Speaking up about Child loss (Part 1/3)

Child loss is one of the most difficult experiences that parents and families can go through. From as far back as we can trace, women have dealt with their loss in silence. Speaking up about Child loss is either awkward or taboo. Leaving many questions unanswered in spaces where grieving a child is misunderstood.

Ask a Parent sat down with Yonela Rasi- the Founder of the Lakhanya Foundation. A Foundation that assist parents and families who are going through the difficulties of child loss. This is the first instalment of a 3-part series on child loss:  Speaking up about Child loss, Helping a loved one deal with loss and the Father’s grief.

1. What gave you the courage to start the Lakhanya Foundation?

I founded the Lakhanya Foundation back in 2018 after I had suffered a loss. Lakhanya was actually my second loss, he was stillborn in June 2018. I was pregnant back in 2017 with my first child which resulted in a miscarriage at 16 weeks. That baby’s name would have been Imenathi (Lord stand by us). I have subsequently had a miscarriage after Lakhanya as well. So, I had three losses in three years. Every single pregnancy that I’ve had has resulted in some sort of death or complication that has resulted in a loss.

That’s how the foundation came to be. I then dedicated my life’s work to breaking the silence about baby loss or any pregnancy that results in anything other than a living baby. I’m also focusing on breaking the taboo that is the trauma of loss and trauma of pregnancy loss. Getting our Communities and societies talking about something that is considered a stigma.

dealing with childloss Lakhanya Foundation

2. Why do you think women are told not to speak about their losses?

 First of all, I think that death in itself is a very silencing and uncomfortable subject to talk about for anyone. We’re so accustomed to the idea that people fully live in order for them to experience death. Or to go through death there needs to be life. That’s why when a baby dies inside the womb people become confused. They find it very hard to grasp the death of life that they didn’t know, so it gets very uncomfortable. We share the experience of death in different ways. Where we lose parents, grandparents, relatives or we lose our friends. Yet people find it hard to relate when it’s the loss of a child because they haven’t experienced it.

One possible reason for women’s silence is that speaking up is taboo in our cultures and traditions as people of colour. Barren women or women who have problems with fertility are shunned upon. Most [traditional] marriages are based on the idea that your value is in your womb. If you don’t bring forth children or can’t bear children you are thought of as a liability. That’s why most of the women of colour that I speak to feel some sort of loneliness when they experience baby loss. Because it’s not something they can voice out. It’s a trauma that they have to grieve alone and face in isolation. They end up not having a voice because they have no one else to speak to.

I remember when we were arranging the funeral my mom said: “if we were in the rural areas Lakhanya’s body wouldn’t have gone to a funeral home to get prepared for the funeral”. He would have been buried somewhere near the crawl by the older women of the village. It would be an incident that everyone wants to forget about. Which makes me think about the women who are going through exactly what I went through who don’t have the knowledge or the support they need. They are facing not having a funeral for their children and not having their babies be acknowledged as even being born. Because their traditions basically deem this as the norm. Child loss is a conversation that really needs to be deconstructed.

We need to normalize speaking about child loss. We as women also need to talk about what it means to experience this kind of trauma. What tools do we need to deal with loss and what we need from Society in order for us to start healing from these experiences? Losing a baby in infancy or in the womb is trauma on its own and it’s time to get that trauma recognised. How do we go about doing that? One way is by raising awareness and starting conversations. Creating safe spaces within our communities where women can get together and have these conversations.

3. How did you feel when found out that you’re pregnant again after your first miscarriage? How did you overcome those fears that come with a loss?

 With all my pregnancies, we never predetermined that we were going to have a child. After my first miscarriage, I knew that I needed time to grieve. I was going through a lot and I didn’t know how to cope with it all. I didn’t have any type of counselling or emotional support besides my partner. That first miscarriage was a silencing experience on its own. I found out that I was pregnant again almost eight months later. It didn’t sink in until I was about 5 months pregnant with Lakhanya. I was still grieving my first loss that I didn’t get to enjoy the beginning stages of my pregnancy. What I can say is that after my stillborn- going into my latest miscarriage there definitely was a lot of anxiety and depression. There was also a whole lot of uncertainty. I was doubting myself as a female and as a woman. I was doubting my womb, blaming my body and blaming myself. There was a lot of self-hate during that process and these are some of the things that helped me heal:

  • Therapy/ Professional Help: I want to encourage women to get professional help before you even get to the point of saying ‘I want to get pregnant again’. Before we can move forward we need to grieve a loss and understand that a baby can’t replace a baby. What I always say to the woman that I speak to is that we need to first learn to mother ourselves before we can mother another human being. We need to make sure that all is good with us so we can be strong enough and capable enough to bring forth and raise another human being. My foundation also assists in terms of facilitating or helping you get into contact with a psychologist or anyone who can help you.
dealing with childloss Lakhanya Foundation
  • Support Groups: I want to also encourage women who are in the process of trying to get pregnant again to approach support groups. There various support groups on social media like the ones I found that Instagram which were very helpful.
  • Bereavement Doulas: Bereavement doulas are helpful as well. They encourage women in those moments of insecurity and self-doubt when in trying to get pregnant again. They act as the sources of strength in that moment.
  • Communicate with your partner: When you’re grieving and trying to move forward, talking to your partner also helps. We’re often so engrossed in our own grief that we forget our partners. They’re often grieving in silence because the subject of men and baby loss is very neglected. Loss is treated like the mother’s experience and we don’t normally talk about or talk to the man who’s there but in the background. Bearing in mind that we might want to get pregnant again but our partners are not ready for that experience. They themselves are still grieving.

 

Sometimes our paths through grief are not the same. People grieve differently. Communication within our prospective environments and relationships is very important.

4. Where can our readers find you?

The foundation wants to raise awareness by creating communities. Creating support groups and forcing families to come together- not to put any pressure but to create a safe space to have these conversations. To say that these are our African experiences, these are our experiences of loss as women. We are sharing because we know there are women elsewhere who are going through exactly the same things we did. Experiencing the same social practices and are struggling. We want you to know that you are not alone!

If you need assistance or have any questions please contact us with the information below:

Blog: https://lifeafterlakhanya.wordpress.com/

Email: Lakhanyafoundation@gmail.com

Instagram: @lifeafterlakhanya and @Lakhanya_foundation