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I hear it at least once a week–usually from a meme on social media. Someone joking that “at least I kept the kids alive.” While other moms might scroll by with a giggle and barely a second thought, I cringe. I could go my whole life without ever having to hear or read those words again.

Before we go any further, I want to be clear: I know it’s a joke. I wholeheartedly believe moms can make light of motherhood. I do it often. I also know that for some mothers, these words are comforting. On those days when you feel like you’ve done nothing right, you can at least check off that the kids are alive.

But this is one joke I never laugh at and it brings me no comfort to read it. In fact, I usually have to fight back tears when it’s said.

Because I’m one of the moms who COULDN’T keep her baby alive.

At 30 weeks, my baby died when she was in my womb. The place where she was supposedly protected. It was sudden and unexpected and it destroyed me.

That was almost four years ago and I’ve learned a lot about living life after your child dies. I’ve developed quite a thick skin. You have to when you live in a world where you are living every parent’s worst nightmare. I have become good at protecting myself from known triggers and I know how to take care of myself when the unexpected triggers arise.

But, this phrase just gets under that thick skin of mine.

Maybe it’s because I know that being a mom is more than “keeping the kids alive”. Maybe it’s because I know that you are still a mom after your babies die. Or maybe it’s because I know what it’s like when your baby dies and there was nothing you could do to stop it from happening.

I know what it’s like to live with that guilt and the fear that you could have done more. I know that if it was a matter of loving her enough, my daughter would still be alive. After almost four years of bereaved motherhood, I know that you can do everything you’re supposed to do and your baby can still die.

I am a mom who couldn’t keep her baby alive.

It is a tragedy that I will never get over. I have learned to carry the grief that comes with the death of a child, but I will never forget that my baby died.

Some days are easier than others and every day is hard. There are days when I think about her and only smile and then there are days when all I can do is cry. Sometimes I can let the things people say roll off my back and sometimes I can’t. This joke, this cry of solidarity—I can’t yet shrug it off. And I know I can’t be the only mom who feels this way.

I know I’m not alone in hating the phrase “at least I kept the kids alive” because I know I’m not the only mom who couldn’t keep her baby alive.

I’m not expecting this phrase to disappear. But I am asking people to understand why I don’t think it’s funny. My inability to laugh is not a judgment on anyone else. It is simply a reflection of the pain I bear as a bereaved mother.

Others don’t have to know exactly how I feel—my wish is for no parent to know this agony. I just ask that when I speak up and share how I feel, I am met with acknowledgment. And that maybe my ability to be vulnerable will help others consider the impact of their words.

Originally published on the author’s blog

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Rachel Whalen

Rachel Whalen is a writer and Kindergarten teacher who lives and loves in Vermont. She is the mother of two daughters; Frances who is 14 months old and Dorothy who was stillborn two years ago. Her daughter's silent birth has inspired her to use her voice to share about grief, pregnancy loss, and parenting after loss. 

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