You lost your baby. No matter when that happens, you’ve not only lost your child but you’ve lost the hopes and dreams that you imagined for that child since the moment you found out you were pregnant.
It is one of the hardest circumstances any person can ever face. How do you start to accept your new reality? It’s something we all search for an answer to, and yet there never seems to be quite the right explanation. That being said, there are some things I have learned about losing a baby—and the means by which I began to accept what happened—that I think will help get you on the path to living a peaceful, happy life again.
Let me be clear—when you lose a baby, there is never closure to the subject matter at hand. You never learn to forget about your baby; nearly 15 years after I lost my first pregnancy, I remember it as vividly as the day it happened. But quite honestly, I don’t want to forget that baby or any of the others I’ve lost. Forgetting them would deny their existence, and that’s part of what’s so hard about losing children.
As parents, we always remember; it’s everyone else who forgets. I’ve found that over time I have learned to live better with the agony of my loss. I’ve discovered that, while I experienced a pain that was truly numbing, and one I thought I’d never recover from, I could actually survive it. With the passing of time, I even discovered that I could find grace in my life. While time did not heal my wounds, it did allow me the capacity to find some level of acceptance. These are some first steps for learning to live with the loss of your baby
Get help from a professional
We all think we’re tough, but certain difficulties in our lives may require that we seek help from an outsider. There are counselors and therapists who specialize in helping people who have experienced the loss of a baby. Sometimes speaking to a well-qualified professional is easier than sharing your deepest, darkest secrets with the ones you love. This can be especially true if the people around you feel as though you’ve grieved for long enough and you should “just get over it.” Or, it’s important if after several months, you can’t pull yourself out of the funk you’re in.
It’s crucial to be mentally healthy. You need to achieve this for your spouse or partner, you need to do it for the future child you may want to have—or the children you already have at home—and most of all, you need to do it for yourself. You deserve that. I did not at any point seek professional counseling after our pregnancy losses, but looking back, it’s something I wish I had handled differently. I believe my recovery would have been smoother, and that perhaps I would’ve felt less guilt as a result of losing our pregnancies.
I also suggest speaking to a professional because there were so many times that my husband and I did not grieve in the same way. I think this is quite typical, not only because men and women tend to view circumstances from a different perspective, but also because every individual grieves in his or her own unique way. You shouldn’t forget that women naturally experience an altered grieving process by virtue of being the baby’s carrier. Women deal with not only the emotional loss, but the physical loss as well (plus, we have hormones messing with our minds). Any of these disparities can lead to resentment, which is not healthy for a marriage, and is so often why couples get divorced after such a tragic loss.
Pretend to be happy for a while.
This might sound like strange advice, but I believe in it. Please understand, by no means am I suggesting that you ignore clinical depression (see Step 1, above). After our first pregnancy loss, I needed to find coping mechanisms to get through my days. They were simple things, like offering a fake smile when someone showed me an act of kindness, or pretending to have a good time while out at dinner with friends.
For a long time, I wore a mask of happiness, which successfully hid the depression and guilt I carried for months after our losses. To be honest, pretending to be happy was exhausting. But eventually, a genuine smile would sneak through, and for a few minutes, I found myself actually feeling whole again. Those minutes turned into hours, and finally I discovered that I had entire days that felt pretty good. Pretending to feel joy became a self-fulfilling prophecy by physically reminding my body what it felt like to be happy.
Seek help from your faith, and know that questioning it is normal.
As a Christian, I was offered the most significant help by a dear friend who was somewhat like a father figure to me. His name was Timothy Coke Doughtie. In my book Making Angels, I share a series of letters that Tim wrote to me after the passing of one of our babies. He so eloquently explained to me that, “acts of God and acts of nature are wholly different. Nature rules the random course of things . . . part of the dynamics God put in place for Creation.”
When we lose something so precious, we may question God. Why would God have imposed this pain on us? Did we do something to deserve this? We even wonder, Is there really a God at all? I believe it is through that very suffering that we learn to see the gift in our tragedy. For me, it was only after I began to understand that there was a bigger purpose, and a divine plan to my journey, that I fully accepted what had happened to us. Strengthening my faith is what really helped me find peace again.
I am fully aware that not everyone shares this sentiment, or even believes in a God. For those of you in that category, hopefully the other suggestions I provide will get you on the path to recovery. I will say that, despite my faith, (ironically) I found it very hurtful to hear people say things like, “God always has a plan,” or, “There’s always a reason for things like this.” I know, I know . . I came to some of those very same conclusions myself. But, in the midst of my mourning, it was NOT what I wanted to hear.
One of the worst things people could say to me was, “Everything will work out fine. God only gives you what you can handle.”
I was so unsure of my faith and what I believed at the time that it only made me angrier to hear those sorts of things. I needed to travel my own path to those conclusions, for them to make any sense. A simple, “I’m so sorry. If there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know,” would have been sufficient after losing my pregnancies. I hope that one of the things I do better now is offer words of comfort to other people who are experiencing grief, of any kind. I used to feel desperate to find the right words, but now I realize that saying something extraordinarily simple is perhaps the best. If the other person indicates a willingness to talk more, or is comfortable having a discussion about faith, then I am happy to discuss it further.
Surround yourself with loving people who will support you while you recover.
I have gained an enormous understanding for the pain that others feel when losing a baby. As a result, I can help other women and couples in a manner that only someone like me can. I don’t have to imagine how you feel. My firsthand experience has equipped me with an insight unique to those of us faced with a devastation that seems insurmountable. My suggestion is that you seek out women who have a story of loss similar to your own. They will know how to help you more than most other people, even family, who want so desperately to alleviate your pain.
In today’s world, we are fortunate to have access to online support groups, chat rooms, blogs, and other professional resources that cover just about every type of pregnancy loss. Depending on the size of your hospital or community, you may have access to a local support group. You can also ask your doctor or nurse for advice on how to get help with perinatal loss.
Find ways to bring joy into your life again.
One of the most important things you can do to start feeling better is to find ways to bring joy into your life again. Examples of this would include: volunteering your time in an environment or organization that is meaningful to you, establishing (or re-establishing) an exercise routine, scheduling a lunch date with a friend, taking a cooking class, or joining a book club or Bible study group. It’s not always enough (or even an option) to bury yourself in work as a way to preoccupy your mind. And quite frankly, that’s not necessarily going to bring you joy—it’s just keeping you busy. I want you to experience authentic happiness. The baby you lost would want that for you too, and if you have other children in your home, they want to see you happy as well.
It is my hope that these five beginning steps will aid you as you journey through your own grieving process of learning to live with loss. Above all else, please know that you are not alone!
To read more about Stacey's story, please visit her site/blog at www.makingangels.com. Or, you can order her book, "Making Angels: A Story of Blessings on Our Journey to Have Children after the Heartache of Infertility, Miscarriage, and Late-term Pregnancy Loss" by clicking here.