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Child Magazine interview

August 6, 2014

Nearly a year ago, we had an interview with Child Magazine. The article has only just been published – in the August 2014 edition. For those who are overseas and can’t get the magazine (and their website doesn’t appear to have the article linked, so that’s of no use), here is a scanned copy of the text. It’s a PDF, but has been photocopied a few times to reduce size to make it easier to print out. Hopefully the quality isn’t too poor to read once you enlarge it a bit.  Child Mag_BornSleeping interview

Does God cause the death of our babies?

May 24, 2013

Assuming that you believe in God, however you may conceive of God, this is a question that many people ask. Most people in SA believe in God (despite having the most liberal constitution in the world). It therefore makes sense that, rather than avoiding the issue in the hopes of being politically correct, we tackle the issue head on.

What has sparked this post is the recent tornado in Oklahoma (yes, an American event, but we are a global village) and the negative reactions of the public on various social networking platforms, on the role that God has/ has not played in this disaster. Whether the tragedy is the death of hundreds from a natural disaster, or the loss of your own child through miscarriage, the grief process is the same, and the questions are the same.

Before you read further, please head over to this post to read one Christian response to the negative press God has been getting.

Through losing Zoe this is the lesson I have learnt.  There are no easy answers in the face of natural disasters, or tragedies. God did not cause the death of these people. Instead, he weeps alongside those left behind.

So how do we make sense of natural disasters? I believe the answer lies in the “Butterfly phenomenon”. Essentially, the world is inherently chaotic, unbelievably complex. For us to be able to track each event, and all of its ramifications, is impossible, even with the most advanced computer.

Because we cannot comprehend the width, depth, height and breadth of the natural events around us, and the complexity of their interactions, we cannot predict, nor can we adequately explain, why natural disasters occur. What we can say is that God is not behind them.

God is not powerless, nor is he capricious. He is all powerful, and all good. However, he is MUCH bigger than we can comprehend. We cannot know why he has not chosen to supernaturally prevent the disaster, except to say (rather inadequately) that sin has warped the natural realm as much as it has our own nature and our relationship with God, and that somewhere therein, lies the reason.

So how do we respond? We do not give up, we do not accuse God, we do not turn our backs on faith, we do not condemn. This feels inadequate. We are not accustomed to being powerless, especially in this age of technology where we can control the very temperature of the air around us. To be reminded that there is something out there bigger and more powerful than we are leaves us feeling small, helpless, inconspicuous…. and we don’t like it.

Instead, we respond in love, with tears. There can be no other response. We tread gently, we do not offer pat answers just to fill the space, we weep with those who weep, we mourn with those who mourn, we allow our hearts to be broken as God’s is, we become God’s hands and feet as we offer the comfort we ourselves have received from God himself. THIS is why we continue to run Born Sleeping, even though it is heart breaking, and impossibly hard at times.

For if people of faith will not step up and be God to a weeping world, how can we expect the world to hear the good news that this tragedy (whatever it might be for you) is not the end; this is not all there is; this does not need to define who you are, that life in all abundance is still possible?

Why some people don’t grieve

March 29, 2013

One of the most common thing we have found since we started Born Sleeping is just how differently people grieve. In fact, in many couples we have found that each person grieves in a different way.

Because we know this from our own personal experience, we have tried to help the couples we’ve walked the road with to be gentle with one another, to try to accept that they will grieve in different ways. For some, they will feel the need to cry a lot, to talk about their child a lot. For the other, it’s often a more silent process – the need to escape into work, or their hobby, on their own. However,  we have also come across people who have not felt the need to grieve at all. They have found it perplexing that their partner is unable to ‘move on’, while their partner is perplexed that they don’t seem to care.

I recently read an excellent interview of Dr. George Bonanno (psychologist at Columbia University in the USA) by Discovery Health about a study he conducted that will be published shortly. The study was about why it is that some people don’t appear to grieve.

According to Dr. Bonanno:

“There are generally three outcome patterns: chronic grief, common grief, and resilience or absent grief. Chronic grief is someone who has a dramatic, high level of depression and grief after a loss, and they don’t get better for several years. The common grief pattern is usually people who show an elevation of symptoms — depression, distress, difficulty concentrating, etc., and somewhere within a year or two, they return to normal. And the third type are those who don’t show any disruption in their normal functioning. And that last pattern is very common, sometimes up to half the people will show that.”

HALF! That I found surprising. I hadn’t realised it could be as many as that.

Sometimes, we’ve had mothers see us on their own. For some of them, their partners are the ones who don’t seem to grieve. When chatting, they have asked whether their partners are normal, or whether there’s something wrong with them that they do appear to grieve. Interestingly, Dr Bonanno comments that:

“Most investigators in the field, I think, would say that people who don’t show grief have something wrong with them — they either are defensive, or cold, or they never cared about the person to begin with, or they weren’t attached. I had argued no, maybe they’re just healthy people. We followed a group of people in Michigan over six years in a bereavement study where we knew a lot about the people before the loss occurred. We showed that about half the sample showed no symptoms at any point in the study. They just were not depressed before or after the loss, and we found that they were healthy people. They had fine relationships. The interviewers did not find them cold or aloof, and they did not score high on a measure we had of avoidance attachment. That doesn’t mean that a healthy person won’t grieve also, but it seemed that they [a person who feels no grief] might feel sad, they might miss the person, but they keep functioning. We know that the people who don’t show grief, it’s fair to say, are healthy people.”

When discussing the link between grief and depression, the study found that “when people are anticipating the loss, or the person dies of natural causes, it seems that that helps. The people who tend to have the most chronic grief, the most painful bereavement, are people who lose loved ones through sudden, violent death.”  That is definitely our experience. So it’s normal to feel the loss of your baby deeply. It’s also normal not to feel grief deeply. Which is why this grief journey can be such a confusing time!

You can read the rest of the interview here: http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/coping/why-some-people-dont-grieve1.htm.

Exciting developments

March 1, 2013

Over the past few weeks we’ve been encouraged by a few conversations we’ve had with some folk.

One of the most exciting was with some folks looking at how we can partner together to help those in need. One of the local churches in our area is starting to run a grief counselling course, to help those who are grieving. We’re hoping to partner with them to run something specifically on miscarriage/ stillbirth/ neonatal deaths.

Another exciting conversation is with an NGO who are willing to give us man-power to do some admin stuff – photocopying our brochures and handing them out to local family planning clinics/ GPs/ gynae’s/ maternity wards/ hospital grief counselling services/ etc. If you would like to get involved in helping us grow in this area, do contact us. What we need most urgently at the moment is funding to help pay for the printing of brochures, as at the moment, everything comes out of our own pocket.

A third exciting conversation is with a national TV programme who have invited us to be part of their next (live!) programme.

It definitely seems that we have reached a tipping point and that really big things are on the horizon for us.

Decide where to spend your energy

December 12, 2012

You have a limited amount of emotional (and physical) energy. Grief takes up a HUGE portion of that energy, which is why you feel so tired all the time. Unless you make a decision about where to spend that emotional energy (either consciously or subconsciously) you run the risk of getting stuck in your grief and never moving on.

There are three possible ways to spend your energy:

  1. Getting stuck in the “Why?” and “Why ME?” reflections.
  2. Getting stuck in the “Poor me!” apathy.
  3. Adapting and moving forward.

Obviously, option 3 is the healthiest.

In the first option, you get stuck in the phase of needing either a reason for the death or a reason to explain either why you are suffering. While there may be a reason for the death, about half of all miscarriages, stillbirths and neo-natal deaths have unknown causes.

Those who ask ‘Why me?’ are not struggling with the concept of suffering; they’re struggling with the seeming randomness of that suffering. Why should their child be taken, and not the child of the person next to them on the bus? At it’s heart, this reveals our innate selfishness as human beings. We believe that we should be immune to all suffering, because the world should revolve around us. That’s not an easy truth to hear, especially when we’re in deep pain. This question speaks to the heart of our beliefs about the nature of the world, of God, of our place in humanity and in this world.

On the one hand, science teaches us that the events that occur in the world have infinitely complex causes. The Butterfly Effect explains how relatively minor events (like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings on one continent) can set in motion a series of events which result in a cataclysmic event elsewhere (like an earthquake on another continent). When a tornado rips through a town, there is a reason why one house is seemingly destroyed at random, while it’s neighbour remains unscathed, yet the science behind that reason is so complex and chaotic that our mortal brains can’t really grasp it. Even computer models struggle to factor in all the variables. So there is a reason why this has happened to us, rather than anyone else, but right now we can’t grasp it, because our brains aren’t sufficiently complex to be able to.

From a faith perspective, the same is true. The thoughts of God are way above ours. In the allegorical story of Job, in the Bible, who loses not only ALL his children, but his house, his job, his possessions, his investments – EVERYTHING – and all on the same day, Job never finds out the real reason. The readers (that’s us) do, because we can see the back story, but Job never does. In the same way, we may never know the reason while we remain on this earth.

So, why me? Well, because. Just because. Maybe one day you’ll know why, but for now, you can either get stuck searching for an answer for the rest of your life, or you can choose to try to live with the mystery.

The second place you can spend your energy is in being apathetic. Yes, being apathetic takes energy. If you can live with the mystery, you may feel the need to make everyone around you dance around you and continually placate you. Poor me! Now, this is not to say that you can’t feel sorry for yourself. Losing a child is … the worst kind of pain there is. However, getting stuck in such a way that you try to control the world around you and bend it to serve your ego – that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

This kind of behaviour, in the long run, will only serve to cut you off from an increasing number of your friends. Most people expect you to move on after about 2-3 months. Realistically, as I’ve said before, it takes about 2 years. In between that, the 3 months – 2 years period, no matter how you are progressing in your grief journey, some people will respond by asking (or at least thinking, even if they’re tactful enough not to say anything out loud) that, really, you ought to be over this by now and why aren’t you moving on?! If they’re real friends though, then as you express your emotion and commemorate your child, they will realise that you are moving on.

What this second option is talking about is something slightly different, something slightly more sinister. When you deliberately start to manipulate situations and people to make yourself feel better, to make people pity you, then you’re stuck in the ‘poor me!’ phase. It’s not healthy.

The third, and healthiest option, is to spend your energy on adapting. You will never ‘get over’ the loss of your child. You learn to live around it. The deep pain recedes, but there’s a hole in your life now that will never be filled. Dwelling on why it happened, or why it happened to you, or getting stuck in a pity party, is not going to fill that hole. It’s not going to help you become a functional member of society again.

The only thing that will is choosing to adapt to your new reality. What that looks like for you will be completely different to how it looks for any other person. Our kids are engraved in our minds, on our hearts, and with God. Nothing can erase that. Nothing can reduce their significance and value. No-one can minimise the pain of their going.

Yet we have to live. We have to get back to our family, back to work, back to our friends. Don’t deny your emotions, don’t deny your pain. You will need to find a way to be true to your child, while allowing yourself to move on. It could start with an acceptance that its okay for you to laugh again, to be happy again. It could start with a decision not to spend an hour looking at the photos (just 5 mins instead). It could begin with a decision to walk the dog around the block.

Each small decision you make, to step back into the world, is a step towards using your energy to adapt, rather than getting stuck and wasting your energy on being stuck.

Grief is by no means an easy journey. You will learn things about yourself, about your family, about your friends, that you never knew before – and some of it will be unpleasant. You will discover who your true friends are – and you may be in for a surprise or two. You will plumb the depths of the ‘dark night of the soul’ till you feel like the very air you breathe is solid and that you can’t take another breath.

But you will survive.

As you work through these tasks (and not necessarily in this order) you will find you gradually move into the light again.

And we would count it a privilege to walk that journey with you. If you need a listening ear, you can email us (bornsleeping@gmail.com), or find us on Facebook (BornSleepingZA).

You are not alone. You don’t have to do this alone.

Blessings, as you journey this road!

Accept that conflicting emotions are normal

December 5, 2012

One morning you wake up, jump out of bed, get dressed, have a shower, eat your breakfast, and feel as happy as a lark. Then, suddenly, you remember that you’ve forgotten you should be depressed, because your baby died.

That moment happens to all of us, although probably in different set of circumstances.

In that moment, you will feel guilty about feeling happy.

Or maybe, when you found out you were pregnant it was news that couldn’t have come at a worse time – financially, or because of your job, or because of your age, or whatever the circumstance might have been. Then, when your baby died, you felt relief, and then guilt at feeling that relief.

Or, maybe your baby had been diagnosed with some abnormality, and when s/he died, you felt relief at not having to deal with the pressures that come with raising a baby with an abnormality. Then you feel guilt at feeling relief.

Or, maybe you just feel (irrationally) guilty that somehow you caused your baby’s death, and then feel anger towards the medical team, or the hospital, that they must have caused the death.

Or, maybe you wanted a boy, but your baby was a girl (or vice versa), and then she died.

Conflicting emotions are normal. Everyone gets them. While they’re not pleasant to experience, they are perfectly normal.

Conflicting emotions are not rational. Having said that, telling yourself they’re not rational doesn’t really help you to stop feeling them.

Rather, the best way to deal with them is to accept them for what they are – grief emotions – and express them in a safe manner (see a previous post about expressing your emotions). Don’t beat yourself up about them – berating yourself isn’t helpful and often only makes you feel worse – like there’s something wrong with you, which there isn’t.

It’s perfectly normal and natural to have wildly conflicting emotions. It’s OK to feel these different and contradictory emotions. Be gentle with yourself as you do – you can’t help what you feel, but you can help how you choose to react to your emotions.

In the next post we look at the final grief task: deciding where to spend your energy.

Commemoration

November 28, 2012

Remembrance, or commemoration, is vital. When the immediacy of your grief has passed, when the storm of emotions have passed, remembering is so important, particularly for women.

Women have a deep-seated need to be loyal to those they love. This includes their angels. So when the emotions are returning to normal, and as you’re progressing through your grief journey, there comes a day when you DON’T think about your baby, then comes a week when you don’t think about your baby, then maybe a month… At the moment you realise how long it’s been since you thought about your baby, there’s an immediate surge of guilt – HOW could I forget my baby?! Having a way to celebrate and commemorate your baby helps, in those moments.

A good first step is naming your child. If your child has a name, then it’s a lot easier to celebrate or commemorate them publically.

A good second step is having some sort of funeral service. In SA, that’s not permitted if the baby is born pre week 26. However, just because the law says you can’t have a proper funeral (which I think is monstrous!) doesn’t mean you can’t still have your own memorial service. You can still bury the teddy you would have given your child, or a set of clothes.

When possible, take a cutting of a lock of hair, and prints of their hands or feet (or both). Photos of your baby is another really useful memento. There are at least two photographers in SA who offer their services free of charge to families in this situation, to help them commemorate their child. All these items can be placed in a memory box.

Beyond that, writing poetry, a letter to your child, planting a tree in their memory (or with their ashes mixed into the roots), tying a heart to a special tree or park bench, creating a piece of artwork, or having their baby shoes bronzed are all examples of ways to commemorate your baby.

Some people like to release balloons. While this is very romantic, and sentimental, it’s not something we recommend, as the balloons eventually pop and the rubber falls back to earth where animals and birds eat it, choke on it and then die.

Annual commemorations are also important. On special occassions (your child’s due date, birth date, death date) you can light a candle, read a poem, say a few words. In October (the International Month of Stillbirth Loss Awareness) you can take part in the Wave of Light event (lighting candles at 8pm in your timezone), or join in at one of the Remembrance Events that take place – like the one we held at the end of Oct.

One of the most difficult times to acknowledge your child is when people ask how many children you have. Let’s say you already have a child, do you say you have a child in heaven and a child on the earth? Do you simply say 1 (but privately acknowledge you have lost a child)? or do you say 2 and leave it at that? There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s useful if you practice your different answers before the time, so that you’re not caught unawares. There’s the answer you give those who don’t know you, the one you give someone you haven’t seen in a long time, the one you give well-meaning colleagues.

Finally, if you already have other children, it’s important to allow them the space to acknowledge their sibling as well. Children, even babies and toddlers, understand that something is wrong – the baby in Mommy’s tummy is no longer here. If you don’t allow them the space to acknowledge their sibling (and use the words ‘death’ and ‘died’ – don’t use euphemisms!) then they begin to believe your emotional storm is their fault. Talk to them about your angel, and continue to talk to them about it. You’ll be surprised by how much they understand. Children have a much more innate understanding about life and death than adults do.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to continue to acknowledge your child in a way that makes sense to you. Don’t be influence by what other people think is or is not appropriate. This is about what makes sense to you.

In the next post we look at accepting your conflicting emotions.