Competitive grief

Significant dates have a way of making you stop and reflect.  To think about what has been and what may be to come. Setting intentions and hopes and remembering what you are grateful for, as well as acknowledging what causes pain and suffering.

It was unfortunate that the flow of reflection that May brings from me was well and truly intercepted by my first real experience of what I have come to know as trolling.  For it to happen on that date of Orla’s death, on a post that described my feelings about that, was not ideal to say the least.  At first it didn’t bother me, but as the interactions continued and became more personal, I felt that I had no option but to block and delete.  I was never going to be able to have a fair and balanced conversations with someone who saw fit to minimise and criticise my grief and my parenting.

Yet some of the messages underpinning the actual words were important and I feel they are unspoken within social media communities.  I sometimes wonder if I am protected from receiving more criticism because my baby died; because people are potentially more likely to jump to my defence and say that it is unfair to say things to a bereaved mother that could potentially cause pain. But does this leave me in a particularly dangerous position?  One where I think I can get away with saying and posting what I want without fear of being called out?

Now I hope that I have never said anything that has been controversial or hurtful, and I hope that I never do.  But I am only human, and it is human nature to make errors of judgement.  However, what it got me thinking about was actually the unsaid.  The things that maybe I represent (and more importantly do notrepresent) and how this is perceived.

To take it back to basics, I am a person who has suffered something painful and traumatic. Hugely so.  I have taken the decision to share this openly online, to add to the many voices that already exist in the world of baby loss, and loss and grief in general.  I have been privileged and honoured to have had my voice heard and shared by many different people, including some with significant followings.  I have had opportunities to share my experiences on many different platforms and have even received an award for my writing.  But I am not the only one who has suffered such a horrendous loss, and there are certainly people out there who have survived traumas far more complex and sustained than my own.  I am one voice speaking about my own experience, and whilst this may overlap and resonate with many, there will be even more who feel removed and distant from what I have been through.

So how do other people view me?  How do they feel when they see my posts or other projects I have been involved in? What if I do not speak for them, of their suffering and their subsequent journey?  Am I seen as being unduly rewarded for sharing my story?  Does this feel unfair and unjust?  Does this make others feel that their trauma matters less than mine?

And this is where baby loss makes it all the more complex and emotive.  Because ultimately everyone who blogs, who posts on social media, who speaks openly about their baby is doing this from a place of fierce and unadulterated love.  Of protection for their memory and to show everyone that their baby matters.  Because they do – every single baby counts.  But when someone has more engagement, more likes, more opportunities or raises more money, it can hit you in a place that is dark and painful.  A place that sits in the shadows and may be filled with heavy emotions.  Guilt.  Shame. Anger.

And maybe this is what I triggered in the person who commented on my post. Maybe they saw me as being rewarded in some way for my pain.  Maybe they saw me as unworthy of the kind comments of support.  Maybe their own trauma and pain was deeper than my own.  Maybe they don’t have the privilege that they see me as having.  Maybe all of this – maybe none.  But what I wrote certainly evoked something in them and I may evoke this in others.  Because equally, I have these feelings at times.  Because I am human and these are human emotions.  Messy, tricky, sticky emotions that are hard to shake.

Social media is wonderful and has saved me in some of my darkest days, but I would be lying if I said that it also didn’t break me at times too.  I have succumbed to dark emotional and cognitive responses, and whilst I haven’t acted upon them or projected them out publically, they have been there.  And I didn’t like them one bit.

I haven’t written this post to try and fix something, because I’m not sure it is a fixable experience, but rather something that I am learning to be consciously and mindfully aware of.  Comparison is most definitely the thief of joy, but comparison is the thing that hits you right in the gut at 100 miles an hour.  It can floor you and bring out the parts of your inner world that you like the least.  It propels you into an emotionally driven mind that does not, and cannot, think rationally. And whilst most of us can avoid typing these things out on a keyboard and directing them at others, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t there and that it isn’t real.

I guess I just wanted to name something that can so often feel too precarious to name; with all the talk on social media of people feeling less worthy when comparing themselves to carefully curated feeds, it is important to note that these feelings can arise in many forms and for many reasons.  We just all need to be aware of when we are on either end of these feelings and know that they are real and understandable, and that it’s okay to have them.

But ultimately, that we have a choice and responsibility in how we manage them.

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  • Reply anyapilates May 22, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    Sending you a fiercely protective and loving hug xxx

  • Reply Uterus Monologues May 22, 2018 at 6:02 pm

    I’m so so sorry you were forced to reflect on this (and for what it’s worth I don’t see how anyone could begrudge you anything, not only because of what you’ve been through, but because of how thoughtful and inclusive you are in your writing and social media posts). But I do think you’ve really hit on something – it’s hard to identify or name, but definitely there. I guess there’s an inherent problem there, when there’s a personal trauma specifically tied in with a social media account – those likes and comments and shares aren’t just a silly social media numbers, it’s all too easy for them to feel like a literal ranking of your pain or what’s happened to you. A quantification of how much (or how little) people care. Especially when people already feel vulnerable. Thank you for sharing. xxx

  • Reply daddytoarainbowandastar May 22, 2018 at 7:33 pm

    It’s awful that somebody felt they had to “Troll” you and you’ve written and reflected in it in such a compassionate way. Social media has it’s dark moments but over all it is full of wonderful open minded and like minded people

  • Reply Kelly May 23, 2018 at 8:02 am

    Extremely well written as always and a very interesting read… I think it depends on a person’s motives for writing. If the goal is more ‘likes’, more followers then sharing your story becomes all about a response from others in some quantitative way. If the goal is simply to share in a cathartic way, to help and support others going through a similar situation, then the numbers only matter in terms of outreach. I think someone could easily think that their grief is less important because they don’t have the book deal or the podcasts if their goal was a public response to their grief.
    I haven’t gone through a loss like yours. My early miscarriage in between my two beautiful children seems small in comparison but I don’t read your posts to compare. I think writing like this binds people together in human compassion for horrible things that happen to good people, and there is so much of that in this world. It helps me to deal with little day to day things and put them into perspective; it helps me appreciate when I have sleepy cuddles with my babies…. I think many people read because the world sucks sometimes and we all know it in some form or other. Grief, in whatever form, makes us aware that suffering is universal but oh so painfully personal to us. The fact that you choose to write about it, just helps the rest of us who cannot imagine such a grief or those that experience it, realise they are not alone.
    You make an excellent point; these feelings may be natural but most choose not to troll, writing negative comments, because the world is hard enough already.

  • Reply Heart Full of Henry June 14, 2018 at 6:37 am

    A well written, engaging piece. Every bereaved parent’s experience of losing their baby is different, whilst some may find a story resonates with them more than others, us as individuals will process this differently at the time. With this in mind I believe as you say it is natural to look at other peoples journeys and find parts that you may have wished for your child. For me, I wish we could have seen Henry’s eyes or just him move. In turn however, I appreciate that there are parts of Henry’s story that others may have hoped for.
    No matter how many support classes or friends you have, grief can be isolating at times and as you pointed out, it is processing these feelings in a humane way that matters. I’m so sorry to hear that this person in question could not do that on possibly the hardest day of the year for you.

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