The Internet is a big web of beautiful and ugly, and often the two meet in ways that connect people who would never have any connection otherwise. Thanks to the Internet, I met a group of online friends who helped me survive after my son died.
October always brings fall with it, and with fall, the cellular memory of how my long-awaited and firstborn son died the day after he was born. Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month being in October always seems appropriate to usher fall in.
My son died in November of 2009. While Facebook and other social media forms were up and running, they weren’t too widespread, and a lot of ‘online’ connections were made through blogs. Back then, the blog-world was filled with someone from just about every walk of life, and to be honest, it was still fairly taboo to talk about feelings when one’s baby dies. Few in real life really knew how to help me survive after my son died.
In the days after he died, I felt even more isolated and alone than I had when they wheeled me out of the hospital without my baby. I remember watching people watch me as we left, and as I cried, I wondered how I’d ever figure out how to breathe again. When I’d gotten home, still in quite a bit of pain from the emergency c-section that most likely saved my life, and suffering from preeclampsia post-partum (yes, it’s really a thing; the cure for pre-e is not always delivering), all I wanted to do was find books about what to do when your baby dies.
Guess what? There wasn’t a lot out there. And, googling didn’t really give many answers. So, I turned to the blog-o-sphere once again. Where it seemed women felt comfortable enough to share, despite it still being taboo in real life.
This is where it wasn’t awkward…online where you were talking with others who also had babies die, and the reality is the Internet brought more of those mothers into my world with just the click of a few buttons. When I didn’t want to even get up in the morning, I’d be able to read words from another who shared the very same thoughts and feelings.
When I felt like the people in my ‘real life,’ just couldn’t relate because they’d not experienced the trauma we did after so much infertility and then loss, I had at my fingertips an entire community of women who had walked the same path.
While some worried that I was ‘withdrawing,’ what they failed to realize was that I was being filled back up again as a human, and mother; inspired by women who had lived the same life and weren’t just surviving, but thriving. And yes, they were all online and we all communicated through blog comments, group chats, text messages and essentially everything but face-to-face contact.
This band of misfit mothers knew the awkwardness of being asked, “When are you due?” when you still have the postpartum belly but no baby to show. They knew what it felt like when your family believed you dwelled too long and needed to, “get on with life,” and we commiserated with each other through the readings of each others’ day-to-day lives after loss with comments of agreement and encouragement.
And when people would comment on how ‘weird’ it was for me to meet up with online friends from all over the country, I’d just laugh a little and think to myself about how my online friends became closer to me than many ‘real life’ friends and acquaintances I had because they got it.
That’s all. They simply got it. That old adage of misery loving company was in my face; but for that sisterhood, sad as I was, I was so thankful.
And because they got it, they knew when I was having a dark day, it didn’t mean that I was in need of the closest mental hospital. It meant that I was a normal mom who was grieving her dead child in a normal way. They knew if I happened to be having a better day, it wasn’t all of a sudden a healing of my heart and a sign that grey skies had cleared up; it was simply life processing as it does — with lows and highs along the way. They knew because they too were going through it all with me. They went through it themselves, and in turn, with me.
The strength of such sisterhood solidarity in the devasting aftermath of infant loss was so powerful that a group of mamas joined together to create a beautiful community that didn’t really exist before. In 2012, my sweet ‘online’ friend Francesca told me about an online magazine she was creating in honor and memory of her precious daughter Jenna and asked if I’d be part of it. As part of her team, Still Standing Magazine was formed. A community that didn’t exist when I lost my son was all of a sudden there — welcoming every broken-hearted mother after me.
Almost two years after it was founded, I took over as owner and editor-in-chief and our little community grew to what is now nearly 130k people. Though I stepped back from the ownership and chief editorial position because such heart work weighs heavy on one’s soul, daily, I am in awe of the legacy created and the brave and heroic stories shared by so many loving parents.
Parents go to Still Standing looking for community and solace and acceptance and comfort, and a small band of mamas who wanted the path to be different got together and laid the foundation for what is now a premier resource for anyone who googles about what to do when their baby dies. It’s that and so much more that wasn’t there when my son died.
Still, when I think about the magnitude of Still Standing, and how it paved the way for so many other publications and stories now more boldly sharing, I remember back to those very early days in my grief when my handful of blog friends and I would lift each other up and pull each other through the muck and the horror that was living without our children. How breaking the silence of pregnancy and infant loss in the way the Still Standing does today started in our living rooms, on our sofas, in our beds, from our broken hearts as we brave mamas used the Internet to help us bond and heal.
Yes, it may sound silly that a group of strangers all communicating online through blogs from different parts of the world would be some of my best friends, particularly as we worry more and more about face-to-face connections in this age of technology. I’m here to tell you, though, and I bet those women (you all know who you are!) will agree: there’s no stronger bond than the one we share, though we wish with all we had it wasn’t that way.
Since we can’t change the circumstances that brought us together from all parts of the world, we cherish the love and support that came from the ashes. We’ve spent the last decade going through the lows of loss(es) and the highs of subsequent siblings born. We’ve weathered deaths, divorces, and so much more and many of us have never (and likely may never) actually met in person.
It doesn’t change a thing, though. Those women helped me survive after my son died, and they continue to be anchors of life after his loss.
And though the Internet is often full of vitriol and venom and enough to make me want to turn it off forever, for the life it gave and still gives to me 11 years later? I
I’ll take Internet connections every day of the week, and twice on Sundays, please.
Photo: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock