First Day At School
It’s that time of year where social media is full of photos of children in their new school uniform standing by their front doors. Sometimes they’re very small and it’s their first day at school; others are smartly dressed and ready for another year. The hashtags #FirstDayAtSchool #FirstDay #BackToSchool and #NewTerm run alongside the photos, where families make and share memories.
What do you do if your front door is empty? Or if not all of your children are present to be photographed?
For all the undeniable celebrating and cuteness there’s a hidden grief and reminders of loss that can be particularly difficult to deal with.
Those who’ve had a recent loss or are going through loss currently may struggle, as may those who’ve had multiple losses or are dealing with fertility issues or are childless. Losses that happened years ago can still be acutely felt, with reminders not just of children lost but potential grandchildren also. Alongside imagining the futures of children that did not survive.
You might feel understandably angry, jealous, sad, bitter, or anxious; to name a few of the complex emotions that go with loss. Or hope that this might be you in the future. Or happiness for the children of relatives or friends you want the best for.
Being able to express these feelings is more difficult. You may feel it’s unreasonable to talk about how hard seeing all these photos is for you. Or perhaps other friends or family members unfairly tell you that you shouldn’t raise your sorrows while others are celebrating.
How, then, might you manage?
There are several options. One is to recognise you are not alone in finding this time of year difficult. Many people struggle even if they don’t openly talk about it. That in itself can be reassuring.
The next is to accept that for a short while social media and some press coverage (including local papers) will centre on back to school conversations. You might decide to mute your social media or avoid it for a week or so until things calm down.
If you have friends or family you know will be sharing images you might want to tell them how you wish their children well, but are finding it really difficult to see all the photos. Going further if necessary by asking loved ones to support you. That might include them sympathetically excluding you from their back to school conversations or to privately send you photos of children you care about that you might want to view in your own time, when you feel up to it.
It is fine to tell those you care about, and other colleagues and associates that this is a particularly difficult time and while they have every right to share their photos and stories you also need acknowledgement, respect and support. If necessary specifying what that might be.
Alongside these ways to care for yourself you might want to talk about your babies, to name them, to imagine their futures, to note on your social media or in other conversations offline how you also have babies you cherish and need to be acknowledged.
This may be a time to find solace in music, poetry, meditation, prayer or other ways to focus on and acknowledge your feelings. Particularly if you are overcome with thoughts about ‘what might have been’ or what your child(ren) and you will not get to do.
Some people photograph their front doors without any children in front of them to remember babies who are not forgotten. This may be a statement you’d like to make, and an important one at that, but equally it might be too triggering for you or potentially confrontational so might not be for you.
Other people recognise their child(ren) would have been particular ages by now and make donations to their local schools for equipment, materials or other resources in memory of their child.
It is entirely for you to decide how you deal with this time of year. You might have different approaches in different years; find particular social/media coverage more triggering than others; or find things feel easier or harder in particular years. There is no set reaction. You can always change your mind about what you want to do, or note that what you’ve done one year didn’t feel right and do something different the next.
Looking after yourself is a priority, whether that’s time to reflect and remember your babies; self care for you; or seeking support from charities or therapy.
Don’t forget while other people are sharing their stories and photos they may hide all manner of sadness and losses you aren’t aware of. And their happiness isn’t meant to deliberately hurt you – although of course it can. Just because you don’t have a first day at school photo to share does not mean you don’t have a baby to love, celebrate and remember.