Angel Lucy turns five. Stillbirth, the things I never say and a legacy of love.
Trigger warning- Child loss, stillbirth, death and domestic violence
Lucy’s 5th birthday was on the 4th June 2018. Its a day of reflection and ritual for me. I bake Lucy a cake from the 1978 edition, Women’s Weekly Children’s cookbook. I love all the comments people make about my cakes- so many happy memories from peoples own childhood or child’s delight. And that is precisely why I do it. My cakes are crappy and the kind of thing you’d see posted on Instagram as a ‘fail’. But that’s how kids like them, I say. Their own mother/carer made them with love and attention and I think kids are really good at seeing intention. I believe in staying authentic. I could buy a cake cheaper that looked better, but these ones are made with love that is plain for anyone to see. Even if this year’s bunny was unintentionally a bit offensive, what with the unfortunate candle placement on what looked like the bunny’s nappy (but was actually where I ran out of icing). There was no time for making whiskers and the ears didn’t fit on the plate, so I made them floppy. My son and his friend who saw the cake thought it was perfect and that’s good enough for me! 4 year olds’ don’t lie. (Unless it’s about space voyages and volcano exploration, in which case, don’t trust a word they say, just enjoy the story.)
Another ritual I maintain is to listen to Sufjan Stevens and to think, remember and cry. This is the most important part of the day for me. I don’t think everyone understands that for me, to sit with the pain of losing Lucy is to sit with Lucy. I met her in my deep pain, I said goodbye in pain and the fire of that pain brought me into motherhood and into running Lucy’s Project. It is such an ironic thing really, that the pain soothes me and expands my thinking. Each year I have deep realisations about her birth and I wanted to share this years with you.
I never really talk about ‘stillbirth’ in a political, awareness raising way. I have complicated views on whether parents need one more thing to fear during that terrifying, exciting, magical time that is pregnancy. Do we need to be more aware and fearful of all the many things that could go wrong? It just isn’t a cause that calls me personally, despite being a cause that affected me more than even the link between domestic violence and animal abuse. I’m so grateful to the stillbirth organisations that supported me during the early weeks and I recognise their important work, but it isn’t a cause I can take under wing. Or do I?
I have frequently claimed and very publicly acknowledged that it was a group of dynamic, yet frustrated women working with the Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre, Animal Law and Education Project (ALEP) who inspired me in those dark days between when she died and when she was finally born. They were desperately trying to get support for their project recognising the link between animal and human victims of domestic violence and the cause spoke to me because it helped people understand that we don’t have to choose which cause is more important, human or animal- that we can’t have peace in the family as long as some lives matter more than others. We can’t protect innocent adult and child victims if we don’t also protect the animal lives that bind them to their family. I realised during those 5 days of stalling labour that this cause spoke to my situation too- that Lucy’s precious name, her legacy, could raise awareness of the innocent women, children and animals and make the world a more beautiful place. It had never occurred to me that her name means ‘light’, but shine a light on a cause in the dark, she did. As soon as I named Lucy’s Project- during labour- contractions increased and she was born shortly after. Lucy’s Project gave me, personally , the strength to let go of the precious child within me and to have the courage to say goodbye, knowing somehow she would live on.
What I haven’t spoken about as much is the thoughts that lead to that realisation, the process. From that horrific moment when they told me, ‘there’s no heartbeat’ and I calmly asked them how they were going to start it again, in that cold sterile room where they told me I would have to give birth to my now deceased baby, my midwife sat by my side, touching my hand even when I couldn’t feel it. I know by the time she finally went home, days later, she would have been exhausted beyond belief. I was put in a private room just for grieving mothers, away from the other birthing mothers, I was visited by social workers, I was tended to so well. There was no shame, prejudice or judgement. Although I was in the most incredible emotional pain, I felt so fortunate. I thought of the women around the world for whom stillbirth is a thing to be ashamed of, could in some cases spell the end of the marriage, calling her cursed. I thought of the women victimised because of the loss of her child. I thought of the mothers expected to deny the child had ever been born, to get on with it, to never speak of it again. Curtains raised and the ‘ensuing tissues’ removed quietly and disposed of. Go home, pretend it never happened, have another child. I felt my modern, white privilege intensely at that moment. Sitting with this for days, that complex feeling of the most unfair loss coupled with the sense of good fortune that I was supported, lead me ultimately to the cause.
No shame, no stigma in the suffering that women endure. Be that domestic violence, stillbirth, miscarriage, menstrual cycles, incontinence, mental health, divorce, c-sections, bottle feeding, epidurals, infertility, choosing not to be a mother- and on and on. No shame. Zero tolerance for stigmatising the experiences of women. I think this comes from a very deep part of me. I will never be silent or ashamed about the experiences I’ve had and I won’t let any woman around me be shamed about hers. Domestic violence is NEVER the victim/ survivors fault and there is no shame but for the shame in not standing up for our sisters when they can’t stand up for themselves.
I speak openly about my baby and in doing so, have heard the stories of so many, many women who were never able to speak of their children again. I feel so grateful for my privilege allowing me to provide a safe space to talk with them about their babies, to talk about death, to talk about the life they had. I have seen women in their 60’s break down talking about their babies, having never been given a safe space to talk about them before (!). They tell me of the rituals they have always held in private, the hard days of remembering but not admitting. I have never ever heard the mother of a stillborn child tell me she stopped caring, loving or missing her baby. We never, ever forget, not for one minute a day. I’m so grateful for my living child and hope to add to my family. But Lucy was my first born, will always be my eldest child and when people ask me how many children I have, she will always be counted.
I am not a stillbirth activist but I have never let the media censor the fact that Lucy was stillborn. I realised this year, that other essential link in why Lucy chose me to run Lucy’s Project. Why she revealed this cause to me- because I will never let a woman be stigmatised by her suffering and loss. If you love your animals, I will use my strength and privilege and wave your flag when you don’t have the strength to raise your own arm. I dream that because of Lucy’s life and death that women, children and animals will be spared death and stigma. I know we have already saved lives and that she did not die in vain but I know we can do so much more.
Thanks for supporting this cause. Please keep speaking up about the link. From the darkness into the light, Lucy’s Project- safe families, paws and all.
N.B I acknowledge the male victims of DV, both victims of male violence and female on male violence, but also recognise that women represent the majority of victims survivors. That said, boys/ intersex/transgender people, I’ll fight your fight too because the enemy here is violence, not gender.
In memory of Lucy Stanton- Ludvik, 4th June 2013. Adored by her parents and family, always in our hearts, forever in our mind. Light on earth, even in death.
Thank you to Heartfelt for this photo.
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