Updated: Mar 12, 2021
Whether your baby has died at 6 weeks or 36 weeks, the loss of your child is an unimaginable pain that sends your life and your emotions in a total spin. Feelings of numbness, shock, disbelief and the sense that this is all a bad nightmare that will go away when I wake up, is extremely common. I recall feeling as though my world began moving in slow motion – the doctors, the car park attendant and even my relatives all seemed to be moving and speaking in a way that was not the norm. It was such a strange experience and one that I can still vividly remember even 10 years on after the loss of my little girl Ruby.
So what can you do to manage that initial grief when you are given the news that your baby has died? Interestingly, grief can not only affect us emotionally, but our bodies also react to our feelings, and it is not uncommon to experience certain physical symptoms. Even the simplest of tasks can be completely overwhelming and too difficult to manage some days. Here are some of the ways you may be affected:
· overwhelming tiredness and exhaustion
· restlessness ‒ feeling unable to sit still
· aches and pains, e.g. headaches, backache, neck pain, rib and chest pain
· anxiety attacks
· difficulty breathing
· loss of appetite
· comfort eating
· finding it hard to sleep or fear of sleeping
· difficulty concentrating.
These symptoms can last for weeks, months or even in some cases years if not managed. Take the first few weeks slowly. Do not have any expectations of yourself or your partner. Allow the wave of emotions to come (as scary as that may seem) and give yourself permission to feel them. I often have families tell me that they are afraid to allow themselves to really feel those painful emotions, as they are terrified they will never return. In my experience, allowing yourself to go to those dark and painful places helps you to move through the grief journey. If you constantly avoid this hard place, your grieving could take longer and cause further physical symptoms. Do not push it aside or cover it up. Cry when you need to cry, wail when you need to wail and hide under the covers if you simply can not face the world. Some days you will only be able to manage simple tasks (if that) and other days you may feel stronger and be able to accomplish more. Do not beat yourself up if you are no longer coping with life as you once did. This will pass in time.
Some useful strategies to get you through the first few months of grieving will vary from person to person. Those who lean more towards being introverted may crave time alone and need space and quiet time to process what has happened. They may find family and friends far too overwhelming to be around. Loud noises and bright lights can send you in a spin. Listen to your body and let your emotions guide you into doing what you need. Others will find silence deafening and want constant company, music, noise and loads of friends and family dropping by to give support and encouragement. Neither is right or wrong, grief is personal and may vary from one day to the next. Do not be afraid to be assertive with people, tell them what you need and then put some clear boundaries in place. This very act will help you in the process of your grieving.
Set yourself one goal each day. It can be as simple as having a shower, going for a walk around the block or stepping out for a coffee. Some days that may be all you can manage. Setting a goal and following it through can give you a small sense of achievement, which over time adds up to hope and a sense of accomplishment, despite how small or grand these goals are.
Journalling your thoughts and emotions is another way to help you process your grief. Even if you haven’t picked up a diary since you were a pimple faced teenager, in my experience as a bereaved mother, and caring for many families, it can be an extremely powerful way to help you face your emotions. It doesn’t need to be as detailed or as lengthy as a war and peace novel, it can be as simple as writing for ten minutes. I encourage my families to pick a time in the day when they will be uninterrupted to allow their mind to go to those hard places. Find a place that is peaceful (garden, deck, park, bedroom floor) and pour yourself a glass of wine or make a cup of tea and immerse yourself in writing. Trust me, I was a huge sceptic until I tried it, and now swear by the power of this exercise.
Another very powerful strategy is to “pay it forward”. Now certainly this is not an easy exercise to do in the first few weeks or even months, however in my experience, giving back to others and particularly in honour of your baby/babies’ life/lives is very healing. There are many organisations and groups that would welcome a helping hand. SANDS is an organisation that is there to support families who have had a miscarriage or child loss. They have support groups in the community that are open to anyone grieving or hurting. Perhaps you could connect with one of them or even make yourself available to host one. Again, listen to your body and your emotions. Attending support groups is not for everyone so be wise.
Precious Wings is also a charity that presents families who have had a loss with memory boxes. They have box making workshops many times throughout each month, so you can make one in honour of your little one that has passed away.
Angel Gowns is also a wonderful organisation that makes exquisite gowns for babies that have passed away out of donated wedding dresses. If you have a wedding dress that is just gathering dust in the back of the cupboard, or you have some particularly impressive sewing skills you could contact this organisation and offer a helping hand.