JAMAICANS are very expressive people, and the orality in our culture is one that allows a lot of room for familiarity in our expression, even when talking to strangers or about sensitive topics. Many of us do not know how to han dle trauma and grief ourselves, and are at a loss for words when someone we know has experienced a traumatic event, or is grieving a loss. Even worse, some go right ahead and say the wrong things anyway.
October is observed as Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) Awareness Month, and this Thursday will be globally recognised as PAIL remembrance day. A part of the purpose of PAIL awareness is to increase sensitivity among the population, so that we can better support parents who are grieving the loss of a pregnancy or death of a baby. To this end, All Woman asked some of the 'angel mommies' in the 4Damani PAIL support group to share some of the comments they have received in response to their grief, that they wish people would just not say.
Shalacey, suffered ectopic and chemical pregnancies:
“You soon breed again”, “A good thing a never when him older”, “God knows best”, “Lord sah, yuh gwan like yuh can't breed again!”, and, “A wa you a wait on? Go breed!”
Crystal-Gayle, mother of Damani:
“God needed another angel”, “At least you never knew him long”, “Gwan go try again now so you can breed quick”, “Stop post up or think about the baby, or yuh nah go breed again”, and, “A never your time yet”.
Janelle, mommy to Trevin:
“At least you never know him”, “At least you never brought him home”, “You nuh get over that yet?”, “God knows best because, maybe him did a go turn out bad like rob and kill or disappoint you in some way”.
Tracy, mommy to Mikayla:
“At least you never breastfeed, so you neva get fi bond with her”. Also, after I lost my baby, whenever someone made a pregnancy announcement at work, a coworker used to say, “Bwoy Tracy, you make everybody a first you”. Stop trying to find a pregnancy remedy.
HM, mommy to Rohayne
“At least you nuh dead. Yuh still young, so you can try again”.
Danell, mommy to Blip, Dominick, Malachi and Melody:
“Maybe you two just nuffi have babies, see all a dem dead and gone”.
Someone said to me that my womb is a walking cemetery, it's only made to bring dead babies.
Jiszell, mommy to Zahariah:
“Why all of your baby them a dead so? A wah you a do wrong?” “You love kids too much. That's why you not getting any, that's why them dying”.
So what should you say?
While many of us become uncomfortable and begin tripping over our words when we learn that someone is grieving, that is still no excuse to be mean or insensitive to their grief. Founder of the 4Damani group and lobbyist for increased PAIL awareness in Jamaica, Crystal-Gayle Williams, said the loss of pregnancy or death of a baby is a very traumatic experience.
“No parent expects to bury their child,” she said. “Many suffer from PTSD, depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses following their experience.”
She suggested that by navigating your own feelings, you may be able to support them better. She suggested these pointers for reacting, supporting, and adjusting to a parent's grief:
“Simply saying, 'I'm sorry for your loss/that your baby died' can mean a lot, as you are acknowledging their pain,” she said. You can show support by asking: 'Can I bring you a meal?' or 'What can I do for you?' Be intentional and ask them what they need from you. Don't assume they want you to give them space, etc. Asking them what they need and showing up is helpful for a grieving parent.”
Williams added that you can also show support by speaking positively about the baby or pregnancy.
“You can say things like, 'I know how much you love (say baby's name if there's one) and I'm here to celebrate him/her however you choose'. Some parents would want their babies mentioned, but out of fear of what others feel or may think, they stay silent,” she said. “If they talk about their baby or experience, don't be dismissive and fuel 'toxic positivity' by telling them to look on the bright side, or think positive and not be sad. Let them work through their emotions.”
She said it is also a good idea to help them celebrate the lives of their babies.
“If you see them honouring their babies and you're able and to celebrate their babies with them, ask them if there's any way they'd want you to,” she suggested. “Milestone dates like birthdays, angelversary (date baby passed) and days like Christmas and mother's/father's day may be tough on a grieving parent's heart. Reach out to them and see how you can provide support.”