A Stillbirth Mother's Response to Dear Abby Letter

June 9, 2019

By Sanda Rathamone


"Do not judge the bereaved mother, she comes in many forms. She is breathing, but she is dying. She may look young, but inside she has become ancient. She smiles, but her heart sobs. She walks, she talks, she cooks, she cleans, she works, she is, but she is not, all at once. She is here, but part of her is elsewhere for eternity." - Author Unknown

After reading a recent "Dear Abby" letter from a niece about her grieving aunt, who lost a stillborn baby 20 years ago, I am fuming with anger and utter disappointment. But, more than anything, I understand her aunt's choices and decisions on how she is coping with grief.

At the beginning of the letter, the niece, Crystal, describes her aunt as living a "morbid lifestyle - like you'd see in a scary movie." There are so many words (inappropriate ones) in which I want to reply to this. All I can say on here is... Ouch. That hurts. That f'n hurts. Not just for her aunt, but for myself and so many others who have lost to stillbirth. 

Crystal goes on to share other things about her aunt: how she threw a first birthday party for her baby and had everyone sing "Happy Birthday" to a "baby that never lived (saying this is REALLY OFFENSIVE)," how she wanted her baby to be included (with other grandchildren) during Crystal's grandfather's funeral, and how she found out about her aunt's dead cat that was left in her house for several days. What was much more upsetting was how she says her aunt "acts like she is the victim in life and tries to make people feel guilty for being happy." She included that her aunt's grief, "bothers us (the family) a lot," which I found pretty harsh and upsetting. 

Abby's reply was just as insensitive as Crystal's letter. Abby starts off with "Your aunt should have sought grief counseling after she lost her baby." The "should have" part had me reeling. 

People automatically assume that if someone is having "personal troubles" that we should refer them to a therapist or seek group therapy. While I support professional advice and to be part of a community that share a similar experience (I have benefited from this), it is wrong to say that someone "should" or "should have." 

Seeking professional help or any kind of outside help is a matter of preference. We cannot assume that someone needs or wants therapy, or force the opinion that a person needs psychiatric help. 

However, counseling and therapy should be an additional support system. Speaking with a therapist or attending group therapy is not enough to say that after doing so that things "get better" and that "problems are resolved." The first line in support, especially after loss, should always come from friends and family, i.e. those who are closest to us. It hurt reading that Crystal's aunt did not receive the support she needed from her family and that Crystal had so much resentment against her aunt that it drove her to send a very public letter to Dear Abby. 

I truly feel that the solution to all of this is compassion. Crystal's aunt does not need therapy, she needs support from those around her. It is sad to imagine that Crystal's aunt had no one to rely on, but her cat for emotional support and that she would grieve, yet again, another loss.

This "morbid lifestyle" is not morbid, it's grief. It's real life. It's pain. It's love. It's LOSS. And it is a shame that someone would view grief in this way. This is also why I have fears over sharing my stillborn son on social media: I don't want someone to label my grief with anything, but love. 

I feel for Crystal's aunt. I have wanted my baby to be acknowledged and included too. I want to be remembered and respected as a mother to my baby. I want my baby to be remembered and valued like any other living baby. Whether it has been 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, I will always grieve the loss of my baby. And if what I do to keep my baby's memory alive looks "morbid," then it is shame that I would need to ask for compassion and understanding. It is a shame that human nature would lack empathy and sympathy. 

Abby had the chance to address stillbirth in a professional and compassionate manner, especially for the baby loss community, which is so often forgotten in the world of parenthood, childbirth, and bereavement. I cannot stress enough the importance of portraying stillbirth in the media as an open discussion with respect, sensitivity, awareness, and education. So, here is my response with the intention to continue stillbirth awareness: 

Dear Abby, and Crystal, 

Two months after my stillbirth, my sister-in-law announced her pregnancy. My niece, Jazmine, was born two-and-a-half months after what would have been my due date with my son, Elijah. She is now two-years-old and calls me "Auntie." She has seen pictures of Elijah and one day, she will know how to say his name. I will teach her his name because she is my niece, and because they are family. 

Talking about my son and sharing him with the world is my therapy. Posting photos of my son and sharing them with the world is my therapy. Writing about him and how much I love and miss him is my therapy. 

Soon, on the 16th of June, it will be his third birthday, in which I feel deeply sad about. I have sang "Happy Birthday" to him - alone - without my family surrounding me. I have never felt more sad about how many family members forget his birthday and do not ask me about him. I have also never gotten him a birthday cake, but have written cards and keep them in his memory box. 

This year, after reading your column and Crystal's letter, I will get Elijah a birthday cake and sing "Happy Birthday." ALOUD. I don't care if anyone else is there to sing with me, I will sing and will continue to sing it aloud every year from now on because like all parents, I want my child's birthday to be a happy one.

-- SANDA, MOTHER OF A STILLBORN, ELIJAH'S MOM. 

Read Crystal's letter to Dear Abby, here

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