By Pat Schwiebert, RN
Founder of Portland’s Brief Encounters support groups for parents who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss, and author of Tear Soup
I see you coming through the door to attend support group. Some of you are still numb and have not quite grasped the finality of your baby’s death. Some of you are barely able to breathe. You are preoccupied with your baby’s death, not caring about anything else, afraid to really allow yourself to grieve deeply for fear of going crazy. You are hypersensitive to others’ superficial remarks. You are edgy, irrational and self absorbed, clutching your baby’s memory in your arms, not believing that things could ever get better, and at the same time possibly afraid that things might get better.
Then you meet someone who also experienced the death of their baby—three years ago—and your worst fear is realized: You don’t get over this kind of grief.
To get over grief assumes that at some point your baby’s death will no longer affect you. Wrong. You may also wrongly assume, because this parent who has been grieving for three years and still needs to come to a support group, that things will NEVER get better. What many grieving parents have discovered is that, though life may or may not get “better,” it will be different. Many parents will choose to come to a group yearly at anniversary times because they have learned about safe places to grieve.
You don’t get over grief. You get used to it. As you reenter life it will at first feel like walking through land mines. An innocent comment or question from a friend, a TV show or commercial, an advertisement in the mail, a song on the radio, or the mere presence of a baby, will throw you back into the pit of grief. Though it may seem like it sometimes, however, you don’t ever go all the way back to the beginning of grief to start from scratch again, and gradually recovery from these setbacks takes less time.
At first, you may find yourself wanting to avoid anything that intensifies your longing for your baby. But as you begin to trust yourself and your own grief process you can use those times to look back and remember, yet not relive. You will find that you can’t both love and regret your baby’s life.
You will become acutely aware that grief lasts longer than sympathy. No matter how much you want others to miss your baby and to feel your pain, they will be unable to do so as deeply or as long as you will. This is your baby, not theirs. They didn’t have a relationship with your baby in the way that you did. What’s more, you most likely would feel a bit resentful if they carried as much sorrow as you.
You will accept that bereaved persons are very poor company. It may be hard to engage in superficial conversation or to care about what’s going on in other’s lives. Family and friends will want you to quickly return to your old self, not realizing there is no way for such a loss to leave you the way you were. Over time, you will learn that others mean well. You will find that relationships will change. And you will learn who you can count on for emotional support and who is unable provide this.
You will have to confront issues like:
- How will you acknowledge your baby’s birth and death days?
- Will you include their memory in holiday celebrations? You may find there is not agreement within the family. The need to acknowledge publicly often becomes private after the first few years.
Some of the other issues you will face are:
- When will you consider trying to conceive again?
- How will you keep your baby’s memory alive?
- How will you talk with your children about this baby?
- How will you and your partner accept each other’s unique way of grieving for the same baby?
- To whom will you tell this secret?
Our English language is inadequate. When you try to tell others what it was like to have your baby die, you will find that words will fail to describe the true experience, and you will learn to be satisfied with that.
You’ll feel better in time, but your baby will still be dead. You will learn to trust that you do not have to hold on to the pain of grief in order to remember your baby.
You will be able to say to your baby, “Wherever I am, there you are also.”
Photo courtesy of Darci VandenHoek, Blueline Studios