This morning as I opened Facebook, I was greeted with my memories of this day in past years and there it was: my Chiquita's footprint and the post that changed everything for the outside world. Clearly, our families, close friends, colleagues and other acquaintances we've gathered in 10 and 11 years living in London knew about Olivia; but for most of you reading, today last year was the day you found out that our daughter died three days before she was born.
As we went to drop the Olivia Day flowers on her bench we were talking (mostly me and in my head) about how life has changed since we "came out" here in the online world, and I wanted to share a few reflections that are both ranty and heartfelt:
People don't always read what you write: That picture of Olivia's footprint had a lot of great and bad reactions but one of the ones that shocked me the most was a girl I know very little (she's actually quite nice) congratulating me and sending me blessings for the arrival of my baby. To be fair, besides being quite shocked, I actually laughed at how clueless this person was. One of my best friends wasn't amused so she contacted her and gave her a nudge in the right direction and then she deleted the post and said nothing else. So, I want to start my reflections with something light and applicable to a random picture of food or to the hardest thing you've had to share online: People don't really seem to care that much of what a posts says!
Social Media is not all that bad: I am and have always been quite scared and even against social media because of the lack of accountability it has (the internet in general has this problem), how everyone seems to share only the most amazing parts of their lives creating unnecessarily high standards for others and how impersonal it all feels for the most part, even though it's supposed to bring us all closer. I have been pleasantly surprised the last 365 days, social media is where I've found some of the most supportive people in my life and have started some of the most meaningful relationships with people I might never meet in person. People that I've known my entire life have been great at reaching out from differentparts of the world and lifting my heart when I least expect it; and some have shared some pretty hard times they themselves went through but never wanted to share before. Yes, the internet can make us all feel quite alone but it can also make you feel constantly hugged, give you endless resources to share with the world when you simply can't come up with the words and validate new and old friendships.
People mean well, but they have no clue how to express themselves (this is the ranty one): I always feel bad for people that have to hear about Olivia's passing from me or Pierre right then and there, because this is happening real time face to face and nothing could prepare them (or us!) for what comes out of their mouths. I always give people the benefit of the doubt and as long as they don't say something horribly bad, I tend to let go of things they said that were not nice or helpful since they were caught off guard... Online, however, I was and still am impressed by the lack of tact some people had when I first posted this and for a few months after (and even now to some extent). This is happening online, I have no clue who is reading this so you can take all the time in the world to write something thoughtful if you need to say something... You would imagine that people did that before commenting on the picture or sending me a private message or email... Let's be fair here, for the most part every comment and message I've received (even if I still haven't responded to most of them) was nice and supportive. But there were a few (one in particular) that still haunts me and maybe one day I will contact those people directly, or maybe I'll just (hopefully) magically forget that specific one and stop talking to myself as if I was talking to that person. Lovely people of the internet, please keep in mind that you are lucky, because you have the luxury of time! It wasn't easy for me to share this a year ago and its not easy for me to keep sharing, but I simply couldn't go back to posting pictures of food after my daughter was born and pretend nothing happened. So, think and almost sense check with someone else what you will say to someone going through the worst moment of their lives, once you write what you want to say, it is out there and once the person reads it, they can't go back. Close friends or mere acquaintances, words have a big effect on all and specially the vulnerable, so what you say might have repercussions bigger than you ever intended. I want to MEGA thank everyone that has reached out to us as this is quite an isolating thing to have happened and nobody can truly understand unless they are unfortunately walking the same path. A lot of people have tried and sent us messages of love and support truly thinking about all of this with empathy; you have made the beginning of our new life less bad.
Olivia isn't alone: I've said this many times and I'll say it again, until the 16th of June 2016, I've never heard of a baby dying before they were born after 6 months. Even in the 6 months mark I've heard of 2 people and until this day I want to hug them and tell them I'm sorry. Those two experiences I've heard of where my milestone of "we will be safe once we pass this" so once we did I was even more relaxed than before. We were untouchable, not because we were special, but because nobody can touch a baby inside the belly after a certain number of weeks as they are in the safest place they can be. I was, unfortunately, quite wrong. In the UK 15 babies a day die before, during or shortly after birth and even though this is a horrible statistic compared to other "developed" countries, I can only imagine the horrid numbers in the rest of the world. In Venezuela, the amazing "third world" country I'm from, things like these don't happen - or at least they are not talked about. At times I'm annoyed because I'm sure everyone back home (or anywhere else for that matter) thinks I'm a glitch in the system and that they too are untouchable because something must've gone wrong with me or something was missed. You are right, something went wrong with my placenta and something was missed, but it was easier to see in hindsight and I do try to manage the what ifs that go around my head had I had different care or more scans like they do in my "undeveloped" country. One thing is for sure: Olivia is sadly not alone. She is in magic land with her friends and our families that have moved there as well; she will be joined by many more that shouldn't really be there and I wish this would stop for everyone, but I don't think it will any time soon. With this I don't want to scare anyone, but I do want to empower mothers around the world: fight for what you want during your pregnancy and remember, nobody knows your body and your baby better than you so PLEASE repeat that mantra and wear it every day of your pregnancy. If I'm scaring people, better to be a paranoid pregnant lady with a living baby than a carefree one with no baby in your arms, right?
Anyway, after much much digressing here I want to start wrapping things up by by telling anyone that might be joining this terrible club that it gets less bad (better implies a good base). Whatever you feel today will morph into something different and even though grief will still attack you in random days for the rest of your life, you too can carry this with you in a way that doesn't destroy you. Use everything wonderful that social media has, search the topics you are thinking about even if they sound crazy obscure, there will be someone out there happy to connect with you. Share whatever you want to share as long as it has a purpose for you and it adds to your life. Never forget that you are not alone here and your baby is not alone there, both places are packed with people to keep you both company and try to make the load less heavy whenever and however possible.
Internet, you have been great for the most part, thanks for reading, crying and laughing with me about Olivia and life in general. To those people who have reached out telling me how they wish I could be happy again, know this, I'm very happy. My life has changed forever, just like having a missing vital organ or limb, Olivia is and will always be not here. That doesn't make me a miserable person for life, I think I'm still the happy me that tries to be optimistic, overly cheerful and dare I say funny, food obsessed person. However, life did change and with that I find myself being all those things but in a different way. I feel things much more intensely (if that was even possible), I appreciate the good more than before and hurt for the bad way more than before. The sweet moments tend to always have a bitter moment where we will always be reminded of the daughter who was supposed to be here for her first day of school this year, but never will be. Them they turn sweet again because Pierre and I have each other and she makes us both smile.
Olivia dying is by far the worst thing to have ever happened to us, but her life is so far the best part of ours and whilst we will always miss her and grief her absence, we will always aim to finish a hard moment with the biggest smiles because she was here.