Soundwaves Perinatal Bereavement Support

Bereavement Support For Parents Grieving the Loss of a Baby During or Just After Pregnancy

Good Grief June 25, 2009

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.

 

Father’s Day June 16, 2009

The Father’s Day after I gave birth to my stillborn twin sons my husband and I hosted my family at our house for a dinner together. My niece made my husband a tie out of paper and crayons. She also made one for her own father (my brother) and her grandfather (my father). My husband and I had not yet successfully had a healthy, living baby. Upon seeing my husband wearing the tie, my father said “Hey, why did you get a tie? You’re not a father yet.”

Those words cut me like a knife. And although he didn’t say anything, I’m sure my husband was hurt as well. I had had two miscarriages and carried the twins for six months when they were stillborn. Weren’t we parents? I felt very much like a mother.  And I know my husband felt very much like a father as well.

For the tenth anniversary of our twins’ death this past September, my husband wrote a beautiful tribute to them. I would like to share it with you here, and dedicate it to all the grieving fathers who have lost a baby. I will be thinking of you this Sunday…

Ten years ago marked one of the most painful events in our lives.

There is nothing like the loss of children… particularly first children.  The grief is unique… and deeply painful.  It steals hope and destroys dreams.  It challenges faith.  It raises the simple question, “why us?” 

But is also renews faith, as a reminder that there are some things only God knows… leaving us with only acceptance… letting go… but remembering.  Trusting God.

I can only surmise God’s plan for taking Joseph and Andrew.  It is not within my power to know it.

Perhaps it was to leave a loving mother behind… to always remember… and to be of service to others in similar pain.  Perhaps remembering renews love and commitment for the two beautiful blessings God has now provided for us… Andrew and Matthew. 

Perhaps God brings us emotional pain as an opportunity for true humility.  To help us to see what is really important.  To see where he wants us to serve others.  It is through seeing the truth of these things… if we allow ourselves to see… that He leads us to true joy in our lives… to gratitude in each moment.

But this is all supposition for now.  Maybe the real answers will be revealed when we meet Joseph and Andrew, again, in God’s eternal kingdom.  Until then, I thank Joseph and Andrew’s Mom for remembering… and taking me here from time to time… for a refresher in pain, humility…  joy and gratitude.

 

The Roller Coaster June 8, 2009

After having two miscarriages, giving birth to stillborn twin sons and experiencing lots of infertility in between,  I came to know the “pregnancy roller coaster” all too well. Here’s how a typical month in my life at that time went:

Two weeks into my fertility cycle I became excited that maybe, just maybe, this was the month I was going to get pregnant.  When my temperature, ovulation predictor test, or any body signs indicated I was about to ovulate, I called my husband. If the time was right, he knew he had to do what he had to do,  no matter what the circumstances. One time we rushed home between a wedding and a reception. Another time I got up at four o’clock in the morning before he had to leave on a business trip in order to try and conceive. Those days were rather humorous on occasion, weren’t very romantic, and were at times quite frantic, driven by our(my) intense desire to have a child.

The next two weeks after I ovulated were hopeful, anxious and tense (ten years ago when I was attempting to become pregnant there was no such thing as an early pregnancy test).  Each month I went out and bought two or three pregnancy tests in the hopes that maybe one would show a positive result (we should have taken out stock in the company that made those things!). 

Most of the time the result was negative. I was crushed, depressed and imagined I would never, ever become pregnant. And the three times I did have a positive result my pregnancies ended in disaster. I was beginning to think I would never conceive, carry a baby to full term and give birth to a live, healthy baby. 

And then the cycle would begin all over again. I stayed on that roller coaster for a little over five years. Infertility treatments weren’t for me. I figured if I was meant to get pregnant, it would happen. But lots of friends and family were becoming pregnant seemingly with ease, and I was left sad, jealous, angry, empty and broken hearted.

Then, one day I had a forth positive pregnancy test. I was cautiously hopeful.  Could this actually be the one? I made it through my first month (the length of time I miscarried for the second time), and then my second (the length of time I miscarried for the first time), and then though four more (the length of time I carried my twins). All the while I was pretty much a basket case, couch potato (I didn’t want to do anything physically to jeopardize this pregnancy) and nervous wreck. The months went by and I miraculously stayed pregnant. We were told the baby I was carrying had a one in seventy-two percent chance of having Down’s Syndrome (based on my age and  blood work). I didn’t care. A level two ultrasound determined that he (it was a boy) was most likely going to be fine (whatever that meant).

Finally, after a knuckle biting forty one weeks (he decided to stay inside of me an extra week just to give me a bit more anxiety and distress), my son Andrew was born. It was a joyous day. Nineteen months later (I didn’t want to wait another six years to have another baby so my husband and I started trying quite soon after my first son was born) my son Matthew was born.

So, I’d love to say it all ends happily there, but of course nothing in life is easy. Both of my sons suffered from extreme colic as babies (that about sent me over the edge- fodder for another blog someday) and both have allergies and asthma (we rushed my younger son to the emergency room seven times when he was a baby because of breathing difficulties due to asthma and dehydration from stomach bugs- yet more information for another blog in my future). He ended up in intensive care on one occasion.

My children have not always been the easiest kids to raise- both are very active and defiant. But as I always say, survival of the fittest! I worry about them a lot- probably much more than the average parent.

There are of course many moments of pure bliss, like when my younger son cuddled up with me in bed this morning, showering me with kisses and saying, “I love you, mommy.”  I treasure my children for who they are, and for those those many times in our lives that now make the whole “roller coaster” of my life worthwhile.

 

The Mourner’s Bill of Rights May 27, 2009

My dear friend Jennifer whose baby Zach was stillborn sent me the following “Mourner’s Bill of Rights.” It was written by Alan D. Wolfelt Ph.D. author, educator, grief counselor and director of the Center For Loss and Transition (http://centerforloss.com).

He writes, “The following list is intended both to empower you to heal and to decide how others can and cannot help. This is not to discourage you from reaching out to others for help, but rather to assist you in distinguishing useful responses from hurtful ones.

1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.

No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don’t allow them to tell what you should or should not be feeling.

2. You have the right to talk about your grief.

Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. If at times you don’t feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.

3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.

Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don’t take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.

4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.

Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don’t allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel ready to do.

5. You have the right to experience “griefbursts.”

Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.

6. You have the right to make use of ritual.

The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you the funeral or other healing rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don’t listen.

7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.

If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.

8. You have the right to search for meaning.

You may find yourself asking, “Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?” Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for the clichéd responses some people may give you. Comments like, “It was God’s will” or “Think of what you have to be thankful for” are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.

9. You have the right to right to treasure your memories.

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.

10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.”

 

I AM a Mother- Coping with Mother’s Day After a Loss May 8, 2009

Mother’s Day can be an excruciating day for parents who have lost a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death- especially if the child who died was the first for the grieving parent. A day that is supposed to be filled with joy and happiness is often empty and cold for the childless mother or any mother who has lost a child. 

On the first Mother’s Day after I lost the twins, I wanted to scream “I am a mother” to any one who would listen! I had no other children at the time, and felt so angry and alone. I had carried my twins for six months when they were stillborn.  They were loved and anticipated for all that time, indeed for many months, even years before they were conceived.  Just because they weren’t physically with me didn’t take away the fact that I was their mother.

I found a wonderful set of suggestions for coping with Mother’s Day written in a book by by Lisa Church of HopeXchange (www.hopeXchange.com) entitled Hope is Like the Sun:Finding Hope and Healing after Miscarriage, Stillbirth or Infant Death. Rather than making it a dreaded event to endure each year, Church encourages women to use the day to remember their babies. “Nothing will lesson the pain of Mother’s Day, but with some planning you can make sure the day has meaning for you,” says Church. Here are some tips from her book that may help:

– You Are a Mother.

The best gift you can give yourself on Mother’s Day is the acknowledgement that you are a mother. You may not have a baby to hold in your arms, but you do have one in your heart.

– Let Your Family Know What You Need.

If you feel uncomfortable being recognized as a mother at a banquet or other function, substitute an activity you would feel good about. If you would rather not receive or wear a flower, then wear an item that helps you to connect with your baby, such as a piece of jewelry that includes the baby’s birthstone.

– Remember Your Baby.

Mother’s Day can be a great time for a husband and wife to talk about their baby and what the baby meant to them. Take a walk, have a quiet dinner, or just set aside some time to remember your baby together.

– Decide Ahead of Time.

The way you chose to spend Mother’s Day should be your decision- and one you make ahead of time. Setting time aside to remember and talk about your baby will make you “feel” more like a mom on the very day designed to do that. Church also reminds women that their spouses may experience similar feelings on Father’s Day, “so be sure to ask how he would like to spend the day.”

I will be thinking of all of you and your children who have died this Mother’s Day. God Bless.

 

Losing a Friend May 2, 2009

Grieving parents who have lost a child (women in particular) occasionally find that close friends and even family shy away from them.  People who haven’t been through this excruciating experience may not understand why the bereaved parent is feeling such intense grief toward a child they “didn’t even know.” These same people may be extremely uncomfortable with the death of a child (or death in general), but are made especially uncomfortable if the loss is a miscarriage, the child is stillborn or lives only a short while. Friends or family members may have their own unresolved feelings about the situation or perhaps fear the demise of their own pregnancy or children. For whatever their reason, they don’t know what to say, and eventually stop contacting their grieving friend or relative.

We often say in our groups that losing a baby is one of the last taboos in our society. It is such an incredible shame, because most of us just want a friend who will listen to our stories about our baby who has died, or simply want someone to hold our hand while we cry. It is painful enough to lose a child, but to lose friends or relatives over the situation is doubly so.

I found a wonderful resource at the following web address:  http://www.handsupport.org/friends.html. They give some great suggestions for friends and family of a parent who has experienced a neonatal loss. I also added the “Hand of the Peninsula” website  to the blog roll on the side of this page (please note that I added some other new resources  there as well). March of Dimes also has a resource page for those close to a family who have experienced the loss of a baby (this includes some good suggestions for helping the siblings of a baby who has died). Their page can be found at http://www.marchofdimes.com/pnhec/572_4057.asp. Please print  these resources and give them to friends or family members if you are finding they are having difficulty dealing with your grief. Perhaps it will help them to support you in your time of need.

 

“Just a miscarriage…” April 6, 2009

Filed under: Bereavement Support,Loss of a Baby,miscarriage,Stillbirth — Claudia @ 1:52 pm

There are an estimated 500,000 miscarriages reported in the United States each year. The way a woman reacts to an early pregnancy loss is often determined by her level of attachment to her unborn child prior to and after conceiving. Often times, women who suffer a miscarriage will hear from friends and family things like “you’re lucky- at least you know you can get pregnant,” or “you can always try again” or the worst “it was just a miscarriage.”  These words are of little comfort to the woman who has been trying for years to get pregnant and/or desperately wanted the baby that died.

I suffered two miscarriages in my quest to have a child. One miscarriage happened before and the other happened after I gave birth to my stillborn twin sons.  Although my experience with the twins was devastating, my miscarriages were each heart wrenching and difficult to bear.

My husband and I had been trying to conceive for two years before I got pregnant the first time. I wanted a baby so very badly. By the time I finally did become pregnant I was so attached to the idea of having a child that I was in love from the moment I saw the result of my positive pregnancy test. I experienced spotting twelve weeks into the pregnancy and went for an ultrasound to see if everything was OK. A few minutes after the examination began, my former obstetrician flippantly told me that there was no heartbeat. I began to cry. I was given the option for a D and C, and then was told that after I was able to pull myself together I could leave (there were pregnant women in the waiting room I’m sure she didn’t want me to upset).

That  first miscarriage hit me hard, and completely changed the way I perceived my future. I panicked that I might not ever be able to have a child. The physical pain was far more intense than I had anticipated (I opted to miscarry naturally without a D and C, and I also ended up in the emergency room due to a bad reaction to a medication my former obstetrician put me on for excessive bleeding). I was afraid to try to conceive again. My relationship with my husband changed for a time as well. He really wanted a baby of his “own” and I began to think of adoption. It was a very difficult time.  

I reacted very differently after my second miscarriage. Nearly five years had gone by since we started trying to have a baby. I became angrily determined to conceive and carry a child to full term live birth. Perhaps it was this tenacity (or just pure luck) that led me to my successful fourth (and subsequent fifth) pregnancy. Each of my children are a part of me I will never forget, leading me on a tumultuous yet ultimately positively life-altering journey to parenthood.  But each of my two early losses were never “just a miscarriage” to me.

 

Two Experiences March 13, 2009

Filed under: Bereavement Support,Birth,Loss of a Baby,Stillbirth — Claudia @ 7:42 pm

A little over two years after I gave birth to my stillborn twin sons my son Andrew, now age 8, was born.  The two birth experiences couldn’t have been more different.

When the twins were born the room was silent. There were no cries from the babies (even though I knew they had died inside of me I thought that perhaps by some miracle the doctors had been wrong, and that they would be born alive and well).  There were no cries of joy from my husband and me. I screamed in emotional agony as each boy was taken away to be cleaned and dressed. One of the nurses cried, too. Just writing about this brings me right back to that tiny, dark hospital room. It was the middle of the night, and I had been in labor since early the morning before.

The nurses asked if I wanted to see and hold them once they had been cleaned and dressed. I didn’t think I wanted to at first. I was scared of what they would look like, and how I would react to them. Plus, the effects of my epidural hadn’t worn off, and my lack of physical strength combined with my emotional state made me hesitate. My husband gave me the space and time to decide when we would see the boys. After a long while when the effects of the epidural finally began to wear off I told the nurses I was ready.

Soon, two nurses walked into the room holding my sons. Both nurses were smiling. I found that curiously comforting. A nurse gently handed  me one the boys (we named him Andrew), and handed my husband our other son (named Joseph).  The first thing I noticed about my son was how beautiful he looked. At the time, I thought he was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. I look at his pictures now and see that he was tiny, not quite developed, and his skin dark and very wrinkly.  But at the time I was too in love to notice those things.  

I examined every inch of him, undressing him to see every part- knowing I’d never see him again. Everything was there- little fingers and toes, beautiful belly, pouty lips. I gave him a kiss, and then took Joseph from my husband. I examined him from head to toe as well, showering him with kisses.  Then I held them together, breathing in their beautiful baby smell.  I felt strangely proud to be holding them. They were my boys- to whom I had given birth.

We held them for a short while longer, then it was time to say goodbye. The nurses took them away, and I broke down once again. It was the beginning of many months of tears and depression. But I felt fortunate to have held my sons for that brief time, loving them the way only a mother could.

Two years later my son Andrew was born. That day was every bit as nerve wracking as the day the twins were born. We were in the same hospital on the same floor just down the hall from where I had given birth to the twins. Thankfully, the outcome was completely different.

My obstetrician left an office full of patients to be at Andrew’s birth. I liken the experience to being at a football game. I pushed for nearly three hours, but for each of those pushes I was encouraged by a room full of supporters. And when Andrew was finally born, the room exploded with joy.  I will be forever grateful for that experience (and the birth of my fourth son, Matthew). I truly appreciate the gift of their precious lives each and every day. The twins have given me so much, but that will forever be their greatest legacy.

 

A Grieving Father February 28, 2009

When my twin sons were stillborn over ten years ago, my grief was incredibly intense and lasted for a very long time. I don’t think I was feeling myself again for more than a year after their death. Daily tasks and even laughter were difficult. I have since learned that is very normal for a mother.

My husband had a different experience. I think because he didn’t form the attachment to the twins as I did early in my pregnancy, and because men for the most part grieve differently than women, he was able to “pull it together” within weeks after their death. He resolved his feelings by going back to work and taking care of me. He learned the words to the song “Tears In Heaven” by Eric Clapton and played it on his guitar. But that was for the most part the extent to which he showed his grief.

At first I was very hurt by the fact that he didn’t seem to want to talk about the babies as much as me. Nor did he want to visit their grave as often. We attended a support group together a couple of times, but he didn’t really want to go after that. I felt he wasn’t truly sharing the intense grief experience I was going through. At the time I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t seemingly feeling the same pain.

Through my experiences since, I have learned that what my husband exhibited was very normal for a grieving man. For the most part, men aren’t as emotional and tend to work out their feelings through doing, like going back to work or taking care of a grieving partner. Although this is not true of all men (everyone grieves differently), it was in my experience.

We were among the fortunate that our ordeal with the twins brought us much closer together as a couple. Through our lost children and grief we became stongly bonded forever.  Unfortunately, not every couple ends up that way.

There are many resources for grieving fathers and their partners on the internet. The National Share office has a pamphlet on their website found under “Support Resources” that fathers might find helpful.  The M.I.S.S. Foundation has a Father’s Page found in their “Family Resources” section. Both websites can be accessed on the side of this page.

Until next time both mothers and fathers…take care and hang in there.

 

Coping With Valentine’s Day February 13, 2009

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. Although it is a day that typically celebrates love, for many of us it is just a reminder of our broken hearts. Be good to yourself today. Here are some things you can do to ease the added stress of the holiday (some of these suggestions came from Compassionate Friends):

  • Plan some time to relax. Do something for yourself that you enjoy- even if it is for a short time. Watch a good movie, read a good book, take a warm bath, take a walk, get plenty of rest, eat a special meal.
  • Honor your baby today by making a special memento (write a poem or note to your baby, make a special Valentine’s Day card for him or her, light a candle or plant a flower in their memory, share your mementos or memory box with family or special friend).
  • Decorate the gravesite or memorial site with hearts, a special stuffed animal or flowers for the holiday. If your baby has siblings, let them help.
  • Give a holiday donation to a charitable organization in memory of your baby.

And I know I’ve said this before, but please remember that you are not alone. Take one day at a time, and don’t push yourself too hard. Be kind to yourself today. You so deserve it.