When you are unwillingly initiated into the baby loss “club,” one of the first things you usually learn is what your personal grief triggers are. I discussed triggers in depth in an earlier post but basically triggers are something that intensifies grief for a period of time. They can be a song, an event, a smell, a place, or an item that reminds you of your loss. They can be people too. Pretty much anything relating to pregnancy and babies are the most common and most significant triggers for baby loss parents. This includes baby showers.
If I received a dollar for every support group post written about a baby shower trigger I’d be halfway in saving up for a vacation to Hawaii by now. Baby showers are something many of us used to love but now try to avoid like the plague. Many of us dread getting shower invitations in the mail. Not only are they a painful reminder of our new reality but they also often present a challenge in deciding how to respond. We don’t want to hurt or offend people we care about. We don’t want to be judged for our feelings. No, we don’t hate the babies that are being celebrated. It always angers me when people assume we are simply being mean by avoiding showers. Telling a loss parent to “man up” and attend is like telling someone with arachnophobia to crawl into a box full of spiders. I like to encourage people to stop and think for a moment what it’s really like for a baby loss parent to be absolutely engulfed in all the things that remind us that our entire world came crashing down when our child died.
I’ll use a personal example to explain my honest feelings on this topic. Back in August, I threw a baby shower for my sister. She was expecting her first child, my niece. I didn’t have to do it but my sister means the world to me. We are so close I would literally take a bullet for her with no hesitation. Our mother passed away over six years ago and I felt that I needed to step in and do what our mom could not. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have loved my niece fiercely ever since I found out she existed. Loving her doesn’t magically take the pain of triggers away though. Drawing courage from every place I possibly could, I set about planning the shower. One part of me loved it. That was the part that has always, since I was a little girl, loved babies and anything baby-related. The other part of me felt like I was continually drowning in sorrow over what should have been. Every ridiculously cute decoration, every hilarious shower game, every thoughtful baby gift, every invitation, every person who gushed about my niece reminded me of a life cut short… reminded me of the shower I was so excited for but never got to have because I was visiting my child in a cemetery instead. People say to “get over it” and focus on the new baby. First of all, my child is not an “it” and he is not something to “get over.” Second, it is impossible for me to focus completely on the new baby and ignore my child because I’m always thinking about how they would have grown up together, as friends or cousins or whatever the relationship may be. I didn’t ignore my child in order to throw the shower. I threw the shower with Elijah’s spirit at my side each step of the way.
The day of the shower I felt probably a dozen different emotions, both positive and negative. If you ever want to know what being a walking emotional contradiction feels like, ask a child loss parent and they’ll tell you. Thankfully, the shower was a success and everyone had a great time. My heart was so happy when my sister told me how much she appreciated what I’d done for her. I’m blessed to have a family who is so supportive of my grief that I felt safe enough to openly share my feelings regarding the shower. Many child loss parents cannot do this. Their feelings of grief regarding a baby shower are often met with anger, confusion, resentment, bitterness, and invalidation. This is when all those heartbreaking posts show up in the support groups. Why do baby showers need to tear us apart as friends and families? The truth is, with true empathy and understanding, they don’t need to. Those on the other side of a child loss parent need to show a bit of selflessness. Yes, you probably really want your friend or family member at the shower but what if that’s not what’s best for them? When the rest of the world understands that our feelings are not a personal attack on them, or their children, and that we are not always in control of our grief, then and only then, will baby showers (and everything else baby-related) stop being such a hurtful point of contention.
My advice to other loss parents struggling with this issue is to be kind to yourself. Don’t pressure yourself or let others pressure (or guilt) you into attending a shower. It is your choice and yours alone. You deserve to take care of yourself. Assess your grief and where you’re at with your healing. I broke down in a flood of tears after my sister’s shower and continued to grieve more heavily for a couple weeks after that. My emotions calmed down eventually. Before I made the decision to go ahead with the shower I needed to first know that I would have the support to get through the more intense grief I knew it would bring. Ask yourself about the state of your relationship with the expectant mother (or parents). Relationships that are distant or in disrepair will often make triggers more difficult to deal with because you don’t feel mentally safe and supported. It is okay to decline if you feel attending would negatively impact your mental health too much. It is also okay to go and enjoy a shower if you want to. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re further along in your healing and/or don’t find showers to be a trigger. We may grieve in different ways but always remember that we are together on this life after loss journey.
Amy Peterson lives in central Minnesota with her wonderful husband, Brad. Their beloved son, Elijah David, was stillborn at 22 weeks on June 22, 2016. They currently share their home with Brad’s service dog, Empire, another sweet dog named Baylee and a spunky cat named Peanut. In her free time she enjoys writing, reading, music, photography, being out in nature, cooking, and spending time with family and friends.
Amy is finding purpose in working for the pregnancy loss community through volunteering and charity work. This journey has led her to meet some of the most compassionate and amazing people. She is passionate about giving a voice to the issues surrounding miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death. Her biggest focus now is to honor the life and memory of her son.