I’ve always liked that saying- it reminds me that no happiness can be found in comparing ourselves to others. I think it’s something that us ‘millennials’ are pretty terrible at- especially women. I’m not sure if it’s the rise in social media but it seems very easy to compare your house, job, body or parenting skills online and be left wanting.
I think I’m lucky that despite inevitable niggles along the way I’m content in my skin and very happy with my life. However, I think losing Etta has brought comparisons into my life even when I didn’t want them to.
I see other people’s pregnancy announcements and it’s a punch in the stomach before it turns into excitement for them. I see babies around Etta’s age and I feel sad that I don’t know what she would look like at 5 months old. I see Ezzie fawning over little babies and feel angry that his little sister was taken from him too soon. I feel like a terrible person that I want to shout “SOMETIMES BABIES DIE!” when I see a happy family of 4. Of course I have no idea what their journey was to get there- I don’t know if I should really be looking at a family of 5.
I try to acknowledge those bitter feelings and then just move on. The thing that helps me with jealousy is a comparison to myself as a first-time mum with Ezra. I was in blissful ignorance in my healthy straightforward pregnancy. I didn’t know the statistics around infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects because they hadn’t affected me. And now when I see other mothers deep down I hope that they are blissfully ignorant too. Because although an awareness of these issues is important, you have to experience it to know it and I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone even if I am a little green-eyed sometimes.
Since Etta died I have filled my head and my heart with lots of other stories of babies and children gone too soon. It really hurts reading each grieving mother or father’s story because I hate the thought of anybody going through what we did. But naturally the comparisons start again and I feel jealous of the parents who got to take their babies home or made memories outside of the hospital walls. I feel sad that Etta died on a busy intensive care unit rather than in a private room or hospice like many others. And then I remind myself that I’m jealous of a child’s death and that feels ridiculous. Because I know how many people would look at us and feel exactly the same. We got to meet Etta alive which I know now is something that so many parents desperately wish for. And we got 27 precious days and hundreds of photos and videos. Let’s face it- your child dying is a time when you can’t afford any more joy to be stolen from you. I try and remind myself of that mantra- comparison is the thief of joy!
I was thinking this week as well about whether comparison is the thief of grief too. Because in comparisons with others, there’s also a feeling that my grief is less valid than someone else’s. Like there is a pecking order for grief and loss. How can I grieve what I’ve lost when a family lost their child at 10 years old? Surely that’s much worse. Or how can I be struggling when I’ve encountered a mother whose first child was stillborn and their second child died from SIDS at a couple of months old? It is hard to grieve your own losses when you are comparing your heartbreak to others. Comparisons can try to steal your grief too.
I think Sam and I have certainly felt that with our friends and family when talking about their lives. Elle Wright talks about becoming ‘the benchmark of shit’ in her book Ask Me His Name and this pretty much sums it up. As tragedy goes, losing a baby or child is up there. This leads to people saying ‘but of course it’s nothing compared to what you’ve gone through’ or ‘it could be much worse of course’. For lots of people we are that ‘much worse’ but I do worry that this is the sneaky thief comparison trying to devalue people’s grief again.
I don’t want my friends that have miscarried to say to me “It’s not the same as what you’ve been through but…” or family that are struggling to say “Why am I crying when I’ve not lost my daughter?” The thought that comparison to our situation makes people feel guilty about the depth of their suffering just makes me feel sad. It’s not like one person’s grief eclipses another or one person’s feelings matter more.
With coronavirus at the moment, this feels even more relevant. There are so many people saying ‘it could be worse’ and feeling like they can’t air their grievances or express their anxiety about the world. Without doubt, those that have lost loved ones and can’t hold funerals are really suffering right now. The tens of millions of pounds raised for the NHS and other charities shows how grateful we are for key workers’ sacrifices and how aware we are of other people’s awful situations. But things that aren’t life or death do still matter. Grieving the loss of your child’s last months at primary school , the loss of your livelihood or the loss of your life-as-you-know-it aren’t less valid just because somebody else is also grieving. I know that if we are still in lockdown on Etta’s 1st birthday and I can’t commemorate it the way I want, I would grieve that missed anniversary. Even though it wouldn’t ‘compare’ to the grief on the day we lost her.
I think comparison can give us some healthy perspective in life but I don’t think it should stop us from allowing ourselves to feel sad, anxious or any other emotion for that matter! Comparison can help us to appreciate what we have and cherish what might have gone unnoticed before. But I think if there’s any chance of it stealing joy or grief then we should lock it up and throw away the key!