I’ve mentioned before that I work as a psychologist. Im a Clinical Psychologist which means I work with mental health. I’m actually the only psychologist in my team which works with young people. My colleagues are psychiatrists, mental health nurses, social workers and other types of therapists. I meet with the other psychologists in the trust about once a month though for various meetings and supervision. Since going back to work I’ve so far avoided these meetings as the thought of talking to people and having everyone be sympathetic or ask how I’m doing was too overwhelming. Today though we had an away day and although I deliberated about going, I felt that it would be unprofessional of me to avoid it, and so I went.
Oh the awkwardness! So many people in one room who did not know what to say to me! Most people who I don’t know well just smiled and said hello. I had about ten interactions where people said it was nice to see me back in work and asked how I was settling back in and so forth. Several people congratulated me on my pregnancy which is now blatantly obvious. (Incidentally I never know how to respond to enthusiastic congratulations, especially when they come with no mention of Isobel. How can I hope to communicate the world of emotions about this pregnancy and the fact that I wish I wasn’t pregnant because I wish that Isobel was here?! “Thanks, it’s been a rollercoaster” or something to that effect is usually my response.)
One person, one single person, only one mentioned Isobel. This wonderful woman said “I’m so sorry about what happened to your wee girl, it’s just awful”. This is not a magic combination of words. It is not particularly profound or groundbreaking. And still it meant the world to me. I thanked her for what she said and she replied that she hadn’t been sure acknowledging my loss was the right thing to do as she didn’t want to upset me in a work environment, but she felt she couldn’t ignore it. This was not the person in the room I knew the best or who I’d spent the most time with talking excitedly about my pregnancy but she was the only one who was comfortable enough to talk about Isobel.
This is not going to be a post about how people get it wrong or don’t say the things they really should. Well it sort of is. But my point is, out of a group of around 50 psychologists (all of whom are trained to Doctorate level to work with high levels of emotional distress and psychological need) only one person knew enough to realise that it was appropriate – even in a work setting – to acknowledge the loss of such magnitude as the loss of my child. If this is the case, how can we possibly expect the average, non-psychologically trained person to know how to interact with parents who have lost a baby? Why does the myth that talking about our babies will upset us persist? How can people still think that we would prefer them to ignore the fact that we were pregnant, to ignore that we left work to have a baby and then came back to work leaving no baby at home? I can only assume this is part of the whole societal stigma about pregnancy loss and stillbirth where unless you or someone close to you has experienced this kind of loss, you just have no idea how to comprehend it, or how to be with a grieving parent.
It makes me more determined than ever to talk about stillbirth, to talk about Isobel and to refer to my first pregnancy when appropriate, despite the unhappy ending. The impact of this might be small, one person at a time, but it’s better than being silent and letting other people believe that ignorance is the right way to deal with loss.