It’s back to school season, and that means running the daily social media assault course of first-day-of-school pictures (I can’t be alone in thinking of it in these combative terms, can I?). A week-long parade of other people’s babies – and they do often look like mere babies, play-acting in their Big School uniforms – heading out of the door, grown, growing…
In the first week in September, the online chorus from mums of ‘please don’t get any bigger!’ and ‘where has my baby gone?’ seems to get louder. It’s unfair of me, perhaps, but I find these declamations hard to hear and even harder to sympathise with. They hurt, frankly.
It’s not the biggest of deals. And I know the pang of sadness I get at times like this will pass, like clouds. But things like back-to-school photos occupy a tricky space after pregnancy loss. They’re often not on your radar until they’re upon you. And you haven’t always budgeted for them, not like a due date, Mothers’ Day, or the impending birth of yet another friend’s baby. So they end up being an extra spend on your emotional balance sheet; a small but unaccounted for grief-cost that threatens to tip you into the red.
Also in this category: Finding out a friend of a friend who was pregnant when you were first pregnant is now expecting their second baby (also applies to celebrities and people you follow on social media). Or when your friends with similar age children joke to each other about how they’re clearly going to get married when they grow up (they were supposed to make those jokes with you, about your children).
Almost the worst thing about these instances is that it’s hard to explain what’s happened that’s bothered you so much – you also can’t offer people any constructive way to help you. Posting pictures of your children as they start school is a natural, lovely thing to do, after all. No one’s done anything wrong or acted insensitively, but it hurts all the same.
So I’ve come to think of such things as sharp objects. Like stepping on a piece of Lego, or an upturned plug. Just incidental and accidental. Something painful in a place you hadn’t anticipated. Unexpected item in the emotional baggage area.
You can’t legislate for sharp objects. You can’t educate them away. The stabs and stings they cause won’t be erased by raising awareness; they will continue to exist long after any taboo surrounding miscarriage and baby loss has been dismantled. You can’t even write a sticking-plaster blog post explaining what helps or what the etiquette should be, in the way that you can with some things, such as what to say to someone who’s recently had a miscarriage, or how to announce a pregnancy sensitively.
Sharp objects just…happen. And they go on happening, when you least expect them.
You can try your best to keep your house in order; to anticipate and pick your way along the path of your days delicately. You can be as gentle and protective as you like with your heart (your heart which for so long felt like it existed loose and unsheathed outside of your own body, your hands fumbling after it, unable to hold it, contain it, and stop it being kicked through the gravel). Even then, there are things that will pierce whatever make-shift box you’ve constructed to keep your heart in. Sometimes, however carefully you tread, you will hit painful ground.
Like I said, sharp objects.