The flowers have stopped, the phone calls have dwindled, life moves on…or so people think. For those who have lost a baby it is now the time when the next step is considered – trying again. The postnatal check has been done and the all clear given. For many their menstrual cycle has started again and so it looks like all the hurdles have been removed and a clear path has now emerged from the grey cloud of loss. Oh how I wish this were true. For many they unknowingly now enter a path strewn with emotional landmines. I just assumed that God wouldn’t hand me two lemons in a row so I expected to get pregnant again immediately after waiting the suggested six months to allow my body and mind to heal enough from the grief. A friend tried to convince me that in reality a person needed over a year to come to grips with the emotional upheaval such a massive loss would have caused. My mind was going to have a far greater impact on my ability to conceive than what I wanted, and to avoid the distress of infertility over this time it would be better to wait the year. My midwife tried to tell me the same; most people need a year to recover. I didn’t want to listen; I most certainly was not going to wait, even though I knew that this friend was not only talking from a theory standpoint but also from that of personal experience. I voraciously read everything on the subject of becoming pregnant and spent many hours talking about the subject with anyone remotely interested. I was convinced I had everything sussed. I was mistaken. Unfortunately a year is a horrendously long time to endure the torment of facing a double loss – loss of your baby and then loss of motherhood entirely. This stage of the grief journey I actually found the hardest – harder than facing the death of my baby. Each month I found I wasn’t pregnant I was distraught. All the emotions most people thought I would feel over the initial loss paled into insignificance compared with what I felt when I wasn’t pregnant – anger at the injustice of it all, sadness at my current and potential loss, isolation because I wasn’t part of my peer group with children, envy of those with their own family – I didn’t want to hear about people doing family things or talking about their family – it was too painful.
I felt different and isolated from many of my friends and family who were either pregnant or had children. Birthing was just a natural, normal event in a person’s life cycle, but I was left behind – a failure. Even women who didn’t want to get pregnant bemoaned to me of their plight. I was surrounded by unmarried mothers who simply found themselves pregnant and it was unfair. What was God doing? What was I doing so wrong He couldn’t give me a child because of it? Hearing about unwanted pregnancies caused such intense rage at God I feared it would cause internal combustion if not released through hard out ranting, raving explosions at Him, finally calming into a peaceful trust that He had it all under control.
After attending a function where the room was full of unplanned children I lamented to a friend about the injustice of it all. They answered regarding God’s part in pregnancy, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matt 5:45. Not every baby is seen as a miracle of God but some are. Elisabeth, Hannah and Sarah were all barren until God opened their wombs. Most importantly, my friend reminded me of the wonderful fact that God loves to give good gifts to those who love Him (Matt 7:11). Later I found this pertinent passage in Psalm 37:4-9:
Psalm 37:4-9 (New Living Translation)
4 Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.
5 Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.
6 He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.
7 (a)Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.
8 Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper— it only leads to harm.
Having been so strong and in control of my emotions now became a negative instead of a positive as many people assumed that I was fine with babies, small children and bulging baby bellies. I became a baby and pregnant women magnet as often groups of young mothers and pregnant women would all come over to talk to me at once. For most weeks of the month that was fine but for times when I had just discovered I wasn’t pregnant again it was unbearable. What was I supposed to do, shun society completely? Being a teacher didn’t help as not only did I deal with other people’s children for hours each day, but I would see their parents bringing them to school accompanied by their younger siblings. My only solution was to try to think of all the positive things in my life and not focus on the fact that I may never have my own child to look after. The key character attributes I tried to focus on becoming were being brave and courageous.
Bravery had always been linked in my mind with people doing heroic things like rescuing a wounded soldier amidst crossfire, not something someone could exhibit on a day to day basis in normal life. I came to grasp the concept of enduring pain being what bravery really is all about. Staying within society when you feel hemmed in on all sides by ‘everyone’ achieving what you cannot. Enjoying life when it was so easy to say your life is the pits.
Courage is like the forerunner preparing you for bravery. Courage is the ability to control your fear in the face of pain or danger – it is the belief things will turn out right. It was so easy for me to be obsessed with the fear I would never become pregnant –my life continuing childless for the next 10 years – or until menopause- always hoping and continuously being gutted with disappointment month after month.
I read the story of Joshua and Caleb in Numbers 13 who were sent as part of a group of 12 spies to the land the Israelites were going to try to defeat. They were the only ones who showed courage by stating that though the inhabitants of the land were giants the Israelites could defeat them. They controlled their fear by putting their trust in God – believing He would lead them to victory. I too had to put my life in the hand of God knowing that although I feared the future He had my life under control and I could trust in Him and be brave and courageous.
Still, with this head knowledge, I felt very vulnerable emotionally. I hated not being in absolute control of my emotions and the situation. Equally, I hated shying away from potentially difficult situations, but I found myself not wanting to push myself beyond what I thought I could cope with. I got to the place where I couldn’t predict when I would or wouldn’t be sensitive about not being pregnant. Crying was something I knew I needed but the after effect was undesirable. My eyes would swell up and remain in this state for several hours, even overnight, irrespective of how short-lived the crying spell has been. I tried to remedy this by having what I termed ‘dry tears’.
I would tell myself each time I discovered I wasn’t pregnant yet again it was normal and healthy to feel disappointed, upset, frustrated and angry. I acknowledged and validated these emotions, hoping by doing so it would be enough – the physical act of crying wasn’t needed. It didn’t work. The hormonal and chemical release achieved through crying was as necessary as mental comforting.
As each month dragged out to a year I became more and more panicked that motherhood would never happen for me. I got to the point where I didn’t want to go to the supermarket and see all the mothers pushing their children along, I didn’t want to be asked if I was going to have more children or not. I didn’t want to phone mothers in case they stated they were too busy to talk because of some child/family related reason I should have known about before ringing at that time. Unfortunately this also impacted some of my friendships.
At a really low point I rang a friend for some encouragement. She stated she was really busy and couldn’t talk but before hanging up she said, “oh but do you have some news?” I felt like I had been kicked while down. She was too busy to talk unless I was pregnant, then she suddenly had time. Stunned a close friend could be so brutal I emailed her and explained how hurtful this had been because of my increased sensitivity to not being pregnant. My poor friend was horrified and deeply upset. Her question was concerning a job I had applied for. When she had hung up she remembered I had already told her about getting the job and so berated herself for asking such a silly question. Pregnancy was the last thing on her mind as she had made the decision not to ask about it unless I brought it up. She felt really hurt by the fact that I had misunderstood her, when she tried so hard to be sensitive and understanding. It took months to heal the wound this misunderstanding caused.
As the one year anniversary of Blair’s death loomed large on the horizon the thought of all the one year birthdays that would be celebrated at the same time I was planning an unveiling of Blair’s gravestone became overwhelming. There had been several of my friends and family who were pregnant the same time as me so the number of birthdays were significantly higher than the average, in fact one of my friends birthed her baby in the hospital room next to mine! I was becoming more and more distressed just thinking about the contrast. God in His great wisdom and mercy was acutely aware of my pain and gave me an around the world trip to plan and go on to help keep my mind off it! Being the incredible gift giver that He is, He had planned a double surprise – 14 months after Blair’s death I was finally pregnant! God’s timing was and is perfect.
What do I say? What do I do?…How could this ever happen?
It is so hard to even imagine that some day you will face intense grief over the loss of someone you love – it is even harder when the loss is that of a baby who is supposed to outlive their parents. When a loss like this occurs it seems so unnatural – so wrong, so unfair. Unfortunately no one is really prepared for coping with death – death is not something that God ever intended we would have to deal with – we are not equipped for it. Aside from all the unfairness and shock that a loss brings, one of the key concerns that those in the supporting role face is, What do I say? What do I do? A lot of people simply feel overwhelmed and avoid contact with the grieving person altogether. In fact, when my husband and I lost our first baby (born still) we had people literally trying to run away and hide when they saw us coming into a shop. I would not have been able to offer any helpful answers if I hadn’t been in the role of the griever myself previously. This is not to say that I am in ANY WAY an authority on this subject or claim to be – far from it! – everyone grieves in their own unique way, but sometimes just knowing how someone dealt with the loss of their precious baby, and what was helpful for them, can be insightful for those on the periphery watching in helplessness as a friend, family member, work colleague, neighbour… wallow in heart-wrenching agony as they endure the loss of someone so special; someone so helpless and little. Sometimes it is easier to ask the questions of what is appropriate to someone other than the person who is submerged in a sea of grief.
Over ten years ago many people will remember the news that we too, had lost our first baby. Everyone was stunned that something like this could happen to my husband and I. We had gone in for an induction, being overdue by 10 days, and when undergoing the routine ultrasound the sonographer could not find a heartbeat. I never got to hold my baby alive, never got to see Blair open his eyes, hold my hand, feel warm against my skin.
A few years previously I had felt a strange fixation to unpack the globally asked question, “Why does God allow suffering?”After losing Blair I understood why God had burnt this question into my mind until I had the issue resolved – it was to become a very personal question I would have otherwise had to have asked under the heavy, black blanket of grief. Because of this, I did not have the normal question screaming out WHY?
My questions became fixated on: Could I plan my life? Could I ever look forward to things again – get excited with things I should expect would happen? Would I ever be a mother again?
My main needs from those around were that I could simply express myself, know personally that people cared enough to phone, speak to me, send a card, send flowers, lend me books on the topic of grief and baby loss. I felt uncared for when people sent their condolences through other people. I didn’t need people to have the right words of wisdom, comfort, cheer – I just wanted them to say how they felt if they simply didn’t know what to say, to cry with me, to just sit with me, to listen to my thoughts and feelings. My hairdresser at the time was a bit speechless when she saw me come in for a haircut only a few days after the funeral. She endured the silence for several minutes and then blurted out, “I cant do this. I cant cut your hair in silence but I don’t know what to say. I know your baby has died, and I cant even imagine how you must be feeling right now, but I just don’t know what to say.” I was so relieved because I didn’t know what to say to her either – I knew from the silence that she must have known but I didn’t know if she wanted me to talk about it or not. What was I to say,”Well, had you heard that my baby had died?” – like some small chit chat about something. I didn’t want people to tell me what they thought I should be thinking or feeling unless they had endured a very real episode of grief in their life too – then they were my heroes, my rocks where I felt I was safe to pour out my grief and know I would be understood. Everyone is so unique in the way they deal with grief. I was not angry, confused, bewildered with God, I was now just unsure of how I would do life – how could I plan for tomorrow when anything could happen? I had planned to be a mother and then was back working as a teacher a month after birthing!
Reading about the stages of grief was crucial to understanding what was going on physically, mentally, socially. Books on loss helped me to understand that at the six week mark the anesthetic of shock wears off and you are left with the raw, stark emotion of pain. You think that during the six weeks previously when everything has felt numb that you must be coping well, and have dealt with the loss – but no – you are just literally numb – anesthetized! At the six week mark you think you are losing the plot and suddenly cant cope, you cry all the time, every little thing sets you off, you cant concentrate when people are talking to you, you cant remember what you were about to do, you cant stand any extra noises, and for me, I wished I could have died with my baby so that I would never have had to say goodbye before I could have said hello. Your visitors have gone home, the mail box is no longer bulging with cards, you’re not working, and most of the phone calls have stopped. You are no longer an expectant mum, an employee, and a lot of friends now don’t really know what to say as they think its time to just move on – most not consciously – but its just part of life. At this point it is fabulous to talk with other people who have been through a baby loss – they will know it is not time to have moved on – loss is like dealing with an amputated limb – you never ‘get over the loss’ you just learn to cope and adjust to life differently but the loss will always be there – your baby will never be forgotten – they will always be a part of your memories and life, they will always have their role in your family – the first born, second born etc.
It was also good to be aware of the differing needs of the griever according to their personality. I went straight from the hospital where I birthed, to a maternity ward in the small town I lived. I slept among the sound of newborns crying, and during the day could hear the babies’ small siblings running around the rooms. I could hear visitors chatting and cooing excitedly over the new babies. Mainly though I had many visitors and phone calls both on the ward phone and on my cell phone, so for the most part I was not alone much of the time. Some of my visitors came with their children, and I coped because I was in the early stages of grieving – often I would feel like I was having an out of body experience because I would think, “This should be really upsetting but it’s strangely not”. I was numb to a lot of things. In hindsight, I think it is better for people to visit without their children – I had not only lost my baby, but also the joy of being a doting mother for that baby. I especially appreciated the visitors who came frequently and would ring before visiting just to ask if there was anything I needed and then would be happy to do what was requested; even for strange things such as getting a cabbage to ease engorged breasts. I enjoyed the company and the support of the nurses on duty who helped when my milk came in, and were there to chat when all the visitors had gone home. They were there to look at the all the baby photos and assure me that in time I would be a mum again; God would look after me according to what He saw to be the best for my life.
For my husband though, his needs were vastly different from mine. He didn’t like the hustle and bustle of a lot of visitors. He went home when I went to the maternity ward, and would talk to me early on the phone each morning or late at night because he didn’t want to be home when people would come to visit or ring him. He liked to be out and about on the farm with the milking cows – talking to them and just being in the open. I was happy for him to do his thing, and he was happy for me to cope in my way – neither of us would have been happy if we had forced the other to be where we wanted to be.
Because I discussed Blair with so many people, and allowed myself to freely grieve (I regularly went into Blair’s room and watched the scans) I was out and about in the public fairly quickly; I was back primary teaching in the school I had previously taught before taking leave, within a month of birthing. My first class was that of new entrants – short, straight talkers! Within an hour of being in the classroom one child could not contain themselves and stated, “My Mum and Dad said your baby is sick”, to which another child emphatically responded, “No, her baby is not sick, her baby is dead!” Its always good to tell a child the real story. Because people thought I must be fine, or I wouldn’t be dealing with children, some would come up to me as I was dealing with a bunch of children and tell me how sorry they were to hear about my loss – just because I looked fine in public didn’t mean I could deal with the loss being brought up in front of other people. And so passed the first six weeks of dealing with something that should have been so natural – and successful; I didn’t know it at the time but the long, hard, difficult journey had only begun!
Hello everyone! I'm so excited to be able to share some of my experiences with you, and so look forward to hearing some of yours. My passion is to help others avoid unrequited love, and to enjoy, (rather than endure) their parenthood experience. I am no expert in these areas but want to try and fill in some of the gaps the experts don't talk about, or simply gloss over. I look forward to your thoughts.