My Musings


Reframe (verb): To express words or a concept differently

I’m a good student, pretty well suited for written exams, but I am (James can verify this) so terrible at unlearning things. That doesn’t mean that I remember everything, rather that once something is in my head, it’s difficult for me to unlearn it. Quite simply, if I get something wrong the first time, it’s likely to stay wrong. My favourite example of this, is playing the board game Cranium. There’s a question where it asks something like “what’s the fastest surface for playing tennis?”, with four answers ranging from grass to clay. No idea. I ALWAYS reason that:

1) I don’t know what parquet is
2) Pretty sure they don’t play on cement
3) It can’t be grass, due to friction
4) My answer is therefore clay!

My friend M laughs every time (and he’s going to chuckle reading this), because I always get this question, I always rationalise it out loud in the same way, and I ALWAYS get it wrong! (I’m guessing that the actual answer IS grass then, seeing as it goes against my reasoning – asks the girl who’s seen Federer play Centre Court at Wimbledon!). See, it’s so hard for me to unlearn things! It’s my training: a wholly embedded, lifetime of reinforced thinking.

It’s had me contemplating about baby loss: there’s a whole load of things I’ve needed to reframe or ‘unlearn’. So I’m going to do one of my favourite things: let’s make a list!

1) Being strong does not mean not feeling. I always thought that strength came from not succumbing to any number of potentially overriding emotions. I thought strength was compartmentalising, blocking it out. Silly me, it’s the exact opposite. If you want to call yourself strong, you need to feel it ALL. It reminds me of a mantra my younger brother once gave me, it was an acronym for FEAR: Face Everything And Rise. If you can face it all and come out standing, well, that is my new-found definition of strength.

2) Grieving “so much” over a life short-lived, does not make you crazy. So many of us bereaved parents question our sanity. “Why has this affected me so badly? What is wrong with me? I wasn’t even pregnant for that long!”  This has probably been my most important lesson: There is nothing wrong, it is a perfectly rational response to what’s happened. Even if the feelings last forever, that is ok. It does not make you crazy, it makes others crazy for not understanding how it could be anything other than this. (I wrote a full blog on this earlier this week, see here).

3) It is not strange to celebrate a dead child. One loss mum documented the build up to her daughter’s birthday, and it made me smile, with every single update. It’s not weird to remember a child who’s passed, it’s weird not to. Think of it this way, if you failed to celebrate a living child, well that could be deemed negligent! Like Summer, her baby was born and then her baby died. She has a birth day. And so I for one – like my new inspiring loss mum friend – will be celebrating my daughter in March. Watch this space.

4) Being strong does not mean going it alone. Again, I had a very skewed idea about strength, because I had been privileged not to have had to test my mettle. I thought strength came solely from within, but human beings are not made to function that way. It’s science! Babies need to be looked after, babies need support (unlike sharks, google the sharks! Incredible, predators from day one). I could have tried to deal with this alone, but I’m glad I didn’t have to.

I always thought counselling was for other people, not me. Why would I need counselling, you just choose to be happy, right? So wrong. It’s not just ok for other people, its ok me too. It’s just helpful. Seeking help from friends, counsellors and other bereaved parents, is a show of strength: putting yourself out there is not for the meek.

5) Reminders (of dead children) in your home do not make parents sad. Before we lost Summer, I thought items in other people’s homes were a bit morbid. Now I realise that I was just a moron! They did not forget they died, they like to remember that they lived! Such a simple reframe, so important. And while we’re here…

6) It is not strange to talk about a dead child. It’s personal preference, everyone is different. When I had my two miscarriages, I eventually got comfortable talking about them, but it’s not something I dropped into conversation. Not like I now do with Summer. As you know, I love love love talking about Summer. It’s not always easy, but I adore it when other people remember her, just as any parent does, when I mention their child. So if a bereaved parent wants to talk about a miscarriage or a baby who’s died, just go with it (great film!), why wouldn’t you? All you have to do is listen and ooh and ahh in all the right places – just like you do with every other child.

7) Overthinking can be a blessing. People have always said things like “you think too much” or “just stop thinking about it”. I never disliked being an over-thinker/over-talker/over-sharer (I tend to have five sentences to every normal person’s one!), but I did recognise that my mind NEVER SHUTS UP and that it can be quite exhausting and so sometimes I’d quite like to be able to hear what it’s like in other people’s heads! Is it quieter in there?

However, this over-thinking thing is serving me well. I’m really able to pick apart what I think is happening here and make some sense of the nonsensical world of baby loss. My friend R said she thinks my blogs are like self-counselling, because she can see how at the end, I often find a neat resolution to my little quandaries, thanks R! (she’s also my Cranium teammate – sorry R!). I do agree though, this thinking and writing is really helping me. And the reason I’ve decided to put it all out there publicly (to essentially have a mental breakdown in front of you all!) is to emphasise what this grief thing can do, to a normally quite normal person.

8) If something makes you happy, it doesn’t matter what others think. I don’t want to get to ten points in my list, just for the sake of it, so I will finish on this one: Look, I will always strive to be a people-pleaser, it’s in my bones BUT I think I’m edging closer to caring less about what other people think.

I see Summer’s name in all my books, and I think it means something, maybe that the universe placed it there. That might sound crazy, but I don’t mind. It will always make me happy to see it, just as it will always make me happy if you message to say “I saw her name today!”

Anything can seem weird, when you stop to think about it. Like the word circle. I’ve always thought it doesn’t sound very round. The concept of going to a gym is weird too. (People pay money to lift stuff and run on a machine? If aliens landed, I reckon they’d find that odd.) Home decoration is another one, why do we have all this STUFF? (How clearly we’d see how strange this is, if we brought a starving person into our home). And crocs footwear – there’s no explanation required for that one! My long-winded point is, stuff’s just weird, until it becomes the norm. So birthday cakes for dead children, photos in your home, talking about them as if they’re alive; who cares, as long as it’s not hurting people and it brings some joy to the bereaved, what’s the harm?

Reflecting on this list, most of these are also cultural taboos. Urgh, I was so mainstream and narrow in my thinking. Flippin’ heck, I wonder how much else there is for me to unlearn! Life’s a long ‘un, so I’ll keep making my lists.

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(8) Comments

  1. Claudia says:

    “So if a bereaved parent wants to talk about a miscarriage or a baby who’s died, just go with it (great film!), why wouldn’t you? All you have to do is listen and ooh and ahh in all the right places – just like you do with every other child.” – love this!

    And absolutely on point hun – we grow up with these ideas of the right and wrong way to do things. To grieve, to be strong, to think… and at the end of the day, we can throw it all out of the window because you are going to find yourself talking to a butterfly and think it’s ok.

    You will learn a whole load of things. Just like parquet is just shinny smaller blocks of wood. And that is ok xx thank you for the post and for, again, putting some of my thoughts into words xx

    1. Anjulie says:

      Haha. I have literally laughed out loud! Thanks for teaching me about parquet! And as always (and most importantly) thanks for reading and for your additional thoughts xx

  2. Claire says:

    We all have so much to unlearn. It’s scary as we don’t know which things we know are right and which things we know are wrong. I can be so pedantic that this really does worry me. Thanks for giving my something to chew over (as always). Cx

  3. Love this! I could have written so much of this, we all live in the same world and carry those taboos. Then we feel shame for feeling Inna way that contradicts the expectations of society.

  4. Kirst says:

    Anj, I love this blog. The FEAR acronym is fabulous – and you’re right, if you want to call yourself strong, you have to feel it ALL. Putting yourself out there is brave – who ever had a breakthrough by staying in their comfort zone?

    Oh, and this made me laugh out loud: “Anything can seem weird, when you stop to think about it. Like the word circle. I’ve always thought it doesn’t sound very round.” – so true. And co-incidentally, this has happened to me multiple times with the word ‘tree’. There are times when my brain is just like ‘nope, that big tall leafy thing in the garden can’t be called a tree. That’s just wrong.’ Once I had to google it to make sure… :-/

  5. Laura says:

    Couldn’t agree more with these points. It takes real strength to feel alone, which I’m pretty sure is a famous quote I’ve just butchered.

    I’m sure you know this, but the White Company does an annual range of candles, home decoration etc all called ‘Summer’. I thought of your daughter just this morning as I looked at my candle ☺️. Could be something to order for March.

    1. Anjulie says:

      I did not know the White Company did a Summer range! Awesome, will have to get buying! And yep, you thinking of her when looking at your candle has definitely made me smile – thank you xx

  6. Jo M says:

    I totally agree on the need for unlearning.. and recently I also realized there must be other areas where I need to unlearn. Things I am so oblivious to where I may day things not realizing how insensitive they are. As a bereaved mom, you hear so many things that are insensitive to your *loss*. Is it as bad for other situations? I find myself wondering what types of *personal* scenarios am I not considering when interacting with other people? But part of that is not knowing. I mean, I shared my sons death with everyone I knew. I did it to share his life, it was just an instinct I had immediately. And now I feel a little embarrassed about it because everyone knows this intense personal thing about me and yet they still talk to me like nothings happened. I would think they could perhaps filter thjngs they say before speaking to me, but it’s not been the case.
    I’m like ok the verge of falling asleep here, but let me just try to round this comment oit. What I am saying is.. We are humans not mind readers. I think we all do not want to intentionally hurt people. You have to be vulnerable to share with someone a detail about your life that may help them interact with you better. But not everyone is willing to be vulnerable like that, so I can’t beat myself up for not imagining every possible offense I could be inflicting. We need to share with each other to improve all of our interactions.

    I hope I’ve made a kernel of sense with all this rambling. I’ll have to put reading your blog in my AM to do’s, not as I’m falling asleep at bedtime – ha!

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