Dealing With Loss
One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage or stillbirth, and the US has one of the highest neonatal death rates in the industrialized world, yet no one seems to talk about it. Read the first part of this article here. If you or someone you know shows these signs for longer than a few weeks, please get help, or encourage them to do so.
The latter of these symptoms, of course, is the most extreme. If you are contemplating suicide or hurting yourself in any manner, seek treatment immediately. Please understand that depression is a common condition, you are not crazy, and you are not alone. Depression can often be treated with medication. Anti-depressants are used to treat chronic or manic depression, they are not a cure for grief, but if you're depressed they can help you get your life back in order.
Sadness is often partnered with loneliness that can be paralyzing. Some mothers even report that their arms ache after miscarriage or stillbirth. They ache to hold the child that was never delivered to them. Your body feels empty. This is especially true the farther along you are in your pregnancy at the time of loss. It's as though your baby was ripped away from you and your body is in shock. It's important that parents do not detach themselves from others or each other.
It is often said that the death of a child can either destroy a marriage or make it stronger. It is extremely important to talk about your feelings with your partner. We must remember the fathers who are surviving miscarriage and stillbirth. Everyone has compassion for the mother who undergoes this kind of loss, but rarely are the fathers recognized. Men are natural born protectors. An expecting father who suffers the loss of a baby can feel like a failure for not being able to protect his wife and baby.
Dads need help too
He, too, needs to understand that there was nothing he could have done to prevent this tragedy. Men can also get very frustrated trying to fill the emotional chasm that is left after a baby passes away. Where do fathers go for help?
My husband and I attend online support groups for bereaved parents. These are wonderful groups of people who have all lost children. Some lose their children to stillbirth and miscarriage, others suffer neonatal deaths, and still others have lost a young or old child. Online support groups are great because you can go there in the comfort of your own home behind the anonymity of a computer screen, but sometimes you need personal support.
Other family members
And what about the siblings? Mommy goes to the hospital and suddenly there is no longer a baby sister or a baby brother on the way. What are they to make of it? Your other children's reaction will be influenced by age, personality and religious influences. One thing that is clear is surviving siblings will need extra attention during their time of loss, and often the parents are not in the mental state where they can do that. This is where friends and family really need to help out.
And what about Grandma and Grandpa? They had hopes and dreams for their grandchildren as well. Not only that, but their child will now never be the same. They must grieve in their own ways. There are several Grieving Parents Support Groups at various hospitals and centers all over the country and they welcome siblings and grand parents as well. Some of the big names are Bereaved Parents of the USA, Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support (SANDS) and Compassionate Friends. There is a group for every circumstance.
Think about the parents of twins where only one child was stillborn. They feel grief and anger for the loss of their baby, but also joy and hope for the child who survived. That mixture of feelings must be overwhelming. There are even groups for the surviving twin who may suffer separation anxiety. The internet is a terrific source of information for families dealing with infant loss. You need only enter keywords like "miscarriage" and "grief" in a search engine to come up with hundreds of thousands of places that want to help.
Don't be afraid to reach out for help, if not for yourself, than do it for your spouse, or your other children, or your parents and in-laws. All may be distraught over your loss.
When all is said and done, and life starts to settle back down, it's time to face the final stage of grief, acceptance. Remember, there is a big difference between acceptance and resignation. Acceptance means you understand that your child's death was not your fault. You begin the healing process, but the hurting is not over. It will likely never be over. Your child will be one thought away for the rest of your life. Acceptance only means that you will find your daily routines returning to normal. You are on an even keel again, and your life begins to get back to its old routines. People will stop walking on eggshells around you, and you will start thinking of ways to honor your child's memory.
There is a lot of talk about the "stages of grief," and while it is valuable information, everyone is different. Your grief may not fall in the average pattern. This is in no way a reflection on the person that you are. How quickly or slowly you deal with your grief has to be entirely up to you. You have to take things one day at a time, and steps, programs or stages can only outline your journey. One way of helping you work through your grief may be by honoring your child and their life in the womb.
Friends of ours who also lost twins planted two trees in their yard in memoriam. One member of our support group purchased a headstone even though she, like us, was not permitted access to her daughter's remains. We honor our children with a memorial web site. Creating that page has given me a lot of peace. We add little things here and there to keep the page continuously updated. It's a place where people can go to learn about our children who were alive, very briefly, in their mother's womb. It's a place I can escape to when I've had a long day when they were heavy on my mind. It's a tribute to their spirit and an homage to their lives, however brief.
When a stranger happens upon the site and sends me an e-mail offering their sympathy and telling me their story of loss, there are not words that can describe what that feels like. My children's lives touched a complete stranger's life and they never even took a breath of air on this earth.
One of the best ways our twins were honored was by my mother. Every year at Christmas I try to find cards that have two angels on them to honor Gwen and Gabe. My mother has a wall in her house that is filled with nothing but her grandchildren's pictures. We call it the 'Grandkid's Wall' for just that reason. One day I walked in to see one of those Christmas cards framed and hanging on the wall with the other children. It was one of the first times I had ever seen my mother acknowledge my children, and it meant a great deal to me.
If you know someone dealing with the loss of their baby, try to find a way to honor their child. I bought one coworker who also lost twins a music box that had two baby angels on it. My husband and I had Gwendolyn and Gabriel's names and death date engraved on a heart shaped music box. It plays "The Way We Were" and always reminds me of how happy I was when I was pregnant.
Honor your baby
Buying or better yet, making, something to honor a baby who has died will mean more to the parents than you could possible know. It's important to know what others can do to help people who have lost a baby. Just being there and being open and listening to our stories is enough. The best thing you can do is offer to help out bereaved parents. Whether it be helping with chores around the house, or fixing meals, or helping to take care of the person's other children, sometimes what you do is worth more than a million words.
Too many times during my time of grief, I found myself almost hating people for some of the things that they said that I viewed at callous. Over the years I've learned that they just didn't know any better. Most of the offending people were older, they came from a time when miscarriages and stillbirths were not talked about. In an effort to help friends and family better deal with parents who have lost a child, I have compiled this list of do's and don'ts:
Do NOT say:
These are all very hurtful phrases that bereaved parents should never have to hear from anyone, especially a friend or family member. Do not try to find something positive to say when a baby dies; there is no positive side. Also remember to never ask the parents to babysit or do anything involving babies for quite a while. The biggest don't in my book is storytelling. Do NOT try to swap miscarriage stories with someone who has suffered the loss of their baby unless they ask you to. Trying to tell them that you've been there too is one thing, but telling your tale to try to ease someone else's pain isn't going to work.
I remember the first family picnic I went to after the twins died. Certain family members asked me how I was and then preceded to share all of their miscarriage stories as if we were old war buddies swapping stories about D-day. This was one of the worst experiences I had while trying to deal with my grief. Someone in that position is not prepared to hear other tales of loss. These women were acting like it was a competition, a "who's story is sadder" sort of thing.
The truth is, their stories did nothing to comfort me. In fact, they made me more uncomfortable because everyone was now staring at me with that "I feel so sorry for you" look in their eyes. Even the medical community needs to be educated on what to say and not to say to bereaved parents. My own doctor's bedside manner left a lot to be desired. Doctors find themselves caught up in medical terms and jargon that only comes out as hurtful to the patient. I don't even like the word "miscarriage," it implies that something was handled incorrectly and that just is not the case.
The Do's for the medical community are the same as above, but here are some of the don'ts:
Medical personnel should NOT use these phrases:
Don't set time limits on grieving
Even with all the help from family, friends and coworkers, your period of grieving may last longer than you would have expected. There is no time limit on grief. Don't let anyone say "You should be over this by now." No one has the right to tell you how, or for how long you should grieve. Even weeks after your loss, when you feel like your life may be getting back on track, more issues will arise. The site of a pregnant woman or a baby can send you into a downward spiral of depression.
It's been eight years since our twins died and I still get weepy at the sight of a newborn baby. The thought of sex may be unappetizing to both partners for a long time. After all, it's the thing that started this whole train in motion in the first place; it's only natural to be turned off by it.
A woman is physically not supposed to have sex for six weeks following a miscarriage, but the emotional healing may take longer. The man, also, isn't going to think of sex as something tantalizingly for quite a while. You have to heal emotionally before you can dive back into the deep end. You especially need to take some time before you decide to try to have another child. This is a very personal decision, but rest assured that another child is never going to take the place of the child you lost, so it is okay to take your time getting there. This out of control locomotion will eventually steam down; it just takes time.
You have loss, grief, depression and in between a lot of anger and confusion. You don't know how to heal and you don't know how to help your spouse to heal. You feel like everyone else on the planet is having babies, but you can't, and that's more than a little disconcerting. I don't think anyone ever truly "heals" completely. I think time eventually just puts distance between you and your pain.
Don't be afraid to tell people how you feel, especially if something they are doing is hurting you. Try not to be angry with people who don't know how to deal with loss, we all handle grief differently and no one can be "taught" to behave a certain way. You may want to be very vocal about your loss while your spouse may want to keep it to himself.
Be sure not to scrutinize each other for the way you work through your grief. The most important thing is communication. You have to tell each other how you feel. Your relationship is only as good as the glue that holds it together. Times of loss are times to reinforce that binding, not tear it apart. You may not be able to talk about your loss right away; it may just be too hard at first.
The only sure thing is that grief is completely unpredictable. When you find yourself or someone you know struggling with the loss of a baby, remember what Candy Lightner, who founded Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, once said: "There is the beginning of grief, the middle of grief, and the rest of your life." You can still keep the dream alive because it will always remain in your heart.
The Compassionate Friends www.compassionatefriends.com
Support for Grieving Parents www.angelfire.com/tx/babyguardianangels/page6.html
Support for Grieving Parents www.sandswa.org.au/support
Healing Hearts -- Bereaved Parents www.healingheart.net
Mommies Enduring Neonatal Death (M.E.N.D) www.mend.org/home_index.asp
Walking With Angels www.walkingwithangels.org
Fertility Plus Miscarriage Support & Information Resources www.fertilityplus.org/faq/miscarriage/resources.html
SHARE -- Helps The Entire Family Deal With Pregnancy Loss www.shareatlanta.org/siblg.htm
Twinless Twins www.fwi.com/twinless
Memorial page for Gwendolyn and Gabriel Cauley www.gwenandgabe.com
Coping With Infant or Fetal Loss: the Couple's Healing Process, by Kathleen R. Gilbert and Laura S. Smart
Sibling Grief: After Miscarriage, Stillbirth or Death, by Sherokee Ilse, Linda Hammer Burns and Susan Erling
Grieving Grandparents: After Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or Infant Death, by Lorri Leininger and Sherokee Ilse
The Bereaved Parent, by Harriet Sarnoff Schiff.
Empty Arms: Coping After Miscarriage, Stillbirth or Infant Death, by Sherokee Ilse.
Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby, by Deborah Davis.
The Lone Twin: Understanding Twin Bereavement and Loss, by Joan