- Having the power to move heavy weights or perform other physically demanding tasks
- Able to withstand force, pressure, or wear
- Very intense
After losing your baby, this is something that many people seem to say: ‘you are so strong’ or ‘I don’t think I could be as strong as you’. I know this can be frustrating for some people, because being strong isn’t a choice, it is the only way to survive. Baby loss didn’t choose us because we are strong enough to bear the pain, baby loss does not discriminate and it could happen to anyone.
Yes, you have to be strong when your baby dies, because the pain is intense and all-consuming and you need to learn to live alongside this force. Every single minute of every single day. Yet I sometimes worry how this may be perceived by those who have lost a baby – what does it look like? Does it mean returning to how you were before? Does it mean going back to work and carrying on as if nothing happened? Does it mean not needing to seek help for your emotional wellbeing and ‘just carrying on’? Is it good old British stiff upper lip?
And what if you can’t do this? What if you don’t feel able to go back to work or engage in fundraising or something equally challenging? What if you can’t get out of bed each day? Does that somehow make you weak? Does that mean that you aren’t doing this whole ‘surviving baby loss thing’ very well?
I am really interested in the meaning of words and how they come to be used in certain contexts. Words and narratives are a huge part of my career; understanding what words people use to describe themselves when they are experiencing mental health difficulties and always watching for (and challenging) language that is pejorative or stigmatizing. Words have the power to change things and we should choose them carefully. They are weapons that can be used for good and bad, and in a digital age, they are becoming a single form of communication – we would much rather type a message than speak on the phone or in person. Talking and changing the words that we use have the power to build new narratives and understanding of ourselves and each other. Words are everything.
I’m sure I have used ‘strong’ a lot in the past without really thinking about what it means to me or the person I as using it to refer to. Yet since Orla died, it is something I have heard a lot: ‘You are so strong’. And I think that in the early days I took this to mean that I was ‘doing well’; I was managing my intense emotional and mental suffering without much help, I had thrown myself into various projects and I had returned to work. I was functioning almost like I had before. On the outside at least.
I was definitely strong.
That was until I wasn’t.
So, what does being strong really mean to me right now? It means feeling weak, it means feeling broken and ashamed. It means thinking I am the worst mum in the world and that my daughters deserve better. It means feeling like I failed Orla and that I should have saved her. Being strong is crying, it is living with a constant knot of anxiety in the pit of my belly because I don’t know if I’m doing this motherhood thing ‘right’. It means feeling like a fraud and unworthy of the privilege of referring to myself as a mother. Being strong is feeling all of these things and still getting up each and every day. Being strong is recognising when you feel broken and saying I can’t do this on my own. Being strong is talking and sharing and asking for help.
I want to raise Esme to be strong and to do that I need to model strength. I need to show her that I can and do make mistakes and that it is okay to recognise difficult emotions. Being strong isn’t always trying to be happy and positive, it is recognising when you aren’t and allowing yourself to sit with that pain, not just trying to eradicate it. Being strong is striking a balance between doing and feeling. But most of all being strong requires accepting help and never trying to do it alone.