Is Ignorance Really Bliss?

Paul and I are in the middle of re-doing Rubén’s scrapbook and it has evoked a lot of emotions as you can imagine. The first scrapbook we decided to do was somewhat rushed  probably because we were too eager! I find as parents to a baby that has passed away, we often act on impulse as unfortunately, there are very few things we can actually do for our son as his parents. So when I came across some better quality scrapbooks and accessories, I commenced what has now turnt out to be a full blown operation. I mean, I have everything. From buttons, to sequins to different coloured felt/metallic/pearlised paper – you name it I’ve got it. Anyway, I realised there were quite a lot of photos that we missed out from the first scrapbook so I was ploughing through my mum’s old phone and I came across some photo’s of me in labour.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. My mum dropped Paul and I off to the hospital around 11am and went to work as we all assumed it was yet another false alarm. By 4pm, she was rushing back as they were going to prep me for theatre. My mum has always been a bit snap happy when it comes to taking photo’s and she often takes photo’s at what feels like the most inappropriate time. I was both too out of it on morphine and too in pain to realise that she was snapping away at the time and Paul was too worried but when I came across this photo, it got me thinking…

Taken with Lumia Selfie

If we had known at the time, that these were going to be our last few hours with our healthy baby boy, what would we have done differently? Is ignorance really bliss? When I asked my partner Paul, he was adamant that prior knowledge would have made it all the more difficult, although he did say that it would have given us the opportunity to capture particular miracles such as recording his heartbeat – something we were naive in not doing. But overall, he would not like to know. In reality, what could we have done regardless? Fate dealt our little family a shocking blow.

Although I can see this perspective, I felt as though I would have like to have known. Firstly, we missed out on so many opportunities to create some memories with our boy because that was not our main focus. Our main focus was ‘getting to know him’ during those 3 weeks we had with him. Secondly, I feel a sense of: ‘if we had known, something could have been done to prevent this’. How true that is, we will never know. Finally, I feel like this was not the outcome that was intended. I felt cheated that, there were no signs, other than the contractions (which we did not know were contractions), that I was going into or already in labour; my cervix – closed, my baby – content. I can’t help but feel that this was not the way it should have gone.

In doing some research surrounding the origins of the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’, I stumbled across Thomas Gray’s famous poem. Here, he reminisces on the blissfulness of youth of the children at Eton college and the major theme is the certainty of suffering, grief and death for humanity. As sombre as this is, he decides to keep this knowledge from the children, as he knows that their state of bliss is temporary. To Gray, although the children are happy, they are deluded and those delusions keep them happy until their growth into knowledge reveals the adversity of life. I feel that ignorance has it place in life. For example, parents protect their kids from knowledge that may be too difficult or confusing for them to bear. As parents, we want to prolong that temporary happiness for as long as we can. You often hear the phrase ‘let them be children’ and it is almost universally acknowledged that children should be carefree and not be burdened with the realities of life. And as humans, I feel it is crucial that there are ‘unknowns’ in life as often, this is where we grow. If I had known what was going to happen, maybe I would not have grown into the person I have become because of it. I went through my phases of anger, grief, depression, sadness and I am now at a place where I feel I have a different outlook on life to other people my age. In every tragedy, there is something to be learnt and sometimes, unfortunately, these lessons are learnt in the hardest way.

My perspective, after discovering this poem, has now changed. What happened to our baby will always be an injustice, whether we were aware of its inevitability or not. Nothing can or will make us feel like this is the way it should have been. But we have both grown so much and that growth has come in a variety of ways. I have learnt a lot about myself and my partner and I think that the biggest lesson came from our not knowing. We have an acquired appreciation of the fragility of life and an understanding that tomorrow truly isn’t promised to anyone… as cliche as it is. We were able to listen to our baby’s heartbeat without worry – we were convinced he was OK and that knowledge, albeit false, surrounded us with calm during the most stressful hours of our lives. And while we are surrounded by the view that human progress is tied to our increase in knowledge, this experience has proven to me that there are some things that can only be taught in ignorance.

“…where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise” – Thomas Gray.

Yan xo



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