I remember the first time I attended a SIDS and Kids support group meeting. There were other newcomers like me, slightly apprehensive and unsure. There were those who had been coming for a long time, happy to be in the company of friends. Before any of us spoke, I looked around the table. And I was surprised. I knew we were bound by the common thread of loss, but I hadn’t expected to be bound by other common threads. The women who surrounded me where in their late twenties and early to mid thirties. They were well dressed. If they had children with them, they cared for them with tenderness and good humour. As people spoke, I came to realise that they were articulate and well educated. Without fail, I would look at each of them and think “but you don’t look like someone whose child could die.” For some reason, I thought my family was the anomaly – I thought that child loss simply didn’t happen in the circles my life revolved in. That education, stable relationships and financial security offered some kind of mystical force-field against tragedy. And yet here I was, mirrored by this group of women. The very thing I thought protected me hadn’t protected them either.
Unless you are someone or close to someone who has experienced the death of a child, our image of mothers whose babies die are either rooted in history or formed by the media. Until you have come close to it, stillbirth is something that belongs to the Victorians. Until it infiltrates your life, babies do not die for no reason. They die because they are too sick or because their carers are neglectful or careless. Until it becomes your life, it is something that belongs to anybody but you. Something that could never happen to you.
The media is very good at demonising child loss. Sensational headlines regarding babies starved to death allow our hands to fly to our mouths at the horror of it all. Our hearts go out to the little ones but we do not see ourselves in that story. Even when reporting children lost to tragic accidents, social media is quick to make comments about a lack of supervision, a lack of care. So very quick to judge. Not to make the parents involved feel guilty – oh no, we are not so mean are we? But rather to place distance between ourselves and that particular tragedy. I feel so sorry for her, but I would never ……
I remember when the news of the murder of Alison Baden-Clay broke. At first, there were stories about how it could have been any one of us. But slowly, slowly enough sordid details were teased out by the media that we felt distanced again. Affairs and incredible debt were not part of our lives. The wolves at the door were silenced.
But what can we do when the wolves cannot be silenced? When the wolves howl and make you anxious. Because the wolf has tread your floors before. What do you do when you realise that a grieving mother is not the monster in the media nor is she enshrined in history?
When you realise, a grieving mother looks a lot more like you than you first thought.