Survive is the key term here. When you lose your baby it takes everything you have just to survive. This post is about what has helped me survive the loss of my daughter, Lucy, at 19 weeks pregnant and the loss of our next two babies in early miscarriages. One day, I would love to be able to write a post about finding hope and joy after pregnancy loss, but for now it is about survival. No matter how far along you are, when you lose your baby you lose a piece of yourself. It is a searing pain that changes you forever. If you have suffered a pregnancy loss I am so very sorry. Maybe you can find a bit of strength and encouragement from my experience. If you haven’t lost a baby you probably know someone who has. Also, not to scare you, but there is a chance that you may lose a baby in the future. Many, many pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth. I never EVER imagined I would lose my baby, let alone at almost 20 weeks pregnant. The women in my family have healthy pregnancies and we give birth to big, chunky babies. I had two healthy, normal pregnancies before Lucy. I was completely blindsided when I found out there was a complication with Lucy. I was shocked when I lost my next two pregnancies as well. I never thought it would happen to me, but here I am with three lost babies in eight months. This could help you in the future.
Here are some of the practical things that have helped me survive my stillbirth and my early miscarriages:
- Remember that you play a part in your own healing: For a while after Lucy died I kept waiting and waiting for God to heal me, but honestly I just ached. One day my counselor told me that I didn’t just have to wait around doing nothing. God is the only one who can ultimately heal me, but there are things I can do to help the process along. A lot of healing took place when I realized some of the responsibility was mine and there are practical things (mentioned below) I can be doing to help myself heal.
- Read something comforting right before bed: Before I go to sleep I read a hopeful/encouraging verse from the Bible. The nights seem the worst and what you read before bed tends to stay in your head throughout the night. I feel safe when I do this.
- Get enough sleep: I had my doctor prescribe some Ambien to help me sleep occasionally. I don’t take it every night, but I know if I’m having a horrible day full of anxiety that I can at least take Ambien that night and get a good night of sleep (which helps a lot emotionally.) Sometimes I also use Benadryl, melatonin or a nice big glass of wine to help me sleep.
- Find some reminders of your baby: I think it’s good to have special reminders of your baby (even if it was an early miscarriage.) I have the only dress and hat that Lucy ever wore, her blanket and tiny heart shaped pillow, her footprints, her measurements, pictures of her, ultrasound pictures, pregnancy tests, and cards from so many people. I put them in a little box and when I feel like it, I take everything out and cry for her. One day I can show her big brothers these things to remind them of their baby sister. You can find something, even if you have had a very early loss (your pregnancy test, ultrasound picture, something that symbolizes your baby, etc.)
- Name your baby: This one is kind of a personal decision, but it’s something that has helped me, so I’m including it. Of course, we already had a name picked out for Lucy when she died, but it also helped me to name our babies that we lost in early miscarriages. They are our children, after all, and we will meet them in heaven one day and I would like to know what to call them. We named our first baby that we lost in an early miscarriage Jude and it felt good to honor our baby and acknowledge his or her life. We are still trying to think of a good name for the baby that we just lost in October.
- Meet your baby/Take pictures of your baby: This one is for the women who haven’t had a loss yet. If you have a late miscarriage or stillbirth, I think it is very important to take pictures of your baby. For me it was wonderful to see Lucy in person. I was scared at first, but I had read about other women regretting not seeing their baby when they had the chance. This will be your only chance to see your baby in person on earth. I was so glad I got to meet my baby Lucy in person. If you think it’s too traumatic for you, have someone else take pictures and put them in a safe place. If you ever decide you want to see your baby, you can.
- Find a good verse, and keep it with you: I often find a verse that means a lot to me or helps me a lot and write it on a notecard. I keep it in my back pocket throughout the day. When I feel hopeless, I force myself to read it and a lot of times it lifts me out of the pit. I also put the verses up all around my house where I’ll see them throughout the day.
- Try to stay off Facebook or limit time there: Facebook is crawling with pregnant bellies and newborn babies (including my own) and Facebook isn’t necessary for life, so why torture yourself? You could also just block the people who are triggers for you from your newsfeed.
- Stay away from triggers: A trigger is anything that sends you into that deep, dark place of despair. Some of my triggers are: pregnant women, babies Lucy’s age, little girls, Target (not sure why), etc. I try to stay away from these triggers as much as possible. This is especially helpful right at first when the wound is so fresh.
- Find a good counselor: Right after Lucy died I started seeing a counselor every week and now I just see her when I feel like I need some extra support. She has helped me deal with PTSD and it has been very good for me. She has encouraged me so much. There are a lot of support groups that are also helpful (I haven’t joined one because I don’t have time right now, but might in the future)
- Take anti-depressant medication if you need it: A lot of women are hesitant to take anti-depressants for some reason. I think medication can be extremely helpful and important after a loss. A lot of women don’t need medication, but some do. I have a history of anxiety and depression/postpartum depression, so after I lost Lucy I started taking Wellbutrin just to be safe. It has helped me avoid feeling suicidal and has kept my head above water. My doctor doubled the dose right before Lucy’s due date (and our early miscarriage) and it helped so much. It’s good to remember that this terrible place you are in is temporary, and the need for medication probably will be too.
- Find good books on grieving/pregnancy loss: I read some good books on how to deal with grief. My favorite, by far, is “A Grace Disguised” by Jerry Sittser. He lost his mother, his wife, and his daughter all in one day. It’s an amazing book that gave me a lot of hope. I also loved, “I Will Carry You” by Angie Smith.
- Try “Breath Prayers”: Ok, this one might sound silly, but it has helped me in my worst moments when I truly wanted to die because the pain was so suffocating. A lot of times I had to focus all of my energy on literally getting through the moment. These breath prayers help. You pick a piece of scripture or an encouraging thought like “My baby is safe.” As you take a slow, deep breath in you say the first part in your mind “My baby…” Then you slowly let your breath out and finish the thought “…is safe” as you release your breath and relax your body. Repeat it until you feel more in control of your emotions. It’s a bit like meditation and it calms you down and focuses your mind on the truth. Some other ones that I use: “God will…heal me.” “God is…in control.” “I have her…for eternity.”God will…sustain me.” Also, I use some of the personal promises that I feel like God has told me: “I will fill…your heart with joy, I will fill…your belly with a baby.” “I will….redeem it.” And then I finish with: “He who promised…is faithful.”
- Know how to answer questions: Try to have a standard reply for certain questions because the grief is so heavy it puts your brain in a fog. When people asked me, “How are you?” I didn’t know what to say because the truth was, I wanted to die, I felt like I was already dead inside, but how do you put that into words? I did NOT want to say, “I’m ok,” because I absolutely was not. I read about another Mom who lost her baby who says, “I’m barely surviving” or “I’m surviving.” I like that response. Another common question that becomes tricky is, “How many kids do you have?” or “Do you have any children?”
- Find something to look forward to: I try to find SOMETHING to look forward to and I write it down on the calendar. At first, this was very hard. The only thing I looked forward to was my pre-conception appointment (where the doctors would discuss Lucy’s autopsy results with us and make a plan for future pregnancies.) I wrote it in big letters on the calendar. Some other things I have found to look forward to: trying to conceive, trips out of town, renting movies, exercising by myself without my children, doing fun things with my kids (cooking with them, treasure hunts, museums, picnics…), date nights with Josh.
- Find some creative outlet for your grief: Some people paint or knit little hats for babies in the NICU. I write on this blog and it has helped me so much more than I ever imagined. Besides God, this blog has provided the most healing for me. It is an outlet for my thoughts and it is so amazing when I hear that it has encouraged another person in some way. By the way, thank you, so much to all of you who read my blog. You encourage me more than you know. Every comment is read and cherished and I am so thankful for you all.
- Listen to good music: For some reason I have a hard time finding praise and worship music that I like, but others who have suffered loss have told me it helped them so much. I finally found these old hymns that have been redone and I love them. I listen to them whenever I can. Even having it play in the background is helpful. It keeps my mind on God and off of my pain.
- Be ok with saying no: Don’t ever force yourself to do something you’re not ready for (baby showers, family get togethers, church, etc.) just because other people expect you to. One of the things I regret the most is making myself do things I wasn’t ready for. Give yourself permission to say no.
- Get lots of exercise. Get lots of sunshine.
- Keep taking your prenatal: I kept taking my prenatal vitamin because a lot of days I just couldn’t eat and that was pretty much the only nutrition I got for the day. Also, your body is trying to replace lots of lost nutrients and you need to be physically healthy to start healing emotionally. I have heard some women say that the prenatal is a trigger for them, so they take a women’s multivitamin instead.
- Find a safe person: It’s good to try to find at least one person that you feel safe with and spend time with that person so that you don’t lose all contact with other humans. My friend Shelly is great and she never hurts me with her words. Also, she isn’t pregnant or trying to get pregnant and she has two boys (ages 6 and 9) so she’s not a trigger for me. I know I’m safe with her, so I try to spend time with her every week.
- Know when to find help: Since losing Lucy, I have wondered many times how I could go on living (almost every day during those first months.) I think about heaven a lot, because my babies live there. I think it’s normal to want to be with your baby and to want to escape the pain. There is a line or a boundary that you need to be aware of, though, and when you realize you are crossing the line you need to tell someone and get help. If you ever start making plans about how you will end your life, you are crossing the line. Actually, if you ever think killing yourself is even a real option, you are crossing the boundary. I have begged God to let me be free from my pain, but I always respect the fact that it is HIS decision when I get to go home. Be vigilant about what you are thinking and if you feel yourself getting close to the line, call your doctor, tell a friend or family member and don’t allow yourself to be left alone (especially with your children.) I promise, the way you are feeling now is not how you will always feel. There truly is peace and even joy in your future.
Besides the practical things you can do to get through your loss, there are also some helpful thoughts that can strengthen you along your grief journey. Here are the thoughts that have helped me the most:
- Accept the fact that you are a different person: It took me a while to realize that my life would never go back to “normal.” I kept waiting for it to get better (which it does) and go back to the way it was before (which it never does.) There was healing and a little bit of closure when I accepted the fact that I am now a different person and this is the beginning of my new life. It doesn’t help at all to compare my new life with my old life.
- Expect people to say stupid things: Right after Lucy died my Mom gave me some advice that her brother had given her. He lost his first wife years ago, so he is familiar with grief. He said to expect people to say hurtful, sometimes ridiculous things and to not let the anger and bitterness take over. Most of those people don’t know what they are saying, but it’s easy to let the hurt run deep and stay there. Expect stupid, hurtful comments and try to let them go. My friend Shelly always says, “They’re just a bunch of nincompoops.” That always lightens the mood and helps me let the hurt go. They are just nincompoops who don’t know what they are saying.
- Don’t believe the lies: It is so easy to believe lies after you lose a baby. I think the most tragic thing that can ever happen to a person is to lose a child. That means that you are at your absolute weakest right after losing your baby. Realize that some of the things you are believing are lies from Satan, who loves to attack people when they are weak. I found Bible verses that counteract the many different lies that Satan has been telling me since losing Lucy (You are a bad mom, God wanted to hurt you, etc.) I have to read these truths again and again and they encourage me every time. You can find these lies and their corresponding truths here.
- It’s not your job to make them understand: Most people will not understand what you are going through unless they have lost a baby themselves. I was so frustrated at first because no one seemed to get it, no matter how well I explained it. My counselor finally told me that it’s not my job to make them understand, it is impossible. I let go of the burden and have accepted the fact that they won’t get it, and that’s fine. I didn’t understand either before I lost Lucy.
- Healing will take a long time: Right after Lucy died, one of my doctors told me that the healing process is very long after a stillbirth. He said studies have shown that it takes a year, at the very least, for a woman to emotionally heal from a stillbirth. Most people will expect you to be better after a few weeks or months. You are not weird if you are still grieving months or years after losing your baby. I thought my doctor was exaggerating a bit when he told me it would take at least a year to heal. I expected it to happen sooner. Now I know that for me, it will probably be years before I feel healed from the loss of my daughter. Don’t give your grief a timeline.
I hope some of these things will be helpful to someone who has been through a miscarriage or stillbirth. If you are a baby loss Mom, I would love to hear the things that have helped you survive your miscarriage or stillbirth.