There is an unwritten ladder of grief that bereaved parents seem expected to adhere to. An expectation by society that a miscarriage hurts less than a still birth, a still birth less than a neonatal loss, a younger child less than an older one. And the length of time allowed for grieving contracts the younger your child was at the time of loss.
The truth is, that ladder is a lie. There is no “more than” or “less than” in grief – each story holds its own tragic weight. A weight that defies categorisation or comparison. For as much as there is no “less than” there is also no “the same as”. My grief over Xavier is different from the mother who lost her baby at birth, different from the father who lost his son to an accident at three years old, different from the parents who learned at their thirteen week scan that their baby had no heartbeat, indeed, different from another family who lost their son at two weeks old to SIDS. But it is not “more than” and it is not “less than”. We are different but bound by the common devastation of holding a child in our heart, rather than in our arms.
There is no finite amount of grief that needs to be shared amongst the bereaved. Each journey is different and each journey is valid. How someone else grieves their child is their business – the intensity of their sadness does not somehow invalidate my grief over Xavier. There is no competition. There are definitely no prizes.
When we first lost Xavier at just two weeks old to SIDS, I wondered whether it would have been easier if he had born still. Would that have hurt less? It is an impossible question. I am so grateful for the two weeks we spent with our middle son. I would never wish it away. I would rather have loved and lost him, than to have never had him at all. Every parent treasures the time they get to spend with their child. And yet those that didn’t get to spend any time with their living baby outside the womb are expected to hurt less. It defies logic. A baby is a baby to their parents the happy moment they find out they are pregnant. Hopes and dreams for that child often formed before that. Every baby is a miracle. Whether you grieve the memories you made or the memories you never got to make, that grief is real and cannot be contained within imaginary boundaries. Parents need to grieve, without judgement and without ladders.