Guest Post: Counter-Factual


As I come up on a year since my son, Sebastian, was born and died, I find myself at a vastly different place to the one I was at a year ago, and even six months ago. I could not have imagined the day after he died and I went home to an empty nursery how I would feel exactly one year later. I could not have imagined then that I could ever be happy again. Every day in the weeks immediately following those awful ten days was a struggle for control – over my emotions, over my urge to self-medicate with alcohol so that I would forget, and over my deep desire to rage and scream and break everything remotely breakable.

For weeks afterwards I would cry to my husband, convinced that he wished he’d never married me; that he’d never made me pregnant. Perhaps if he had married someone else – anyone else – he would have been spared the pain of losing his firstborn son. Perhaps this other wife would be healthier, slimmer, smarter even. She’d definitely be sweeter and more even-tempered, and they’d have at least two children by now.

I now realise how ridiculous that all is. I now realise a lot of things I never thought I’d have to.

Mostly, I’ve come to understand that in order to get through grief (the kind that is all-consuming and irrational), you have to understand the concept of a counter-factual.

A counter-factual is what renders ‘what ifs’ irrelevant and useless. You cannot imagine another scenario because the other scenario is simply not possible. It doesn’t exist. It certainly doesn’t exist in your current context.

Yes, of course I’d be happier if my child had lived. But that statement assumes that I would know the pain of losing him. It doesn’t account for other circumstances or scenarios. Perhaps he would have suffered brain damage from his traumatic birth, which meant that he wasn’t getting enough oxygen for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Perhaps I would have suffered from post-partum depression. Perhaps he would have lived, grown up and then died later in a car accident or from an extended illness. Perhaps he would have lived and my second child would have died. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

The only way to the other side of your grief is through it. Don’t dwell on what could have been because it isn’t. Honour your lost child with the grief that he or she deserves, and then live your life with the joy that you deserve too.

A year goes by so quickly, and yet, the first year after experiencing the loss of a child is the longest year you will ever have. I am proof that you WILL feel better, you WILL survive. And − if you want to and choose to − you will more than survive: you will live.

Eventually, almost a year later, you’ll find yourself doing the impossible: You’ll catch yourself making plans that don’t include babies. You’ll find yourself laughing at a silly joke. You’ll find yourself cooing over a friend’s newborn baby and clicking ‘Like’ on a family member’s maternity photos. And you’ll do it all without guilt, jealousy, anger or sadness.

You’ll never forget. It will hit you at the oddest times: Today he would have been ten months old. This time last year we were on our babymoon. I would have probably started planning his first birthday party by now, etc. But it’s a counter-factual, so you smile wistfully (maybe cry a little bit) and then carry on with your day. Because this is your reality now, and you have stuff to do.

Author: Tania Kliphuis

I’m Tania and I live in South Africa with my wonderful husband, Warren, and my two English Bulldogs. I am a freelance writer and editor. My son, Sebastian, was born nine weeks early on 19 November 2016 and died just nine days later from a severe case of necrotizing enterecolitis. I’ve also had two miscarriages (before and after Sebastian). But I’m okay and looking forward to exciting things!


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