What’s ‘normal’ anyway?

A few weeks ago, this blog was shortlisted in the ‘Something Different’ category at the Northern Blog Awards, an awards event for bloggers and other types of content creators in the North of England. We’re on our way to the awards ceremony, which is tonight at the Midland Hotel (swanky!) in Manchester.

I’m really excited about tonight for a number of reasons. Firstly, I’ve never been nominated for an award for my blogs or my writing before. That’s pretty cool.

ParentingSecond, because I am really looking forward to meeting my Instagram friend Amy Campbell in person for the first time. Amy is Esme, Charlotte and Archie’s mum and writes an amazing blog about her journey and experiences. Esme and Charlotte were born very premature, Charlotte survived but Esme tragically did not. Archie is their younger brother, who arrived safely earlier this year. Amy’s powerful and honest blog about parenting a surviving twin, coping with baby loss, and the pressures of a rainbow pregnancy and parenting after loss is utterly compelling. Amy’s shortlisted in the parenting category. If you haven’t read her blog, it comes highly recommended by me and can be found here – This is my brave face.

And thirdly, and most significantly, I’m excited about tonight because I think it’s hugely significant that two bereaved parents have been nominated for awards at a ‘mainstream’ event. Over the last few years I’ve attended a few awards ceremonies specific to the world of baby loss, but I’ve not come across a ‘normal’ event that’s been brave enough to tackle this reality of ours head on. So the Northern Blog Awards should get huge credit for recognising that this is a real issue, and one that deserves to be talked about. Whether it’s talked about by me, or by Amy, or by anyone else, doesn’t really matter – what matters is that voices are heard. For so long baby loss (and the impact it has on those affected by it) has been a taboo in our society, and bereaved parents have found it very difficult to talk openly and publicly about their grief.

VilomahBritish society in particular isn’t very good at talking about death, especially when it’s out of the normal order of things. My friend Nicole, Ben’s mum, runs a charity called Our Missing Peace, which is designed to unite bereaved parents and help them feel less alone. Nicole talks a lot about the word ‘vilomah’, which is a Sanskrit term meaning “against the natural order”. It’s a word that many bereaved parents have adopted as a term to categorise their reality – something I realised after Henry died was that if your spouse dies, you’re a widow or widower. If your parents die, you’re an orphan. If your child dies, you’re – well, you’re something that the English language hasn’t seen fit to define.

So grief is an emotion that our society discourages us from showing publicly. Even more so when it’s the death of a child. I think this is largely because society doesn’t know how to handle it, or how to support families who are going through it. So collectively it finds the biggest carpet it can, and brushes the issue as far under it as it can. But actually, driven by social media in many ways, more and more vilomahs are simply refusing to accept being ostracised by society. So we’re talking, nay, shouting our babies’ names from the rooftops, because we want – need – wider society to know that they were REAL. They lived – not conventional lives, but they lived – and then they died. But they are ours and we are theirs, and our grief and voices are valid.

I talked in my last blog about why it’s vital that society learns how to deal with death in all its forms, whether that’s a stillbirth, or death from cancer, or any other kind of death. As I saw written recently, there are only two days in any of our lives with less than 24 hours – the day we were born and the day we die – and society embraces one and shies away from the other. But there’s really only one guarantee in life, and that’s that, one day, we’re all going to die. It’s actually the most normal thing in life.

So now we have bereaved parents everywhere you look who refuse to be silenced simply because it’s awkward for everyone else to think about the raw reality of their lives. We have incredible mums like Elle Wright and Nicola Gaskin writing books about their experiences – yes, I’m sure to create a legacy for their children Teddy and Winter, but also to help other bereaved parents feel less alone, and to educate people who haven’t lived this worst nightmare of any parent, to offer them all a window into our collective soul through their words.

We have amazing midwives like Steph Wild, Bea’s mum and Kirsty Nguyen, Holly’s mum, who stand up and share their experiences from both sides of the professional/parental divide, to ensure that maternity professionals and students learn from fellow midwives who know only too well what this journey is like, from both sides of the coin.

We have phenomenal bloggers like Rachael Whalen, Dorothy’s mum and Catherine Travers, Benjamin’s mum who find the words when the rest of us can’t. And we have incredible mouthpieces like David Monteith, Grace’s dad and Heidi Loughlin, Ally’s mum, who wow audiences with their oration and rally people behind them with their roar.

The one thing all these parents want (I think) is for their child’s memory to live on, and for their child’s existence to create a positive legacy, by trying to make things better – one way or another – for others who will find themselves walking this path.

More parents are being heard than ever before. Baby loss is more openly spoken about than ever before. And yet, it’s still on the periphery – because it IS a really tough subject. Tearing down these walls that have been put up to keep these parents out isn’t an overnight job, but we all keep chipping away, ripping them down brick by brick, piece by piece.

And this got me thinking about the category I’m shortlisted in this evening – the ‘Something Different’ category.

What’s ‘different’ or ‘normal’ anyway? Because to us, this is our normal. The phrase ‘new normal’ is one I’ve heard countless times over the last four years. But it is different to conventional circumstances, learning to parent your child when they live in the sky, not on earth. It’s something that I know many of my friends in this community – a club no-one wants to be in, but once you find yourself in it, you’re so glad for the incredible people you meet – wrestle with. How do you keep your child from being forgotten when they don’t get first birthday parties, first days at school, first anythings?

It’s parenting Jim, but not as we know it, as The Firm might have said if anyone had asked them to write a song about it in the Eighties.

pARENTING JIM

So finding myself in this category rather than the parenting one DOES make sense. Parents talking about their child that’s died is still seen as different. Dads talking about parenting is still seen as different – even if their child’s here. Combining the two is definitely ‘different’. Men showing emotion and talking about their feelings is certainly different! So being in this category makes perfect sense to me. Hopefully in about 13 weeks’ time (we’ve learnt the hard way not to count any chickens), having been a parent for over four and a half years, I’ll get to find out what being a ‘normal’ parent, with living children, is like. Until then I’ll embrace the fact that our normal is, thankfully, ‘different’ to so many. It’s a normal I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

We’ll go to tonight’s awards with no expectation of anything other than to have a good time. I’m ultra-competitive, so of course I’m hoping to win, but I won’t lose any sleep if I don’t. Because what’s most significant about tonight is the fact that, by including Amy and I in their shortlists, the Northern Blog Awards have helped the community of bereaved parents remove one more brick from the wall. And that’s a massive win, whether either of us bring home an award or not.

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