Pregnancy loss is one of those events that makes you feel as if the world as you know it is forever changed in an instant. In that single moment, all the dreams and hopes you had for that baby and your life together as a family are suddenly gone. Like any other life-changing event, you begin to mark everything else that happens in your life in relation to when the loss occurred--there's the life you had before the miscarriage and the new life you've had since because, in some ways, you're a different person than you were before. Those differences may not be obvious to other people, but on the inside you feel the shift. Your thoughts, feelings, and the way you view life itself is forever changed.
The past four weeks since the loss have been a time of tremendous ups and downs as the grieving process continues and my body resets back to normal. Sometimes I feel as if my heart became a little more hardened that day. On those kind of days I've made up my mind that I will never allow myself to get hurt like this again. Other times I feel like my heart's been so softened it's as if I'm walking around with every nerve exposed...raw and vulnerable. On those days the tears feel like they won't stop. But as time goes on, most days just go along as normal, reminiscent of the days before the loss, where I go about business as usual. On those days something seemingly out of nowhere will remind me the baby won't be here in February after all and for a moment the wind is knocked out of me, that crushing weight on my heart is back. And after a few deep breaths of acceptance, I move along.
When I initially shared my pregnancy loss experience on this blog, it was only a few days afterward and the feelings were still very raw. I truly wrote it because I felt if I didn't get those feelings out they might eat me alive or swallow me up. I certainly didn't write it with the intention of helping anyone (what kind of help would I be in that state?) Yet I received many messages from mothers who had experienced similar situations saying that my words somehow did help. And what's funny is that their stories, in turn, helped me. Hearing so many heartbreaking stories of loss made me realize I'm not alone and put my grief into perspective. If it's possible that anything good can come from a devastating experience like this, I think it's that, through sharing our stories and being honest about our feelings, families who have gone through this can lean on each other. With that in mind, and with today being Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day, here are 7 things, of many, that I've learned from my experience of loss that may hopefully be of some comfort to someone else going through it.
1) Miscarriage and infant loss is way more common than I realized. I was aware at 37 years old that my chances of miscarrying were higher, but I was not aware that even among twenty-somethings, the miscarriage rate is anywhere between 8 and 20 percent (some stats say 15-25%) and that 80% of losses occur in the first trimester. When I first learned of the loss, I was 17 weeks pregnant and felt like I must have done SOMETHING wrong to lose the baby this far along. But I later learned that the baby was actually only 13 weeks when he passed and that fact, paired with learning the statistics, allowed me to understand that this is a fairly common occurrence, which made me feel less alone and down on myself.
2) It helps to do things that keep your baby's memory alive. Moving forward in the weeks after a loss like this is scary because, as time passes and life resumes as normal, you worry that your child will be forgotten. We've been trying to make a conscious effort to do something at least once a week that will honor our baby's memory. It's different for everybody but, for me, grief counseling, writing, meditations for miscarriage, and attending events that honor pregnancy & infant loss have helped immensely. A dear friend of mine offered to make us a plaque to honor his memory that will be put on a bench that Todd built in our backyard garden, giving us a nice place to go to and think of him. It's important to us that we honor the 13 weeks he lived & the sweet memories we have of him, not just dwell on the negative experience of losing him.
3) I need to reach out of my comfort zone more when people are grieving. Prior to this loss, I was the person whose heart ached for anyone experiencing any kind of grief, yet my tendency was not to reach out because I didn't want to bother them or didn't know what to say. In the first couple of days following the miscarriage, it felt a little like a ghost town around here. And I get it now, people wanted to allow me some space to grieve. The few messages I did receive in the thick of it were mostly from women who went through this themselves and knew the emptiness I was feeling--pregnancy loss is a very isolating experience. And at times those messages felt like they were literally holding me up. A few days later I began hearing from loved ones and friends who nearly all said some version of what I used to always say "I've been thinking of you, I just didn't reach out because I didn't know what to say..." What I discovered after living it is, THAT'S THE PERFECT THING TO SAY! :) Saying something simple like "there are no words, but know that you are on my heart" may not seem like it would help much but, in my experience, every little bit of support, just knowing others were thinking of us, helped fill the void in my heart.
4) A vast majority of people are really, really kind. I believed this before the loss, but this experience reinforced it. Once I formally announced the miscarriage, the love and support we received were overwhelming. When people would look me in the eye and with tears in theirs say "I'm praying for you" I would say in return "I feel that, thank you", because I did. The messages we received didn't just feel like words, the love and sincerity came through and it really gave me a new appreciation for the kindness of people, many of which I barely knew. I've made a commitment to myself to pay it forward and reach out more when others are hurting.
5) Grief sucks (but it's necessary). Sorry, there's no nice, eloquent way to say it. When it wells up the first instinct is to run--zone out on a TV show, have a glass of wine, grab ice cream, distract at all costs. One of the blessings in this situation is that it happened to me after I had gathered enough life experience to know that I wouldn't be able to dip my toe in the water on this one--I knew that if I didn't want to carry an immense amount of pain around for a really long time, I'd have to REALLY go there and fully grieve the loss. So I did and, honestly, I wouldn't wish those moments on anyone. Those moments, the ways in which I grieved him, are one thing I won't share here--they were intimate, excruciating moments only between a momma & her baby. Those memories are etched on my heart like a tattoo--very painful going on and there forever. But it's only because I went through them that I am able to move forward with life in peace.
6) Grief brings ALL the feels and they come in waves. I learned pretty quickly that grief comes in & out like the tides--sometimes the tide is low and you are fine going about your business, feeling happy doing so, and sometimes the tide is high (usually coming from out of nowhere) and you feel knocked back under. I've now learned and accepted that all the emotions--happiness, grief, anger--come in waves and it's just part of the healing process. I've found this affirmation/prayer helpful when those strong waves of grief hit:
This is a moment of suffering.
I will be gentle with myself in this moment and allow the feelings to come.
This grief is showing me just how much (he/she) was loved.
7) I've been praying the wrong prayer all along. When I first returned to work, I was discussing the loss with a co-worker. I told her how the experience became much easier to bear after I began digging deeper into why the loss occurred and got some answers. Learning that there was a very high likelihood that there was a genetic reason he did not survive helped me to see that this was nature's way of taking care of things--the proof I needed that God was actually sparing us more pain by taking him when he did if he was, indeed, not developing normally. Her response to that was an "A-Ha" moment for me:
"Have you considered that maybe faith is trusting that God was taking care of things WITHOUT the proof?"
I'm not sure any experience makes you feel quite so vulnerable as that of becoming a mother--your heart is laid open and your biggest fear in life becomes not something happening to you, but something happening to your child. So my daily prayer after the birth of my first son and for the three years after was always some version of this:
Please God, I'll be good, I'll work hard, I'll be kind, just
please, please, please don't ever let anything bad happen to my child.
That's all I'll ever ask for, I swear.
As if saying that prayer granted me some kind of immunity. And then when the bad thing you prayed would never happen HAPPENS, you realize the obvious--that no one is immune to bad things happening to their child. Loss is just an unfortunate part of life and we all experience it at some point and on some level. I think maybe my prayer all along should have been:
Dear God, thank you for my child, this unbelievable blessing.
Should something happen to him, please give me the strength to bear it.
I have faith in your Divine Intelligence, even when I don't understand it.