The funny thing about baby loss

Stillbirth isn’t funny. Dead babies are not generally known for their comedic potential outside of punching down cheap ‘edgy’ gags that pretend to push the boundaries but in reality are no more sophisticated than a snickering school child trying to shock their mates. That, or in games where they are literally reduced to all purpose punchline.

While taboos still exist they will always be fodder for cheap gags. But then along came Lou Conran.

Lou Conran talks about dead babies as part of her comedy show. She doesn’t do it for cheap gags, it is her own baby she is talking about.

“Baby loss is something which so many experience and we need to talk about it, to acknowledge those babies,” she says. “Comedy can make things more accessible. If you can ease people in with a laugh, you can say more. You have them listening.”

Many of us in the club no-one wanted to join work hard to raise awareness. We tell our stories to those that will listen (and even to those that don’t) to try and erase the horrible stigma and harrowing loneliness it brings.

Few of us do it with jokes. Maybe to each other but generally we tell our sad stories sadly. We may edit out the funny moments because it seems obscene that anything could be funny about such soul crushing loss.

“That’s the thing with tragic situations – most of the time they’re fucking hilarious.”

Not for Lou though. She said bollocks to that. She has been telling a sad story with comedy and in doing so raises awareness by opening people up to hearing those stories. By all conventional (i.e. wrong) wisdom the shows should have been empty of all but the most ghoulish but they have been packed. The reviews glow.

“From the excruciating cringe-comedy of her friends’ attempts to cheer her up, to her plan to lighten the mood in an operating theatre by accusing a gynaecologist of fisting her, she finds the belly laughs throughout.

It’s a brave, honest hour that keeps the tears at bay with wicked punchlines. At one point, Conran mentions wanting to challenge taboos around the loss of a child. This show doesn’t so much break those taboos, as smash them into pieces while telling bawdy sex stories, making loud fart noises, and cracking gags about shitting yourself at a funeral. Go prepared – but for God’s sake, go.

There’s no denying this is a tough topic, but Conran makes it much easier to approach. That is part of the aim, to erode the expectation of silent stoicism among women who’ve experienced such loss. But also she never loses sight of the fact that the primary goal of a Fringe show is to entertain, even if moments of quiet sadness are allowed too.

We’re told by so many people that our stories are too sad to be told to a wider audience. Lou’s show blows a hole in that argument and goes beyond. I, and so many others, are hugely grateful not only for raising awareness like this but also showing us we can talk of the funny amongst the horror without guilt or shame.

“The tragic event wasn’t funny and never will be, but the events surrounding the build-up, and afterwards were”

It’s not just about raising awareness but also money for baby loss charities like Saying Goodbye. You can donate to help her raise £50,000 here. If you want to know more about her story you should read her excellent blog for the Writer’s Room.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. christine says:

    Such an interesting post. I agree that some humor can make a very scary, sad topic more accessible, even though this most devastating, heartbreaking situation is anything but funny. One of the things I’ve noticed is that people are so inept at dealing with such immeasurable loss that in the aftermath life becomes almost a joke, a series of awkward run-ins and conversations you can’t believe are real (i.e. being on the receiving end of a baby shower invitation or something of sorts). Sometimes humor can help deal with these moments too…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 1in160blog says:

    I’ve taken to having an extremely morbid sense of humor. Primarily referring to my support group as the DBC (dead baby club). It’s totally sick. My friends are catching on. Yesterday, one remarked “C. must be your easiest child to keep track of, she’s always right on your dresser.” And it didn’t bother me or upset me. But maybe it’s because it was that particular friend? Who knows. I’m just a really sick person these days. Good thing I’m in therapy.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Margaret Pritchard Houston says:

    1in160blog, your comments made me LOL.

    Elizabeth McCracken has a wonderful line in her memoir about stillbirth, where she talks about the saving power of black humour – “like a beautiful sunset through the ashes of a bombed city.”

    At my son’s burial, I sat next to my best friend in the cemetery – she’d lost her mother when we were 22 – and said, “we’ve got to stop meeting like this …”

    Dark humour can save your life.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. ShoeboxofM says:

    I understand the healing power of the darkest of comedy but what is interesting to me about Lou’s show is that the comedy is used to make the message more acceptable to a wider audience rather than to members of the DBC.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. neuroanatody says:

      Accessibility matters a great deal. We get so used to the topic that we forget how jarring it is. And we are not in a place where we’re able to consider that others are allowed to have trouble with it even if it happened to us and not them.

      I sometimes think how stillbirth is in a similar taboo space where rape by a familiar person was some decades ago. According to societal knowledge, that just didn’t happen. And if it did, it must have been unbelievably, exceptionally rare. I bet people would say all the wrong things in front of victims all the time. But now we know better, and there is some idea of what to (not) say or do and of the challenges involved. And the sources of support extend beyond immediate personal connections of the victims.

      Things are different today with the internet. Bereaved parents can connect with each other and give each other comfort and strength. But I still have the feeling that we’re huddling some dark corner, out of sight of everyone else. That most of us are aching to be understood and helped by those who have so much more strength and fortune, that we’re waiting to be fully accepted for who we are now, and bitter that this never happens.

      It’s rare that one of us steps outside the comfort zone of other survivors, and tries to tell our story in a way that takes outsiders into account, even cheering them up along the way. It shows great spirit and compassion despite the utter tragedy of loss. Hats off to Lou Conran.

      Liked by 1 person

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