Photo by: Library of Congress
Recently, the news speaks about real life “zombies”--people that consume the flesh of others of their species. Certainly these stories are gruesome and sensational. I would make the argument that their premise is true and shouldn’t really be a surprise.
There are zombies among us. We see them at work or at the grocery store. They walk their children in strollers. They go to our shops, parks, and areas of play. They blend in seamlessly. I’m sure that no one can really identify who amongst them is a zombie.
I’m not talking about literal brain-eating members of the undead, but zombies of a different type. These “zombies” are the bereaved. They are the people who have lost a loved one, yet are required by our aversion to death kind of society to function normally. But if you look closely, you can tell. The person who has lost some “spark” in their expressions. Who laughs perhaps a nanosecond too late. When asked directly, they might mention their loss, and then this gap is suddenly understood.
A subset of the bereaved are a more complicated group of zombies: those that have lost a pregnancy. For this smaller group, society has no language or words for them. We have no context. Death is supposed to occur after a long life. Parents outlive their children, as that is considered to be the natural order of things. While early pregnancy loss is considered by doctors to be common (between 10-25% of pregnancies end in loss), the emotions that follow are anything but.
The most difficult thing for bereaved parents-to-be is to convey or justify their upset around the loss of possibility, rather than actuality. The loss of an elder parent is something that is shared: a community comes together, they speak and offer comfort to one another, and collective memories are shared. There is a celebration of the life that was. But in a pregnancy loss, how can you share in the mourning of a life that wasn’t?
It is common for people that have experienced pregnancy loss to feel disconnected from their friends who haven’t had such a loss. While friends try to offer support, there can be a wide gap between what is offered to be helpful and how it is received. What is thought to be words of comfort, such as, “You’re young. You’ll have another” isn’t always received in the way that it was intended. Many people feel uncomfortable around pregnancy loss and don’t know what to say or how to handle it, thus they opt to stay silent. This tactic also marginalizes those that have lost these babies-to-be.
An amazing thing that commonly occurs is that other losses are offered and seemingly come “out of the woodwork.” It is not surprising to hear from family and friends about their early losses. Such “sisterhood” can be a double-edged sword: while it is important to feel normalized in this loss, the fact that the loss had been hidden speaks to how secretive we are as a society around pregnancy loss.
More complicated can be later pregnancy losses or ones that occur after a woman is visibly pregnant and has been talking openly about her plans for this child. Women who have a later loss can feel like a pariah as people wonder what happened. After the initial loss, many women who are open find that they have support offered from expected and sometimes unlikely sources. As time passes, support and expressed remembrances from others dwindle, as the loss becomes privatized within a couple. Often times, the couple doesn’t want to hold the loss between them, but don’t know how to reach out to others in order to share it.
So the next time you go out to the store, know that someone you see will be a zombie—trying to blend in and just get through the day, sometimes one minute at a time.