Times Have Changed, But What We Grieve Has Not {Thoughts on "This Is Us" and PAIL Awareness Month}

{The last thing I wish to share for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is my grandparents’ story. But I want to share it in light of a few criticisms I read about the popular show This Is Us. We don’t watch much television anymore, but we found this show worth our time. And what I have learned from this show and from my grandparents is that times have changed, but what we grieve has not.} Photo by NBC.

{The last thing I wish to share for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is my grandparents’ story. But I want to share it in light of a few criticisms I read about the popular show This Is Us. We don’t watch much television anymore, but we found this show worth our time. And what I have learned from this show and from my grandparents is that times have changed, but what we grieve has not.} Photo by NBC.

This Is Us

It happened roughly 27 years ago. A couple went into the hospital pregnant with triplets, but only two of their babies survived delivery.

It was just a TV show, but I wondered how the writers would script this couple to handle their grief that so many go through, yet so few talk about.

That Was My Grandparents

It happened roughly 58 years ago. My grandparents, Larry and Betty, lost their baby boy at six and a half months pregnant. My grandma started having intense labor pains, so her sister called my grandpa at work to tell him to come home.

“I didn’t realize it then, but the baby had already died. I probably should have realized it, but I didn’t know,” Grandma said.

This Is Us

We started watching This Is Us roughly one month ago.

I not only wondered how they would portray pregnancy and infant loss, I wondered how the world of those who have lost in real life would react.

I read mostly rave reviews, especially about the "lemonade from lemons" segment, but a few critical comments caught my eye:

“I wish the couple in the show would have named the baby they lost.”

“I felt like they replaced their third baby with the one they adopted from the hospital, and then just got over it.”

That struck me, because I had similar feelings at first. But when I talked to my grandpa and grandma about what they went through 58 years ago, the show made sense. Times were different back then. You weren't supposed to grieve and remember.

That Was My Grandparents

As I talked to my grandparents on the phone, and as I asked them to share more about what happened when they lost their baby, Grandpa said over and over how times were different. He said they were young, they didn’t know what was going on, and they just weren’t informed.

And as they shared, I realized “times were different” was a grave understatement.

***

When they arrived at the hospital, the doctor could not find the baby’s heartbeat. My grandma was put in a room with multiple women who were also having babies stillborn. Back then, women who miscarried waited until their bodies naturally went into labor. One young woman she who shared a room with had been in the hospital for a week, waiting to go into labor and deliver her baby.

“Men were not allowed in the delivery room either,” Grandpa remembered. “I waited in a separate room with other fathers. It felt like a big hole, wondering if I would lose my wife.”

When their baby was delivered the doctor took the baby away, telling them it would be easier to forget if they didn’t see or hold him. The doctor said the baby was a boy and that he was perfect and well developed, but that he starved to death. The placenta had not grown properly.

My grandparents never held their baby; they never named him.

“We didn’t bury our baby, because the hospital said they would take care of the body. They asked me to sign a form to give them permission, but I didn’t really understand what I was signing. I was half asleep from the anesthetic,” Grandma said.

***

I asked if they talked about losing their baby with anyone, or if anyone tried to support them.

“No, nobody talked about it back then. The pastor asked if we were going to have a funeral, but we said no. He never asked about it again,” Grandpa said.

“The one thing I remember is that someone said to me, ‘Don’t feel so bad. You can have more.’ I thought, ‘That is the strangest thing for someone to say. You can’t replace them!,’” said Grandma. “People say strange things at funerals and when your loved ones die. But their heart is in the right place.”

I had to hold back my own tears then. “Grandma, somebody said the exact same thing to me too. And that’s exactly what I thought: you can’t replace them.”

This Is Us

I loved the show from the beginning. But then came Episode Three:

Weeks passed by, and their three children - two biological and one adopted - grew. The mother didn’t know why, but she was having a hard time bonding with their adopted son. All she could think about was the third baby she had lost.

The writers nailed it.

That Was My Grandparents

The conversation, and their story turned to hope:

“I wonder what our baby will look like when we get to Heaven. Will he still be a baby, or a child? Will he be a grown-up?” said Grandpa.

“Yeah, Kendra. Do you think about what Aliza will be like when you see her again?” Grandma chimed in.

I daydream about that reunion often, I thought.

“But I know that whatever is there will be perfect,” Grandpa finished.

“It’s true,” I said. “We have so much to look forward too.”

***

I thought about how my grandparents' story compared to our own. I thought about how our medical and emotional support was way different throughout losing our babies in pregnancy. I thought about how times have drastically changed.

But I also thought about how quickly their story poured out. I thought about how even though they lost their baby during a time when nobody talked about it and there was no such thing as “Social Media Months of Awareness,” their child will never be forgotten. Their baby will always be remembered and missed and waited for as long as they live. And not just during the month of October, but every single day.

Times may change, but what we grieve has not. The people we lose, the emptiness we feel, the brokenness we experience, we will always grieve these things this side of Heaven.

You could almost say, “Grief Is Us.”

But so is hope. Oh, how we hold onto hope for what’s to come.

 

Grace and Peace,
Kendra

 

P.S. If you find yourself a part of the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Community, please, let yourself grieve. Keep saying your baby's name. Be brave and share your story and let others know they aren't alone. Not just during the month of October. 

I am so sorry for what you have been through.