Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Second Worst Outcome

I read recently that the death of a baby at birth is the second worst outcome in a pregnancy.

That's because a dead mother is worse than a dead baby.

For the mother, of course, that's debatable.

My therapist mentioned the other day that one of the major differences between the way mothers grieve and the way fathers grieve the loss of a baby is that the father, in addition to his sadness, also feels intense relief that his wife didn't die, while the mother often wishes that she would have.

The idea of a kind of hierarchy of loss--worst outcome vs. second worst--had not really occurred to me at all until I had a conversation with my brother in which he essentially said the same thing.  I can't remember what his exact words were, but the essence was something like "it is terrible that Eliza died but it would have been even worse if you had died."

It is a strange thing to hear your brother say that he's glad you're not dead.


It sounds so ridiculous and dramatic and juvenile to say "I wish I were dead!"

When I whispered it to David that night at the hospital, I thought I meant it.

I still feel sometimes that there is nothing to look forward to.  I think that my future will always be darkened by this sadness.  I will always be held hostage by this grief.  If we are able to get pregnant again someday, that pregnancy is sure to be plagued by stress and fear and the possibility of getting a live baby at the end of it?  Well it's not a sure thing.

And yet.  There are reasons to live.  People who love me.  Dogs that love me.  People who promise me that this will get easier.

Before Eliza died, I was so ridiculously, blindly, foolishly, naively happy.  The kind of happy where I would actually crawl into bed and say to David, "We are so lucky.  There is nothing I want that we don't have."  I will never feel that way again.

So the best we can do, I guess, is to hope for a different kind of happy.  Our happiness will forever be incomplete.  But we loved Eliza so much that maybe we will eventually find a sweetness in our sadness.  Happy won't ever mean what it did before, but I guess the only thing we can do is just keep stumbling forward, hoping to figure out what it might mean eventually.


  1. Everything you wrote, is so very true. It took awhile for me to stop being mad at myself and my doctors, for me being alive when our baby wasn't. And there's no doubt in my mind, if my dying could have/would have saved her, I would have done that. I still feel, deep down, that it was my body who failed her, and to sort of get over the guilt of still being alive...I'm not sure that I'll ever be over it, I guess I've maybe made peace with it.

    And you are right about the happiness thing. The "happy" you feel after you've lost your child is never the same, I think, that's always there overshadowing everything.

  2. I did mean it. I really did. But I'm in a darker place than you. I've lost all my children. I suffered the stress during subsequent pregnancies. And I lost those children too. I wanted to die. Very much so. And I don't have much hope of life now, but I have a husband who loves me very much, and who needs me. So I live.

  3. It took me a lot longer to come around to this idea, that maybe it's NOT a good thing that I didn't die in childbirth....but, slowly, I think I'm coming around to believe it.

    Much love,

  4. Before my daughter died, I was like you were - blissfully happy. I've really struggled to accept this new version of myself, to realize that the sadness will always be a part of me. I *liked* being that happy person. But this is not something that anyone would ever choose, and so I soothe myself with the notion that my natural tendency for happiness should still serve me well. Sending you much love and peace.

  5. You have to recalibrate what happiness means. You need to find a new "normal." It's not easy, and I can't tell you how to get there, it's something everyone has to work out for themselves.

    And I was blissfully, stupidly happy before, too. I look at pictures of myself before then and think 'You have no idea." (Not that it would have made a difference.)

  6. My family and my husbands had the same reaction as your brother...It surprised me too. You're right you find a different type of happiness, but you do find it in time.

  7. I read this last night, and it's stayed with me since then. It saddened me that you recall your happiness as foolish and naive. So many people are not aware of how good their lives were until after tragedy strikes. Then they look back and think, oh, if only I had known how good it really was. But you knew that you were happy. And you were appreciative. You didn't wait until these dire circumstances to tell your husband how much he, and your life together means to you, and that is a wonderful thing! I wish you happiness again, as you said it will be different, but happiness none the less. But I also hope you will be able to look back on your past happiness not as ridiculous, or blind, but as a wonderful time in your life that you continue to be grateful for. I'm sure you won't be grateful for what you are going through right now, I'm certainly not, so I'll just try my best to acknowlege my blessings, to keep my head above water.
    Thank you for writing.