A Charity Case

Pride (noun): Consciousness of one’s own dignity
Shame (noun): A painful feeling of humiliation or distress

Around the time I turned 18 (officially an adult, yeah right!), I passed a couple of interviews and received an offer to study at Cambridge university. But that wasn’t the only offer I received.

As the good news spread around friendship groups, I received a phone call, from a very peripheral and unexpected friend of a family member:

“Anj! Uncle G’s on the phone, he wants to speak to you”

In the Indian community, everyone’s an ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’, it’s nothing to do with blood ties, it’s a respect thing. But an Indian ‘elder’ calling me like this, was definitely not the norm.

Uncle G was very kind, he congratulated me for getting into Cambridge and said that I had made the Indian community proud. He and his friends were financially comfortable and they wanted to club together, to offer me a no-strings-attached scholarship for university.

It was a considerate call, but I balked, quickly refusing the offer. I reasoned I didn’t want to be emotionally indebted, or accountable to them. I didn’t want the pressure of having to perform academically, for a bunch of well-meaning strangers. At my core, I thought I knew what they saw: a girl without a dad, a mum who worked in a supermarket, a penniless girl, in need of financial assistance. I was, but I wasn’t a charity case.

When I think about it, I refused on two counts: pride and shame.

And then along came baby loss. One, two, three times.

The first two times (first trimester losses), a part of me hated the idea of being pitied. I didn’t want people to compare us, to feel sorry for us, grateful for their own lot, in contrast to ours. I expected pity, not compassion. Perhaps that’s a reflection on myself: was my pride again in my way?

When we lost our third baby, this time, everyone knew about it. I was nearly 5 months pregnant, everyone who had been told, had to be untold. And the message spread, much further afield, than expected.

We knew that some people would want to do something and I didn’t want my house turning into an overstocked florist, so I set up a charity link for UNICEF asking people to make a donation there. I still remember every person that donated.

It was only much later that I realised, we hadn’t just raised money for charity, but we had become a charity case ourselves. I first fully noticed this, when I contacted a charity, enquiring about clothes for extremely premature babies. I wanted to pay, but they wouldn’t let me. And then the penny dropped, they were gifting these to me: I was now the charity case. From the Indian community, to the baby loss one.

I don’t know what I think about this. In fact, I write so I can hear myself think.

It’s strange, when people do talk about what’s happened, they apologise and they’re right: no one should ever have to go through, what we have gone through. But then I find myself fobbing them off “oh it’s ok, other people have had it worse”. So I do have my pride and think we’re probably pitied and yes, there probably is an element of shame here, because:

This is the subject that defines women. Having babies. Will you have them? Can you have them? Do you want to have them?

Quote from Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Although I noted last year that baby loss can turn you into a net receiver, I guess the good thing is, that I don’t think I feel like a charity case. Not in the same way that I did, when I was 18. If then I felt pride, today I feel proud about some good being able to come from this. If then I felt shame, today I feel less ashamed for seeking help and more that it is all a shame (that anyone has to go through this).

N.B. I would be intrigued to hear if anyone else has any thoughts on this. I’ve not really found the conclusion today, except the obvious: baby loss totally screws with your identity.

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(1) Comment

  1. Jo M says:

    That last sentence … baby loss screws with your identity. Yes, exactly.

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