Life After Loss and Grief

I was asked recently to fill out a survey on grief by a friend writing a research paper in Nursing School.  I’ve honestly helped several people in the past few years as they struggle with either a personal loss or someone they know or love has recently lost someone.  I’m not totally sure why but I felt the need to turn this into a Blog post in my own little corner on the web.  Loss is a hard subject for most but one we all must deal with at least a handful of times in our lives (if not more).  So here it goes.  It’s honest.  Raw.  You may need a box of tissues.  If this helps at least one person then I will be happy I put myself out there.

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Can you tell me about the death?

My Pastor just recently said “Death is a bully” in one of his sermons.  I couldn’t agree more.  It hits like a tidal wave.  Sometimes it’s completely out of the blue.  Sometimes it comes with warning.  But it’s never easy.  It leaves you in it’s wake and then the grief hits.  You’re left to pick up the pieces and it just doesn’t make any sense.  Then all of a sudden even when you don’t want to move on life just happens.  Before you know it-it’s been eleven years since you lost your loved one and the ebb and flow of grief still comes but it’s intensity is lessened.

What happened that day?

On September 19, 2006 I went in at 36 weeks for an ultra sound to check my growth.  I had been measuring small and they wanted to make sure everything was okay.  The tech left abruptly and came in with my Doctor.  I knew something was wrong the second she left the room.  Little did I know how wrong.  They told me and my husband that the baby no longer had a heartbeat and that they were sorry.  They’d give us a few minutes and then we’d make a plan.  He was our first baby.  I remember immediately going home and looking for stillbirth in “The Pregnancy Bible” there was one paragraph devoted to it.  ONE paragraph to sum up a life altering loss.

Do you recall what your initial thoughts or reactions were?

We were nineteen and twenty years old and had just celebrated our one-year anniversary.  We were in complete and total shock.  I knew about miscarriage; I didn’t know a thing about stillbirth.  I remember thinking “There must be something they can do”.  “Maybe they can check again”.  “How could this have happened”?  His heartbeat was fine only three days before.  They came back in and explained what would happen.  They would induce me the next morning and I would deliver my lifeless son.  With any “luck” we’d have an answer in the delivery room.  My body would experience everything as if I was having a healthy baby and they would help me suppress my milk when it came in.  They apologized and my Doctor was teary, he was truly incredible to me.  The next day it was only an eight-hour process.  He came out quickly and silently.  There is not a more deafening silence than that of a stillbirth delivery.  The only sounds were Brandon and I gut sobbing as we saw our sweet lifeless baby. He died due to umbilical cord torsion (a fancy way of saying his cord became tangled and clotted-like an old telephone cord it also was three times the average length at 120cm, for reference this happens in .01% of all pregnancies).

Can you describe to me how you feel you went through the grieving process? Was there a certain order in which you experienced “the stages of grief,” or re-experienced them?

Honestly, the stages of grief are right on.  I was absolutely in shock for about the first month.  Passing my due date was the first milestone and it kind of closed the pregnancy chapter for me.  However, Noah was delivered on September 20, 2006 and having the Holidays follow shortly after was a punch in the gut.  Denial came and went with his delivery.  Once we left the hospital with empty arms and picked up the tiniest urn from the funeral home it all sunk in.  Bargaining was the same.  I only bargained for about twelve hours pre-delivery.  I begged God to bring back his heartbeat before the induction (I knew God was capable; I didn’t sleep at all the night before), they checked one more time with the Doppler but there was nothing.  Depression and testing occurred I would say for at least a solid year.  Thanksgiving was awful.  Christmas was even worse.  My husband and I left dinner with a big group after I was asked “What was wrong and why I wasn’t smiling?”, we ate dinner alone together that year.  I have very vivid memories of my first two panic attacks that year.  They were awful.  I felt like I was dying and honestly I wanted to at the time I honestly wanted to.  Acceptance came with the birth of our second daughter (four years after losing Noah).  I remember being so overwhelmingly happy with my husband and my two girls that for that moment if nothing else in my life ever changed, if we never had another boy, I was totally content.  It was SO freeing.  I would say anger and depression are the stages I revisit most often, even still after all of this time (going on twelve years this September).  Every year his Birthday comes and goes.  The whole month leading up to it I am especially anxious about it’s impending arrival.  Then on the day we celebrate with our now four children usually with balloons and a cake.  I want them to know about their brother and see me be sad but I don’t want it to be a completely sad day.  Children can’t grasp that kind of grief they can only grasp small bits of it at a time.  The older they are the more they understand.

In what ways are you feeling differently now, as compared to the past?

I said earlier the intensity of it all is less.  Typing this has had tears streaming down my face but I am okay and happy to share my story.  It makes me feel as though his short life mattered.  All of the feelings are still there but I’m not as fragile or volatile about them as I once was.  I’ve walked along side several people now with various losses and it is so good to be able to help others navigate this new unchartered territory for them.
What would you like people to know about your feelings right now?

They are all still there but less intense.  I have the same grief I did the day I delivered him but so much life has happened in between now and then.  That minimizing, belittling, or taking ownership of someone else’s feelings is never okay.  My loss was mine.  My experience was mine.  No one else’s.  My journey was mine and no one else’s.  When people try to take that away from me or talk about their experience with loss it infuriates me.  Even my own husband’s journey has been different through this.  I would never look at him and tell him how to feel or grieve.  Yes, we lost our baby together but we also dealt with an individual loss.  Every individual is allowed to have their own feelings, validate them, and move on, do not make it about YOU.

Who has been the most supportive to you, and in what ways were they helpful?

Obviously our immediate family experienced this all very first hand with us and were great. There was one particular friend who had suffered loss in her life and just loved me through it.  She never judged me.  Never expected anything from me.  I felt free around her during that time.  She defended me when I needed it.  She never used her own experience with grief to undermine my own.  She just listened and wasn’t in my direct circle of relationships.  She was just what my heart needed during that time.

What were some helpful things family or friends either said or did to help you along in the grieving process?

Honestly, just being there.  People loving us through it.  Laying aside expectations and letting me navigate on my own.  When people take ownership of your loss it’s not okay.  People don’t know what to say and so badly want to relate.  Don’t.  You can’t.  Every individual is going to experience their loss uniquely.  No one has a greater loss than the Mom and Dad.  Period.  End of story.  The family grieves too but not on the same level.  The person that carried the baby and the spouse trump everyone else.  Let them have that at least if nothing else.

What were some unhelpful things family or friends said or did?

Unfortunately, this list could go on for a while.  Probably because they leave such a scar.  People want to say something because they don’t know what to say.  I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  Keep it brief.  “I’m sorry.  I’m praying for you.  Let me bring you a meal.  Babysit (if they have other kids).”  That’s it.  That will keep you from inserting your own foot in your mouth.  Also, keep in mind that the loss lingers for months and years after.  Awful things were said to me.  I was asked if I had unconfessed sin in my life (I am a Christian).  I was told to be thankful for the time I got with him and that I could get pregnant.  I was told that maybe I was spared him dying in childhood of an accident or disease, so maybe I should be thankful.  I was told about countless miscarriages so they could relate to my own loss (I am not belittling ANY loss but merely stating that anyone trying to compare losses is not usually well received. – For example, today I met another Mom of four who told me she had experienced six miscarriages along the way.  I honestly didn’t even mention Noah because I didn’t want to even chance coming across as someone trying to compare, relate or top losses).  I was told it was God’s plan.  I was told it would be okay.  Someday I would understand.  Are those things all true?  Yes.  Are they helpful to hear in the midst of grieving? No, no they are not helpful.  Not even a little bit.  Again “I’m so sorry” “I love you” “I’m praying for you”. That’s it.  Stick to those and you will most likely never be on someone’s “What not to say list”.

What kinds of things did you do to help you through the loss? What was most helpful? Least helpful?

The most helpful thing I did for myself was find a support group.  It was life changing while I was in the fresh season of loss.  The group ranged from miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss.  It was such a safe place.  We could all openly share without judgment.  It was so freeing.  We could all relate to one another but were very respectful of each individuals feelings being different.  We could talk about our spouses, families, friends, things that hurt us.  That was a gift.  I would highly recommend going to a support group for anyone.  I was part of the group until I was about halfway through my next pregnancy.  The women were gracious and said to keep coming.  Out of respect to newly grieving moms I stopped going.  Seeing a pregnant woman after grieving a baby is so hard.  I needed it for only a season but it was an indelible experience for me.  The least helpful things I did were probably hold tightly to anger and bitterness.  There is a reason why the divorce statistics are high for couples that lose a child.  My husband and I fought a lot initially because we were hurting so badly.  It wasn’t until we were intentional about coming along side of one another that things got better.  We were able to help each other grieve in a healthy way and that was a gift to each of us and our marriage.

Well, there you have it.  I hope this single voice may help you understand better the grief someone feels after pregnancy loss.  Show them grace if nothing else.  Lots and lots of grace. Thanks for stopping by!

xoxo,

Stephanie


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