No Matter What Your TV Says: I Promise Not to Steal Your Baby

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Why does TV consistently portray grieving mothers as insane murderers?

I'm sure the title of this caught your attention. People generally don't proclaim their intention to do you no harm with such forcefulness unless they are actually intent on harming you. I felt it necessary, however, due to the common characterizations of bereaved mothers on television.

As portrayed in the media, grieving mothers are generally in one of two categories: those who kill other people because the date of their child's death "triggers" them somehow to become mass murderers, and those who steal other people's babies because they are unable to accept the loss of their own. 

I've met many mothers who've lost children over the last six years. They come from all walks of life; they are rich and poor, of all different ethnicities, varying political and religious views, and not one of them has ever stolen another woman's baby or become a mass murderer. It is virtually unheard of for a woman to steal a baby after infant death.

In addition, one in four women will suffer a pregnancy loss in her lifetime.... The number of women who have suffered this type of child loss is astronomical. Yet, very few women will attempt to steal another woman's baby after a miscarriage.

In fact, child stealing to replace a lost baby is one of the rarest of all crimes. 

Now, I'm sure I haven't met every single bereaved mother on the planet. I'm also sure that someone will post links to a story of a mom doing something terrible out of grief. There's always an exception to every rule, and anecdotal stories are commonly presented as proof of error by those who don't know any better. 

But -- statistics show that the uncommon woman who steals a child is more likely to do so because she has a tenuous hold on a partner with whom she is trying to maintain a relationship. 

In other words, in the rare event of a woman trying to "replace" a baby of her own (which almost always happens after pretending to be pregnant and only occasionally after a miscarriage) it is for a man. 

When questioned afterwards these women are lucid. They have carefully planned out their assault, even searching for women who look like them in order to increase the likelihood of procuring an infant who looks like them. When caught they are usually only remorseful for their criminal penalty and/or the loss of the relationship, not the loss of the kidnapped child -- or the loss of their own child if miscarriage was the impetuous. 

Why am I sharing this with you? 

Because like most Americans, I enjoy crime dramas.

I love to watch Dr. Reed pontificate about obscure facts while his team looks on in parental admiration. 

Bones and Booth? They're the parents I wish I had growing up. 

But what I'm not so enamoured of is the multiple storylines focusing on murderous bereaved mothers. 

{As a disclaimer, I'm not the "trigger warning" type. I don't expect writers to change their storylines because of my feelings... Just making a statement here.}

There seems to be a pervasive belief that women who lose children are somehow beyond control in their grief, and that allowing them to "dwell" on their child loss is dangerous. Encouraging women to move on as quickly as possible is our society's norm. We offer quick euphemisms and then when they fall flat, we decide we "didn't know what to say", instead of acknowledging the truth: we just wanted her to stop talking about her dead baby and kept talking until our callousness shocked her into silence.

We're afraid of bereaved mothers. These media portrayals don't help assuage that fear. They make women who have lost children look unstable and monstrous. 

Instinctively we all understand that the most primal bond between humans is the bond between mother and child. There is no sexual union, no other familial union, no close friendship which will ever eclipse  the union between parent and child. Even more so for a woman, as she has carried the child within her body.

When that union is corrupted by loss, we grieve differently than we grieve any other loss. When a child dies, the future dies with him/her. Children are ours in a different way than our parents and other loved ones are, and their death turns our destiny into something we can't control through hard work and free-will. Child death is not supposed to happen, to anyone. So we grieve long and hard and deep.... And this is what the contemporary narrative is picking up on. They are picking up on the crazy grief which surpasses all other griefs. 

Why does this really matter, if I'm not a "trigger warning" type of person? 

It plays into how bereaved parents are treated. More importantly, it can play into how they are treated in clinical settings.

When I delivered my daughter I was offered antidepressants less than 12 hours after her death. I was mystified. I declined, telling the doctor "I think I am supposed to be sad right now, my baby just died". In the days following, more than one nurse remarked that I was uncharacteristically calm -- one of the calmest bereaved mothers she had ever worked with. I can only assume they were worried about my mental health. I think I was in a state of shock. 

One thing I wasn't was homicidal. 

I also wasn't itching to run into the nursery and steal someone else's baby. To be honest, in the initial time period after losing an infant, most loss moms don't want anything to do with babies. We avoid baby showers, we've unfollowed you from Facebook if you made a pregnancy announcement, we don't want to talk about your pregnancy, and we don't want to visit your newborn.

It's also kind of insulting that you believe our babies could so easily be replaced.

We don't want your baby, we want our baby. 

The idea of a bereaved woman who somehow becomes so crazed she is unable to control violent urges is part of the (extremely) dated concept of the instability of "hysterical" females. It affects how we're treated by medical professionals. It affects how we are treated by our peers in the workplace. It affects our relationships with our spouse and other family members. Because those around us are so afraid of the "uber-griever" they assume that any display of extreme emotion is a stepping stone to complete insanity. 

We are hindered from expressing the deep, deep pain we feel regarding our loss. Most of the loss moms I know become very adept at hiding their grief, very quickly. This suppression can often cause unnecessary suffering. 

As I said above, I am not a trigger-warning type of person. I would, however, like to offer a suggestion to those in media:

The next time you have a storyline which features a bereaved mother, why not show who we really are? Why not show the extreme solidarity found between mothers who have lost children? The thousands upon thousands of memorial items we create for one another? The one-on-one support systems we have created for other suffering loss? 

Loss mothers are some of the most courageous and passionate women I have ever known. While I wish that I did not belong to this group of women, I am so fortunate that this sorority exists and has welcomed me into its fold.

You can choose to portray us any way you like, but be mindful that in continuing to portray us as murderous kidnappers, you are continuing a narrative which was outlined in the distant past, when women were seen as little more than bottles of emotion.

It would be amazing if you could promote a more accurate picture of the compassion and fortitude of a loss mom. You would be helping our families, friends, and medical professionals to treat us how we deserve to be treated: like human beings who suffered the greatest loss a person can suffer, and need time to grieve our children, instead of viewing us as lunatics to be avoided at all costs.

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