This Squawk Box feels very personal to me, it is actually, as it come from one of my very best friends.
I have known this lady in real life for almost 7 years and we are quite close. We became even closer when we both wound up pregnant at the same time last year.
I was pregnant first, by about 3 months, but getting to experience all of the crazy that comes along with pregnancy with such a dear friend was an experience I treasured. She had gotten pregnant easily, despite having PCOS. Her pregnancy was fairly textbook. When she went into labour we were texting and I remember being so excited for her! Everything should have gone well… And then it didn’t. Unfortunately, after 3 days spent fighting for her life in the NICU, my friends darling baby passed away.
This one is really emotional for me, it was a hard and yet empowering read, I share because I know her story can help others. She writes elegantly about her grief experience and how she is starting to move forward with her life. The picture I chose today represents that… her willingness to move forward in her life, even without her daughter by her side. It’s something no one likes to think about. Never mind talk about. Kudos to my darling friend for being so open with her feelings and even bigger props to the incredible amount of strength she has shown over the last 7 months. Love you, lady! Here is her story:
Empowered and Determined: My Story of Grief
Written by: Moving Forward Mama
Published with the author’s permission.
Lots of things happened when I left the hospital without my baby:
- I received lots of flowers, food, and cards.
- Everyone called my parents to ask them what they should do…my parents felt like no one was acknowledging that they also had a loss.
- My husband and I shared a deeper and more meaningful connection, but we wished we didn’t have to.
- People told us to go to church, but at church everyone wanted to physically and emotionally hug me…while I still had an open wound, it seemed to create further trauma instead of healing.
- I noticed a phenomenon in our culture; people above a certain age respond with something along the lines of “you can always try again,” while younger generations say something more like “that is the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen to a person, I hope you survive it.”
- I experienced Empty Arm Syndrome, for two days I tried to hold my husband or bags of flour to try to fill the biological need to hold my child. Nothing worked but time.
- Taking care of others’ emotional process became a significant part of my journey.
I did manage to sleep between cries the first night home without our child, I had been awake for almost 4 solid days, either birthing or standing in a NICU, fortunately exhaustion took over. I remember when I woke up at home in my own bed, I had a very brief moment of clarity and peace, I thought to myself “My journey through grief will get to look how I create it. Just because everyone says it will take a year before I feel back to my normal self does not mean that will be my experience. I am going to remember to enjoy my husband and focus on taking care of myself during this journey, I am going to work with grief, I am not going to let it be the boss of me.”
For the most part, I’ve stuck to that vision. When I’ve felt happy I allowed myself to laugh. When I feel angry and sad, I allow myself to feel those emotions fully; when the sobbing starts to slow and I feel myself take an actual breath, I let the moment pass. I think that’s how I made my grief bearable – when I felt it, I didn’t push it down, and, when the emotions were clearing up, I didn’t pull myself back into them. I decided at the beginning of my emotional journey that I would not judge myself for being happy, because, I knew I would fully feel all the sadness and turmoil that comes when you’ve turned your life upside down to bring home your first child only to be left empty handed.
When we first got home from the hospital we sent text messages to our friends, I know that sounds crude but it was all we could handle at the time. A few days later I decided to email my girlfriends, I told them ‘the story’ and how I was doing. I also alerted them to the fact that I was putting one person in charge of suicide watch (Unpregnant Chicken as a matter of fact). I committed to them that if I started to feel depressed I would let her know. Then, I asked them all for space for a while. I let them know they could message me and I may or may not respond. This email was the extent of my ability to take care of others during the first few weeks.
Taking care of others has been a large part of my journey. It’s been 8 months and just this week I ran into someone who didn’t know. When she asked me how my baby was I was literally on a ladder drilling a hole into a wall, so when she immediately lost all the color in her face and started crying I figured I’d better stop what I was doing so she could hug me. “I just need to hug you” is something I’ve heard a lot. It’s been long enough now that I’ve made peace with it, but for a while I was very guarded about leaving the house…everyone has their own beliefs and stories about infant loss, when I mention my own loss, they’re not only reacting to the news but to whatever sadness they already had, and I was expected to share in the moment. Sometimes, it is lovely to be able to share grief like that. But sometimes, I’m having a great time with the music in my headphones while picking out fruit at the grocery store, I’m simply not in the mood to force myself to be sad to accommodate someone else’s emotional process.
That being said, I don’t envy anyone who has to learn my news and figure out what to say or do. Some of my clients are middle aged men who now just avoid me because that’s easier than trying to make conversation. Some of the women at my church, to this day, will look at me from across the sanctuary, as if I’m a celebrity that they’re curious about but don’t feel they can speak to. Because infant loss is not a common topic our culture generally has no idea how to handle it. Two of my male friends from a previous job text me one day, they’d both been crying in each other’s offices and they were unhappy about being in that situation. I replied: “I understand you’re uncomfortable with your emotions right now, especially in front of each other…but it’s not my job to fix that for you. I’m busy fixing me right now.” Of course, they were not intentionally asking me to worry about them, but that is what happens when people tell me that they do not know how to handle my loss. They’re seeking a way out of their emotions, so they come to the person most deeply affected for permission to both be sad and quit being sad. I tell people not to worry about me and that I’m doing well, but I cannot journey their emotional process for them. I give hugs and try to dust off anyone’s emotions that are not my own, then I put my headphones back in and focus on the joy I had before someone else heard the news.
I am very fortunate to have married a wonderful man. I have heard many women say that their husbands have shut down and never talk about the baby again. My husband and I talk about her all the time, we talk about our anger, our sadness, our hopes, our fears moving forward…and anything else that could come up. That being said, we both sought some individual counseling as well. While our emotional journeys have been very different, we have both honored each other’s path.
As of this writing it’s been less than 8 months since I delivered and said goodbye to my darling daughter. I feel her when she’s around. If I get too sad she shows up to remind me that she really is with me, and to get back to work. I can feel her telling me not to get stuck in sadness and fear. So I continue to move forward, I recognize that she is not here and that I am. I continue to try my hardest to heal and move forward in life because she doesn’t get the same opportunity.
I’ve learned a lot during my grief process, this is my advice:
- Give yourself the freedom to not go to some of your old stomping grounds before you are ready to share the news. If there will be people who will remember that you were pregnant but are not likely to have heard about your loss, be honest with yourself about whether or not you have the energy and desire to deal with that situation.
- Come up with a standard response when people ask about your baby. Ex “Thank you so much for asking, unfortunately the baby didn’t make it. I’m touched you remembered though, I appreciate you asking…”
- Allow your loss to bring you closer to others when possible.
- Don’t give more than you have, honor wherever you are on any given day, the next day will be different.
- You get to write your story, don’t allow others’ expectations to define your grief. It may take you 6 months or several years to feel “normal” again, how long it takes does not matter.
- Be patient with yourself, recognize how strong you are just for getting out of bed and declaring your life worth living.
- Recognize, accept, and be grateful for all of those in your life who are supporting you. (For me: my husband, Unpregnant Chicken, my parents, my counselor, my pelvic floor therapist, etc.)
- Look back and remember the days when your arms felt empty and your heart felt shattered, realize how far you’ve come since then. Honor your strength and perseverance.
These are the thoughts that have sustained me:
Infant death is difficult and disappointing but how I handle it is up to me. Who I choose to surround myself with is up to me. No one else can live in my heart and know how much I love my daughter, how much I talk to her and feel her spirit around me – and that’s ok. This is my journey. I do not have a child to hold, but I am not a victim, my daughter is alive and well in spirit. I got to hold and sing to my child, I will forever be grateful for her impact on my life.
In love and bravery,
Moving Forward Mama