Can there be such a thing? Not sure, but I know that there is a way of grieving well that can bring you out on the other side with acceptance and some sense of peace.
New grief is strong, unrelenting, and can be completely incapacitating. When you first lose a baby you are still very much attached to your child emotionally, even physically. Hormones wreak havoc, milk comes in (if your loss was later), our bodies can still “look” pregnant and we can certainly still “feel” pregnant. Some people akin losing a baby to losing a limb. Even though your baby is gone, he or she can still very much be felt with the heart, body and soul.
I believe the care we receive and how we move through the grieving process when we experience a loss can make or break how we fare with our grief. When I had my first miscarriage the care I received was marginal. The doctor was almost flippant about telling me there was no heartbeat, and when I ended up in the emergency room because of a reaction to a drug prescribed for excessive bleeding, the doctor never even bothered to show up. My grief over that miscarriage was intense. I felt as if I couldn’t talk about it to anyone about it. Because of all of those factors my emotional recovery was slow, painful and not very “healthy.”
After I gave birth to my stillborn twin sons, in many ways I was fortunate. The care I received from the nurses, doctors and other hospital personnel was phenomenal. I believe that that truly mitigated my healing process. I was able to express and release my pain, and didn’t bottle it in. I grieved loudly, and for a long time. But in some strange way I was made to feel that some how, some way I would be O.K.
At the time I wasn’t aware of the phases of bereavement, or of some of the physical symptoms I would experience caused by of the intense grief I was feeling. I am listing those phases and some signs and symptoms you may experience if you are going through this below, in the hopes that you might understand there is a natural order to the grieving process, and that your grief will eventually soften with time. You may also find with time that you incorporate the loss of your baby into your life, you “adjust” to your loss and your memories of your pregnancy and baby become bittersweet.
The following “tasks of grieving” were taken from the California SIDS Alliance and based on phases of grieving as outlined by the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and J.W. Worden on understanding the grieving process:
- Shock and Numbness/Accepting the reality of the loss- This is the initial phase of grief where you may feel stunned, have emotional outbursts, functioning is impeded (not eating or sleeping well for example) and you have difficulty making judgements. You can’t believe this is happening and have difficulty accepting that your baby has died.
- Searching and Yearning/Experiencing the pain of grief- In this phase you may be very angry or guilty, restless, sensitive to stimuli and you may test what is real. You realize your baby isn’t coming back and at this point you find yourself feeling really intense pain over your loss. It has been found that people who allow themselves to succumb to this intense pain are better able to move forward through their grief later on.
- Disorientation/Adjusting to life without your baby- You may feel disorganized, depressed, guilty, and have an awareness of reality. Your intense grief pain begins to subside a bit, and you begin to think about your life- what to do with your baby’s things, going back to work, getting pregnant again.
- Reorganization/Moving On- You have a sense of release, renewed energy, make judgements better and return to normal sleeping and eating habits, adjusting to life without your baby. You may feel some sense of guilt during this phase- thinking, ‘how can I be happy when my baby has died?’ But you do allow yourself time to feel happy again, knowing that you will never forget your baby and that your baby will always hold a special place in your heart and in your life.
The ideal goal of “good grief” is to move through these phases over time (you may move back and forth through certain phases, but overall your grief is forward moving). If you start feeling “stuck”, please seek help either from your doctor or a grief counselor.
Some signs and symptoms you may experience throughout this time are: exhaustion/fatigue, loss of appetite, aching arms, blurred vision, restlessness, shortness of breath, irritability, resentment, overwhelming sadness, preoccupation with the child who died, mood swings, isolation (you don’t do the things you did before), anger with spouse and/or God, and the list goes on.
Good grief is hard work, and while you may feel bits of normalcy early on, it will take a while (a year or two, sometimes even longer) before you really feel “normal” on a day to day basis.
Over ten years after having my miscarriages and giving birth to my stillborn twin sons, I still miss them and wonder what life would be like with them here. I do cry about them sometimes and feel a bittersweet sadness that they are not with me today. My older living son often says that if I had had the twins there would be four boys in our family. The fact is that wouldn’t be true. I would have stopped at two children. And I would never have known my living sons…I couldn’t imagine my life without them. Life has a funny way of working itself out that way.
And I’ve said this before, but please know you are not alone in your grief. There are so many of us out here remembering our babies with heartache and love. Until next time…hang in there.