Please Say Her Name, by Emma Bowes
I have a baby. Her name is Elke, and she died. That doesn’t mean you can’t speak her name. In fact, I want to talk about her. I am desperate to talk about her.
It’s all I’ve got.
Experiencing stillbirth has been eye-opening on so many levels. Even though a close friend went through a similar experience 17 years ago, I had no idea how prevalent stillbirth actually is, and I certainly never expected it to happen to me. I also didn’t realise it is such a taboo topic. People just don’t know what to say or do.
In Australia, 6 babies a day are stillborn. That is 2190 families every year going through the heartache and devastation that we are. Families whose lives are completely turned upside down. Whose future dreams are shattered in an instant when they hear the words “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat”.
It is heartbreaking, disorientating, and unbelievable. It often feels like we are living a bad dream and we are going to wake up and it’s all a mistake. I never realised that the pain could be so consuming, and that grief could be felt physically. I never knew that I could feel love and pain so deeply and simultaneously.
Amongst the unimaginable emotional pain and the overwhelming grief, Elke’s death has given us so many unexpected gifts, even though as I write this it has only been 4 short weeks.
The only choice we have is to try to look for the gifts.
It is the only way we can possibly make sense of the harsh reality that our baby has gone. We have to look for the tiny bit of good that comes from such an unimaginable tragedy.
One of the biggest gifts we have felt, is the amount of love Elke has generated. She has literally cracked open so many hearts. Friends far and wide, close and distant, friends we haven’t seen for years, have shed tears over our beautiful Elke.
And in the early days, it has brought so much comfort to us, that she has touched so many hearts.
The love and the pain felt be everyone is palpable.
We have been inundated with so much love and support. We have had messages, cards, flowers, gifts and endless home cooked meals dropped off to us. This kept us going and kept me in a cocoon at home, not having to venture out.
But after about 3 weeks I realised that life had to return to “normal”, or at least we had to adjust to our new normal.
I started to venture out again.
I had to do this for me and for our 3 other kids. I needed to be there for them at soccer and end of year school celebrations, at nippers and tennis. It was probably more for me than it was for them. I needed to feel like I was being a mother again. I wanted to go to the beach as a family, I wanted to be in the car at school drop off and pickup, even if I didn’t go inside.
I needed to feel like a mother. Instead of a shell of a mother.
The opportunity of mothering my newborn baby had been taken away, so I realised I had to send all of that mothering energy into my other kids.
As I began to leave my safe bubble of heartfelt messages and support, what became apparent in the weeks after Elke died, was how uncomfortable some people were, or how unsure people were with how to deal with me as a grieving mother.
Some people didn’t acknowledge our loss at all, others said sorry and then didn’t want to talk about what had happened for fear of upsetting me. I’m sure every person’s journey into and out of grief is different, but for me, I WANT to talk about Elke. I want to hear her name. It helps me grieve and process all that we have been through. It fills my heart with so much love to think about Elke, talk about her and share her story.
Sometimes that love might spill over as tears falling from my eyes, or fill my heart with a huge heaviness that lasts for hours, or even the rest of the day, but I am happy to wear that physical reminder of my love for her. I feel without acknowledging her, without speaking her name, is pretending that she did not exist.
And she did. She does.
She existed for 36 weeks inside of me, completely connected to me, literally sharing life with me.
I gave birth to her, we held her, kissed her, talked to her. She was perfect in every way. Her siblings and grandparents met her, held her and kissed her goodbye. She had the same cute button nose as her 2 brothers and her sister. She had little ears like me. She had long fingers and toes like her Dadda.
Elke made us a family of six. She made me a mama of 4. She is and always will be our daughter, our fourth child.
So please don’t pretend she didn’t exist.
Don’t be scared of saying the wrong thing, or that mentioning her might make me upset. I would rather you talk about Elke, than hear your silence.
We talk about her at home all of the time. The kids mention her name multiple times day. She is their younger sister, and they talk about her with so much love. They say good morning to her in the rising sun. They ask questions about her and they draw pictures for her. Mia is keeping some of her clothes that are too small, for Elke, even though she knows that she isn’t coming back.
We have her photo up at home. We have a stocking up for her for Christmas. We have a name plaque on her bedroom door. She is very much a part of our family.
I am not ashamed to talk about her. If it makes me sad, I am ok with that. Right now, the grief and the sadness are how I feel closest to her.
I’ve been told over time I will feel more connected to her through love. But for now, it is the grief that connects me to her the most.
So please don’t be scared to speak her name.
Please don’t be scared to ask me who I think she looked like.
Please don’t be scared to ask me how we farewelled her.
And please don’t pretend that she didn’t exist.
Because she did. She does.
She exists so deeply in a place in our hearts that will never be healed. She is our daughter. We are proud of her, and want to acknowledge her place in our family.
Please tell me that Elke is in your thoughts.
I will never get tired of hearing her name.
Please say her name.
** You can connect with Emma on Instagram @honestly.emma or Facebook – Honestly Emma