As we exited the NICU the day after she died, the receptionist arranged to let us drive out without paying for parking with a heartfelt “don’t worry, your baby is in safe hands, I’m sure they will be fine”. It wasn’t her fault, but the comment choked me and I sobbed in the arms of my husband in the lift to the car park.
One card of congratulations had landed on our doormat, followed with an apology for it. Over the days and weeks that followed there were hundreds of sympathy cards. It was nice to see them but so sad that the death of our little baby was being acknowledged way more than her actual birth.
By far the hardest thing to deal with though, was the face to face congratulations from neighbours, acquaintances and shop assistants etc. As other parents dealing with loss have said, it’s like dropping a bomb. You’re met with glances to your missing bump, smiles and that word “congratulations”, and then you have to have that awkward re-telling of the worst thing that has ever happened to you.
The news is inevitably met with shock, dismay and at worst some of the most utterly crazy verbal diarrhoea you could ever imagine to hear (but that’s a whole other subject of its own). I’d usually end up with my arm around the person that congratulated me, comforting them as they took in the news, or saying to them “don’t worry, it’s not your fault” whilst trying to get away with some dignity intact.
Thankfully, my wonderful husband paved the way for me with a lot of people as did a lot of my wonderful friends. However, last Christmas, eight months after we lost Laura, I received a handful of cards addressed to Claire, Enda, Georgia & ? along with “congratulations” and “you must be busy with the new addition”. It’s tough. I still have to “drop the bomb” to them. You wish things were different. You wish that all those cards that lined the window cills were congratulations cards rather than sympathy ones. In the past, I’ve never thought twice about offering congratulations to someone that looked as though they’d just had their baby. However, they usually have their newborn with them as that’s normally what happens isn’t it? Only one kind lady in our local bank behaved impeccably when she asked me whether I’d had a girl or a boy. Perhaps she read it in my face, perhaps my reply of “a girl, but it’s complicated” told her all she needed to know. Whichever it was, she was so calm and quiet, apologised for asking and told me that she’d be happy to hear what happened whenever I felt ready.
Since we lost Laura, I’ve taken nothing for granted. I now know that you can go all the way through a pregnancy and still come home with no baby. I know that dreams can be shattered, that hearts can be broken and I know that sometimes “congratulations” can be both the sweetest and the cruellest word.