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The time following your baby's birth and death can be a whirlwind of emotions. In the blink of an eye the excitement, elation and feelings of security can turn into absolute terror at the news your baby has died, or that there is something wrong. To think your baby is sick is a worry in itself at any time but to be told so soon after giving birth that something is seriously wrong, or that they might even die is a thought you would never expect to have to face. Of all the preparations in having a baby and giving birth, this is something you would never want to read about let alone prepare for. So when you are told this information, shock and disbelief and the surreal feeling of 'this can't really happening' quickly replace the warm feelings of welcoming a new baby. Your whole world and future has just changed in that moment, and it's completely out of your control. What feels like a very bad nightmare is in fact a new reality that you have no idea how you will survive.
Leaving the hospital with empty arms and a broken heart to a home with a nursery so lovingly prepared for baby's arrival - there are no words to describe the emptiness and sadness of how this feels. If you have had a loss and are reading this, chances are you have come across these emotions fairly quickly.
The days immediately after a loss feel very surreal as numbness and shock are still protecting you. Nothing seems real. You may be in a different environment or still in hospital. There seem to be lots of people about, phone calls to make or answer, a funeral to plan, decisions to make. These things can actually provide some sort of distraction, as though the full extent has not hit you yet. At a time like this simple decisions seem beyond your capabilities, yet you have to make many important ones that you will not get the opportunity to do again. You may have to deal with lots of questions and other people's reactions on top of your own grief, and if you have other children they will still need looking after and will be confused by what has happened, and will need comforting too. It's hard enough for adults to comprehend the loss of a new life, and explaining it to children requires special thought.
You may want to hide, you may want to escape. The intensity of the sadness and raw emotions can feel overwhelming and you may wonder how on earth you can live the rest of your life like this (which I assure you, will not be the same intense pain as those very first days). You might feel okay one minute, or even switch off for a few minutes, then the reality hits you with full force. Some days you might do nothing but cry. It is like waking for a bad nightmare only to find that you were not dreaming at all and this is in fact, very real. It is also hard to see others living their lives when your world has collapsed, and you cannot comprehend that the world does still revolve when yours has completely stopped. You might have previously thought infant death does not happen anymore - and certainly not to you.
On top of the emotional feelings associated with loss you are also a post-natal woman who has just given birth. The usual things apply here - post-birth pains from delivery or caesarean section are still there; tearing and stitches and after pains; your body still bleeds and produces milk and has the discomfort and emotions of when the milk first comes in. There is the uncomfortable process of the start of lactation which is then forced to end abruptly. Post-natal hormones are haphazard at the best of times let alone dealing with all this without the reward of a baby. Then there is big empty stomach and the phantom kicks some of us feel. You may still feel pregnant, and having these symptoms while aching for your baby is a very raw deal to be given.
Your body isn't back to normal yet and just like any woman who has given birth it will take some time for this to settle down. Physically and emotionally, this is a very difficult time. You may also have had to stay in hospital on the post natal ward and hear other babies crying, or left the hospital and seen other women leave with their newborns to begin their life.
Whether it was 2 months or 9 months, there is now an ache and an enormous, unfillable void, which leaves you with empty dreams and truly aching arms.
Once the planning of the funeral and other rituals have happened, it feels like there is a point now that everything is 'over' and it could feel like a new empty silence greets you. This is a very delicate time. It could also be a time where partners go back to work, friends and family who were visiting may also go back home or back to their everyday lives. The flowers too have died and you are facing your new life now. You may find yourself wondering 'so now what...'
During this time people are either very supportive with telephone calls and visits and offers of support for anything you need. Some people might not acknowledge what has happened and instead avoid you because they don't know what to say. It has been said that 'people do not do grief well' in western societies.
Well meaning friends may try and cheer you up or use the standard clichés, as that's all they understand. People's well intentioned comments can be helpful or insensitive - whether they meant it to be or not. It seems that people want to sum it up or sort it out for you to make you feel better and give you hope. They may say they know how you feel - but the reality is many don't know how you feel and they simply cannot imagine it. Even if someone has had a loss before, one can't compare different losses - everyone's story is different and so is their journey with loss.
There seems to be no etiquette book on how to deal with grief and people tend to go with what they think is right, or say something because they feel that they 'should' say something when usually 'I am sorry for your loss' is enough. It is hard to filter this out and not feel hurt or angry or take it personally especially when you might be feeling so broken right now.
Some people don't want to upset you so they don't say anything. Others may find it awkward to bring up so they steer away from the topic. It can be hurtful if no one says anything at all as its all you can think about and all you want to talk about right now. Sometimes they might try and cheer you up to distract you, and it is hard for you to do this as that's is all you can think about. It certainly makes it hard to interact with people on a social level.
You have just experienced one of the most traumatic events one can go through, so how are you suppose to go back to normal everyday life? What is 'normal' now anyway? You may wonder how you will ever feel normal again, or if you even will. Exactly how you are suppose to go on for the rest of your life, when you can't even get through the next hour?
You might feel that everywhere you go there are reminders - pregnant women, prams, babies and kids and there always seems to be a newborn planted in front of your vision, as if the universe is playing a cruel joke. It feels like things just couldn't get any worse.
Then there are always the random pregnancy or birth announcements from people who although you may be happy for, it still evokes pain for you, silent envy and even jealousy.
Other emotions come into play too. You may question was it something you did? Something the doctor did or failed to do? Could it have been prevented? You might look for clues, reasons and irrational thoughts in an attempt to process it.
It is hard to pick up from where you left off. Where do you go back to exactly? Before the birth? Before the pregnancy? You can't forget the journey of pregnancy, perhaps the innocent planning of it, or the feeling of what now feels like naivety you had in your previous life. It will feel like you had a different life before, and there is a new life now - both very disparate from each other, and you have lived and aged a lifetime in the short time between.
Your can't forget and go back to who you were before this experience changed you forever. Your body held a life, a precious little life with a soul and a heartbeat. One that you have met and held, or spent so much time thinking about meeting. You can't just forget the dreams, hopes and plans made for their life and your future together. It is not something that you can just switch off and move on and forget about. Like any major or traumatic experience in your life, there is no off switch to just pretend it didn't happen.
And you shouldn't have to - it's your experience and your journey. Take your time. Don't feel as though you need to appear 'better' or 'over it' to the outside world - which inevitably doesn't happen - you never 'get over' the loss of a baby - you just adapt. Saying that, it is not always going to be a sad and gloomy time - many baby loss parents do survive a loss and live a happy life and some find a very enriching life. You can be happy again. Life will be different and it is full of ups and downs, but the intensity will lessen over time.
Talk to someone, whether online, in person or a support group. A good friend, a professional counsellor, other baby loss mums (known as angel mums). Talking to others who have been through it can be very helpful because although family and friends know you and can listen and comfort you, sometimes there are things that you can share with people who have been through a similar loss as they understand it in a way no one else can. And sometimes sharing with someone you don't know very well who is outside of your immediate circle can help as they can be neutral and objective. Angel mums can be very supportive as they 'get it'.
The early days and months are tough - there is no mistake about that. But they will not always be like that.
For now, take it one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time if you have to. You need to protect yourself right now and you need good support to help you through these times. Sometimes it helps to know you are not alone in this and others have been through it too. It might not mean much right now but seeing that they have survived it, can give you some inspiration. Take care of yourself and allow yourself time to grieve in your own way. Slowly you will see the sun come out again. It will take time, and sometimes it will feel like the passage of time actually makes things worse as you get further away from the time of your loss. Other times it may feel surreal as though did it really happen, because it is hard to believe how you can still continue living and doing the day to day things after experiencing such pain.
Finally I want to assure you, as many have assured me, that you will get through this. The intensity of the feelings will lessen over time. You will always miss your baby and think about them, but the strong raw emotions you feel right now will ease. Grief is a rollercoaster ride - a bumpy one at that. And just remember that you are not alone in this.