Well Rounded Birth Prep

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

My grief & healing from miscarriage, 3 years later

This will be my last Debbie Downer post for a while. I promise. Bear with me. This is fresh on my mind because of October 15th Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day last week, followed quickly by my due date with Evan today, October 21. Even though we all know that due dates are worthless, October 21 is all I have to hold onto for remembering Evan's "birthday." Evan would/could/should have been 3 years old today. I always feel better starting on October 22.

For the past three years, I've managed to move along with daily activities with my four remaining children for most months of the year "just fine." I still think of Evan often, but the sting isn't as new, fresh, or intense. It varies from person to person and from year to year, but in comparing notes with other moms who have lost little ones, here are just a few common "grief triggers."

I feel like I have to defend, define, explain, and give disclaimers for everything I say about loss. I wish it weren't that way. For me, I'd loosely define "grief triggers" for me to be something that brings back a wave of sadness or remembrance when it hadn't been on my mind much for some length of time. Even still, I occasionally have to work to fight back tears when I'm in public or among people who I cannot trust with my heart, after a grief trigger.

Baby's anniversaries and/or "angelversaries" are almost always trigger times. "Angelversary" usually means the anniversary of baby's death. In the case of miscarriage or infant loss, a parent may recognize the date of the ultrasound when no heartbeat was found, the day that bleeding began, the day that the baby was actually (physically) miscarried, the date of D&C, or baby's burial date as an angelversary. Other tough anniversaries include the time of conception (if known), the date of the positive pregnancy test, and baby's birthday or EDD (Estimated Due Date) which represents the would-have-been birthday.

Spending time with friends who were pregnant at the same time with close due dates or birthdays to the baby we lost can be hard. It can be difficult to see their beautiful, glowing, round bellies next to my empty one; later, it is hard to watch them cuddle their adorable newborn or toddler run around and think to myself, "That's how big Evan should have been by now."

Along those lines, walking through the baby aisle at stores and attending baby showers can be difficult for a while. It's tough to weigh whether to attend a baby shower and fight back tears the whole time, hoping that no one notices, to honor a mother-to-be for her special day vs. having an emotional breakdown and sneaking off to the bathroom to cry and trying to clean myself up, blow my nose, and put wet, cold paper towels on my face to reduce the obvious redness before anyone notices I'm missing and heaven forbid might ask me "What's wrong?" and set off the crying all over again. I can attend baby showers now quite happily, but I really struggled to attend them in 2007. By 2008, I had an easier time attending baby-centered events because I was pregnant again and had that joy and hope.

Mother's Day and Father's Day are obvious grief trigger dates. Well, you would *think* they would be obvious grief trigger dates, but for some families, it's a day to honor the grandparents, but not the parents. Some families have family traditions that are rather set in stone, and they get offended if the parents who recently lost a baby don't want to join in and celebrate. Others take that time as an opportunity to judge the parents for "not being thankful" for the living children they have. If the parents who have lost one or more babies have no living children, these days can hurt especially deeply because many friends and family do not even acknowledge that they are parents at all.

Any festive holiday normally celebrated can be a grief trigger, thinking how far along we would/could/should have been at that point, how big our belly should have been, what we might have worn, or how big the baby should have been. Holidays are the time that we daydreamed about getting to show off our baby to distant relatives or friends that we don't see often. These are also the times we think of "firsts": what the first Valentine's Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Festivus or New Year may have looked like. Empty Christmas stockings or Easter baskets. Baby's holiday-themed outfits and matching bibs, socks, or hair bows. Possibly baby's first solids tried at the family table.

For the months immediately following my loss, I found celebratory events of any kind to be very difficult to attend, including children's birthday parties, weddings, and family reunions. It just seemed so wrong somehow to be in the depths of mourning and surrounded by festivity and smiles. The juxtaposition of extremes made those days far more difficult than the mundane, routine days. Big events also glaringly highlighted the missing person, in my eyes. The missing baby in the family portrait. The missing baby at the celebration dinner table.

I can attend all these celebrations normally now, but I don't know how I did it in 2007 when my grief was so raw and overwhelming. I wish I had not forced myself to attend events to please other people and in fear of criticism if I did not attend. I should have opted out.

Answering the everyday question, "How many children do you have?" was extremely difficult for me for the first two years after the loss. Even though I knew that the politically correct answer was to give the number of live children I had, I felt that this was a betrayal of Evan. This was compounded by the fact that I was pregnant one year after my loss, and how do you answer the question "How many children do you have?" during pregnancy? If people didn't believe that my Evan was a real child because he wasn't viable or a certain arbitrary number of weeks along or born yet (or insert other excuse here), why would they believe or count the baby in my belly? A family member wouldn't even include my baby (who was born a year after Evan died--this person never did include my Evan in any tally of "how many children") in the tally when a friend asked how many children I had. I was 8 months along at the time.

After the birth of that fourth (fifth) child, I found it easier to answer the question more simply. I understand that most of the time when people ask how many children you have, they're just making polite conversation and they don't even really care about your answer. Nevertheless, it took those two years for me to answer it the way America wanted me to. Sometimes I try to avoid answering the question. If all my children are present with me when someone asks that, I introduce my children instead of giving a number. I also find myself answering, "E is 8, G is 6, J is 4, and K is almost 2," or "I have 3 girls and a boy at home," which avoids pinning myself down to choosing between 4 and 5.

The two best pieces of advice I received about healing from child loss both came from friends who had, themselves, suffered miscarriages.

The first was the analogy of healing from loss and grieving the way the body heals from a painful physical wound. At first, the wound is so raw and vulnerable. It can be accidentally reopened so easily, such as accidentally and unintentionally crying all over an acquaintance in a grocery store or dentist's office who happened to ask how the pregnancy was going or how old the baby was by now. This kind of reopening of the raw, intense wound on my heart embarrassed me and made me hate myself for revealing such vulnerability to someone who I normally would not unload upon. As with physical wounds, emotional wounds too eventually heal with time and gentle care, and become scars. At first the scars are bright pink and still tender to the touch. Eventually they are silver and shiny war scars, showing where you have been and how far you have come. These tough, silver scars can withstand a lot more pressure or injury than could have been tolerated when the wound was fresh. I really relate to analogies, and her explanation made so much sense to me. I still think of her story often.

Another friend reminded me that when we lose a loved one, we re-grieve every loss we have ever mourned. This friend (who suffered a miscarriage before I did) shared this bit of truth with me earlier this year when one of my dearest friends, Sandi, died suddenly and unexpectedly (leaving behind her two sons, ages 6 and 8, who were close friends of my children). Naturally I was crushed by the intensity of the grief I felt for her sudden passing, but when my friend shared that, I realized she was right. I felt myself mourning all over again the losses of my baby in 2007 and of my dear grandmother (who raised me) who died in 2003 and of my grandfather who passed on in 1998. I felt all of those losses compounded all over again when my father succumbed to cancer this past June. Her words were true, and they brought me reassurance of my sanity and normalcy (don't argue with me here! just roll with it!). I knew that this was yet another season of life and that this, too, would pass and bring days that felt like the new "normal." Another friend (who has lost two dear babies to miscarriage) reminded me how helpful a re-reading of the book of Ecclesiastes can be at times like these.

I'm so thankful to have the friends who have supported me on this journey. For those of you who are just beginning on your journey, I'm sorry for your loss and pain. I pray that you find some way of strength and coping as your hurts become more toughened scars. It won't always feel feel like this. <3


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and words of wisdom. I can relate with so much of what are saying. I believe hearing from others as well as sharing it helps with our healing a little everytime. We will never forget our little ones, and often think of them unintentionally. That only goes to show how real they were, the love we had and what impact they had upon our lives. Thank for all of the love and support you give.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing Sarah. I lost my eldest child when he was three years old, due to a terminal illness. I still struggle with what to say when people ask how many kids I have. To say 6 is to give Nathan the respect I feel is due. It means giving explanations I do not always want to give though. To say 5 is to somehow leave him out of our family. And he is still very much a part of our family.
    I love that my oldest "living" child at a hs presentation on his family proudly stated that he had an older brother named Nathan who was in heaven. Amy

  3. Thanks Sarah. I hope you don't feel compelled to avoid this topic for a while due to the criticism of others, which I know you said was a huge problem in the past. Your writings on the subject help and encourage many, and I truly hope you have not been attacked again.

    Your friend's analogy on emotional wounds healing similarly to physical wounds is excellent, and reminds us that is normal and healthy to grieve.

    An analogy I heard once is that life is often presented as being a series of mountains and valleys, when really it is more like railroad tracks. We tend to have joy and sorrow often intermixed in life. My MIL lost her father only days before a son was born for instance.

    Thanks again.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. My baby would have been born now, and its such a hard time for me, because i grieve alone and my husband has no patience for my grief. In his defence he has supported me through so many things and it is just too much for him right now. We miscarried 2 days before moving interstate. We were due at my sisters in 2 days and she is a doctor and took care of everything medical so i avoided hospital and a D&C thank God. She was great with all the medical stuff but not the handholding type.
    We took 1 month to get here and instead of being a lovely camping holiday it was a crazy stressful trip through freakish wild weather, we ended up staying with lots of friends and family... no time or space to grieve. Then we continued staying with friends while we tried to rent a house.... no dice. We couldn't get a rental here and ended up first kind of squatting in a house someone was renovating and said we could stay in. Then they kicked us out so we finally ended up camping for 2 months. We ended up applying for a home loan and buying a house which is awesome, but far from our dream home. But with winter approaching and camping becoming too hard, we are grateful to be in a house we can call our own. Although we still don't have our furniture. People here have been so welcoming and lent us furniture and toys for my 2 yr old. We need to replace the floor and install heating before winter! So what's my point? My heart broke when we lost our baby. My first pregnancy and birth was so hard on me phsyically and this just makes me feel that although I want a big family and love being a mum I am just not built for childbearing. And then we went through an ordeal and a half trying to be able to afford a house of our own. But we did it. So now we are here and things aren't as stressful and I am so lost! My heart aches and I just cry and cry. I have no patience for anyone. I hate everyone I meet and I hate the world, and I am a religious person and I struggle to pray. I used to be a kind nice person, but now I am not. I just feel that I should have a baby in my arms right now and I don't and I can feel little fingers in mine and a tiny body in my arms... I just want to curl up in my bed and cry, but we don't even have a bed yet. we are still sleeping on the floor.


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