Congrats On Keeping The Kids Alive–I’m The Mom Who Couldn’t

Not all moms can keep their babies alive.  I'm a mom who couldn't.

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 that it’s a joke. I wholeheartedly believe that 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 my 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 judgement 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 acknowledgement. And that maybe my ability to be vulnerable will help others consider the impact of their words.

Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

28 thoughts on “Congrats On Keeping The Kids Alive–I’m The Mom Who Couldn’t

  1. I read your post and have been following you for several weeks. I am a stay at home dad in Lancaster, PA. We lost Jamie at 31 weeks in 2010 in the middle of a move from Philadelphia, PA to Omaha, NE. I’m from NYC and my wife is a high risk Ob/Gyn (MFM) from Palo Alto, CA. We have 3 boys, ages 14,11, and 8…Jamie is #3, AJis the 8yr old. I would like to converse with you more on the language that is used around a loss as that is a focus in our foundation, Walking Forward Together. I fully appreciate what you write because there are so many triggers in language and actions that a couple goes through after a loss. My website and email address are part of my post. Please feel free to contact me.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story and bravely addressing this issue of being careful with your words….choosing compassion over humor is easy in this case. Instead why can’t people say: “At least the kids ate today”. Or “At least they didn’t run away to Grandma’s house!”. I work for a large manufacturer, doing admin support in the engineering division. Sometimes in very detailed technical discussions, someone will say “infant mortality” when what they mean is “premature part failure”. I have never lost a child, but I just can’t abide that expression . I let them know politely that those words are potentially hurtful and then we quickly move on. Stay strong and know that so many admire your strength, transparency, courage and compassion. Best wishes on your journey.

    2. Ironic how I found this blog, read the comments, and we are both from Lancaster PA. I wish you and your wife the best. I am sorry for your loss.

  2. I happened across your article, and I want to say I am so sorry for your loss, and understand your reaction to the statement you wrote about. I haven’t experienced the death of a child, but I have experienced the death of my dreams for my child. My oldest child, now 39, though loved, cherished, nurtured by not only my husband and me, but by an extended family, active with us in church, etc. chose his own path of substance abuse, and resulting multiple arrests, multiple car wrecks, child abuse, divorce, prison time, long-term unemployment, etc. etc. I have similar reactions to statements like: talk to your children about drugs/smoking/etc. etc, and they won’t get involved. I know our loss is completely different, but you can also mourn for a child that is living. My hope: Psalm 27:13 “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

    1. Thank you for sharing this perspective with me. I agree. You can absolutely mourn for a person who is still living. Grief is not just for death. ❤️ I’m so sorry for all that you’re going through with your son.

  3. I too have lost a living child. It really sucks. She just stopped wanting to try to be part of a family, or maybe her brain injuries prevented it, but it is. I don’t have any idea what it is to lose a child that never lived, but I will say that losing a living child who has not died, is a special level of hell.

  4. I love this so much!! I went through many unknowns with my oldest son being born with heart defects and having open heart surgery. I was always thankful I didn’t know the deep pain of actually losing him as I felt that experience was enough. Little did I know 6 years down the road I would feel the pain. I lost my baby at 9 weeks through a silent miscarriage and then proceeded to go through procedures and then an emergency DNC after hemorrhaging almost a month later. There are days where you are absolutely right. Something can completely blindside you. Mine was a couple of weeks ago when I got an email from a website I had forgotten that I signed up for reminding me and talking about the 20 week ultrasound and finding out the sex. I literally sat and cried my heart out. I’m sorry for your loss. Hugs to you❤️

  5. I will never think or read this statement the same ever again. Thank you for educating and bringing awareness to how those words can make people feel. After going through years of infertility and a few miscarriages myself, I absolutely understand how triggering some things can be, and yet I’ve still uttered the words “at least I’ve kept the kids alive” about my twins. I feel so bad for how that may have unintentionally caused so much pain to others. I am so sorry for your loss.

  6. I will never think or read this statement the same ever again. Thank you for educating and bringing awareness to how those words can make people feel. After going through years of infertility and a few miscarriages myself, I absolutely understand how triggering some things can be, and yet I’ve still uttered the words “at least I’ve kept the kids alive” about my twins. I feel so bad for how that may have unintentionally caused so much pain to others. I am so sorry for your loss.

  7. Thank you for sharing. My mother passed on Feb 22. I also had 2 miscarriages after our 2nd born son. July 2014, and again July 2015. Almost exactly to the date. I couldn’t keep my two (angel) babies alive either. There is a master plan here somewhere. We ended fostering to adopt and we were blessed with a little girl! We named her Faith and we adopted her shortly after she turned 2. God Bless you and your family.

    1. I felt this. I hear people say, “I’m going to go jump off a bridge”, as a joke when something bad happens to them. But I end up crying when I hear someone say this because my brother actually did that 6 years ago. It never gets any easier to hear. I imagine it’s even harder when it has to do with your own child. Love and hugs to you.

  8. Thank you. I lost my baby at 16 weeks gestation in 2014. I still suffer so much pain from the loss. I have living children but I so wanted this little one. I have triggers that I am not coping well with right now – I feel like reading your words that I am not so alone in my pain.
    The following year, 2015 I lost my rainbow baby. Now I’ve lost my hope of ever having another baby because I am just getting old. 😢

  9. I have 3 children thriving in this world, but I also have four pairs of footprints tattooed on my ankle for each baby that lived inside me but never experienced life outside. Tomorrow is Jacques’s day, when my husband and I will take the 21st yearly visit to our baby’s grave. You are not alone. More children bring their own Joy and life to our lives, but they will never replace the unique individuals lost.

    1. I definitely felt this and I am so sorry for your loss. I have never lost a baby that I was carrying, however my youngest of 3 died at 8.5 months old a week to the day after your daughter. She had pneumonia but we didn’t know, and she died in her sleep while my husband and I were at work and she was with a sitter. I hate Leap Day and I wonder if she was taken that day so I wouldn’t have to face it every year. Now I feel it confusing as the pain is there but I can’t always really identify her anniversary. A few years later I was at a first birthday party (in late February mind you) for a friend who had tried for years to get pregnant. Since most people forget the pain and exhaustion of being a mom I congratulated her because really, it was her day too. This same woman who helped plan my daughter’s service replied with, “We survived the first year!” I was speechless and lost myself among other parents. Our relationship has been distant ever since. It always amazes me how some of the people who were closest to me during the worst time of my life have said the most hurtful things AND not even recognized it after they did it. Many hugs your way! It is amazing and disappointing to see how many are in the club no parent wants to be a part of. You are not alone 💗

  10. I too have three angel babies I couldn’t keep alive. I understand the pain in those words. Thanks for sharing and putting the pain of those words out there.

  11. Me too. I actually cringe when I see the phrase. The intended joke is supposed to mean that the bar is set so low in parenthood that at least they kept them alive. When I see the joke, it feels like that on their worst day they were still a better parent than the one that couldn’t. Not by choice, just couldn’t. And that really hurts.

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