeking the person who knows exactly how I feel, but I think I’d be hard pressed to find another 34 year old midwife who lost her first child to an extremely rare and random combination of birth defects. So for now I take solace in the comforting words of others who share aspects of my loss. Those with infertility know what it’s like to wait almost two years and have no baby to show for it. Those who miscarry know what it’s like to have the dreams of a normal pregnancy ripped away. Those who chose to terminate based on a difficult prenatal diagnosis know what it’s like to make extremely hard decisions for their child. Those who have a stillbirth know what it’s like to birth a baby but leave the hospital with empty arms. Those who have neonatal loss know what it’s like to watch their children die, wondering if they suffer. Those who have child loss, preventable or not, know what it’s like to bury a child.
We are not the same, but we are. We are all sad.
What are your thoughts? Is there a hierarchy of loss?