Navigating The Trauma Of Losing A Baby

Navigating The Trauma Of Losing A Baby

It is new year’s eve, for me a time of quiet contemplation. Gone are the days of huge celebrations, it has other significant meanings for me. As we wave goodbye to 2016 it is saying goodbye to the year we lost our baby daughter. Loss has tainted many of our married years, and I find myself sat here thinking ‘if there’s one thing I am wishing for this year, its not to loose any more babies.’ We lost our first baby 6 years ago over Christmas and new year. An agonising, and for me physically painful time, ended with the final blow at the beginning of January – our baby’s heart had stopped and I was going to experience my first ‘missed’ miscarriage. That year was followed with another miscarriage, and then the pregnancy of my daughter. Skip forward a few more years and we have since experienced three more miscarriages. I’ve suffered haemorrhages, had more scans than I can remember, buried two babies in the garden, found out our last baby was a girl and undergone all sorts of tests with no causes found.

It can be so hard to know which way to turn, how to cope and manage. Nothing written seems to fit quite right, miscarriage is loss and grief is the consequence, yet it has its own complexities that aren’t the same as losing a loved one with whom you shared memories. I wish I could tell you a definitive list of how to get through this distressing time, but its too individual, and I have learnt that for all the reading I have done the answers can only come from within. I can share with you what has helped me, from my experience, the beautiful people who have helped me stand again, and moments of clarity I’ve had in all the madness. Hopefully they at least bring comfort in knowing you are not alone.

Every feeling is valid

As adults we know what is socially acceptable and can control and express emotions appropriately (most of the time!). But, there is a difference between controlling, and suppressing them. It is important to hear what your mind and body is telling you – you’re angry, bitter, jealous, depressed, feel guilty – all normal, all valid. You will go through all sorts of emotions, some may shock you; relief? I’ve felt relief a few times. Once all the physical pain stops, it engulfs me like I can breathe again for a moment – then guilt hits, but that relief is a natural response to being free of physical pain, its allowed. Feel relief for another reason? That’s allowed too.

Your emotions are all over the place and you can get caught up believing that there is a right and wrong way to feel, there isn’t. Every feeling is valid, ignoring how you feel eats away at you, but accepting each feeling as normal means you can then let go of guilt. Its is the first step in allowing your mind to process the situation.

Talk about it

One of the main ways we process our feelings is by talking about them. Now, I talk a lot, what I didn’t appreciate until I went to counselling was the need to talk things through many times before they made sense. Getting professional help was one of the most healing experiences for me. Was it easy? No, it wasn’t, I wont lie, at first it was like living the torture all over again, but as time went on, and I talked through the same things again and again it all became safe, free of cliches and judgement. I didn’t always enjoy it, I didn’t always agree with my counsellor, but I could talk about whichever bit was swamping my mind at the time.

Talking with a professional is so different to chatting with friends and family who find it hard to see you in pain. They either want to distract you from it, or fix it for you, when actually what you need to do is stay in it, feel it all and be present in the moment, however painful that moment is, because acknowledging what you feel is the first step in learning how to cope. I was fortunate to have great GPs at the time of my 4th loss, and when the NHS had me on a wait list for months despite having suspected PTSD my GP helped me find someone, who without a doubt turned my life around. If you can pay privately then do.

Often we put our mental health last on the list of important things to pay for, but for me it is now more valuable than so many other things. There are also charities such as Tommys and the Miscarriage Association who can offer support, and many Facebook groups. Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you say it, just saying it is enough. In that respect even the most introverted person can find ways; a letter to yourself, a private blog or journal. Find ways to speak about it

Everything changes

Everything changes after loss. Whether it is the first or the fifth time, things alter, physically, emotionally, morally even. Your thoughts and feelings change, your beliefs and ideas about what is important may too. You may question everything about yourself and the people around you. Sometimes that means relationships that were once great now seem incompatible. Not all relationships are meant to last a lifetime, but good friendships will survive these times without need for constant explanation or the usual pattern. Have faith that those who are important will still be there, no matter how long you take, how much you fall apart, and how much distance happens in those times, the important ones will wait patiently.

Hit pause

The pressure to get back to normal can be immense and yes, if it heals you to continue as normal then do so, but it is never a necessity. If you no longer feel like going out then don’t, if the studying you were doing is now insignificant then find a way to put it on hold. I’ve been there where life hasn’t made sense anymore, and whilst you shouldn’t go leaping into big decisions, give yourself the permission to hit pause. Pause anything that doesn’t need dealing with right now, take time off work. Don’t see people who cause you stress, surround yourself with people that bring you peace and comfort. Some things may never be unpaused, but eventually you will know which parts remain important in your life. You do not need to carry on like nothing happened.

Find your own rituals

Something I learnt to accept through counselling was the importance of rituals and giving meaning to our grief. When there is no burial and no memories, it can easily be swept past by others and leave you feeling forgotten. When a person who has lived dies, people come together, they form union over their shared experiences. There are ceremonies, a chance to honour the loved one and say goodbye. People will mark anniversaries, birthdays, memorable moments by carrying out rituals. Because with miscarriage there isn’t a ceremony to say goodbye, often none of the other rituals come either.

Without any rituals the existence of our babies often becomes lost, unmarked and that can leave us feeling like the world sees them as insignificant. It took until my fourth loss to really understand this. For my first few losses, in my heart I knew I had lost a baby, I felt they were beings and they lived even though it was brief, yet I felt I couldn’t grieve. I couldn’t name them or acknowledge them as babies to the world because I let the words of others control my feelings. I trusted doctors who referred to my babies as tissue and GPs who told me to carry on, try and work and see friends when my gut feeling was to grieve.

Well-meaning friends told me how common it was, how it was only early, how we could try again, how next time would be different. None of which lessened my pain. Then I had my fourth miscarriage, and it threw the world I knew into chaos. Suddenly this tiny baby that had only survived in my womb for 10 weeks was in my hand, complete and perfect, and I cannot explain in one short paragraph everything I felt, everything I went through. But it taught me so much – it took me a long time to reach this point of understanding but he taught me not to be afraid of my feelings, of my love, my pain, my grief, he showed me he was real and that helped me know that they were all real, no matter the gestation, they all existed.

I buried him with a potted cherry blossom, and though it took 6 months, and counselling and a lot of suffering eventually I let go of what I thought I should do and let myself do what I wanted to, the rituals that would help me. I named him Ezra – I didn’t know his gender, but that felt right to me, I got him a memorial stone for the pot. I light candles when I think of him, I paint memory stones, and spend special time with my daughter on anniversaries and I write because of him.

This doesn’t make it hurt less, but it reminds me he existed, and if he existed then my feelings of loss and suffering are justified. When I then lost our daughter this year at only 8 weeks (we found out gender during genetic testing for her) we named her Seren, which means star – this acknowledged my other three babies who remained un-named, but to me had always been stars in the sky. Even though I didn’t see a perfect little baby with Seren, I actually found that because of my experience with Ezra I could move forward through that fear of ‘is she a baby?’ because I knew she was. Not everyone will want to name babies and bury them and carry out rituals, and that’s ok, but if you find yourself lost and confused take some time to reflect on who they were to you. Sometimes thinking about them hurts, I know that, but it also heals. Acknowledge the love you felt.

Grief and happiness can co-exist

Does it ever get easier? So many people want to know the answer to this. I think how much love you feel for something or someone doesn’t ever fade away just because they are no longer there, so 10 years down the line the hurt and pain you feel when faced with a memory may be just as intense as the day you lost them, but it does change. As you process what has happened life evolves. You carry the memory of them with you for all eternity but you find ways to manage to live again, and somewhere along the line there will be moments in life that feel beautiful and happy. They may be rare at first, but one day you will be walking with the sun on your face, or be touched by the kindness of another, and you will start to remember the beauty of life. This is why I say grief and happiness can co-exist.

Grief ebbs and flows, it is not something that is painful and slowly dies away to nothing, it is calm and then it is turbulent. In those calm times its ok to be happy, when you feel peaceful it is ok to enjoy life, this isn’t forgetting, this is living, living doesn’t mean they were less important it means they were so important that you decided to live for them. My miscarried babies have taught me so much about gentleness, forgiveness, love, humanity, and the beauty of nature. Of course I wish I hadn’t suffered those losses, but they have made me who I am.

I cannot tell you that everything will be ok, I cannot tell you that one day you will hold your rainbow baby, it doesn’t always happen. I’m not sure it will be happening for us, and sometimes hearing people say those things can undermine our suffering because we don’t want babies to replace the lost ones, we wish to have the ones we’ve lost back. But I can tell you this, you can survive this, there will be days where you think you can’t – I have them, I have all this experience, and still when my daughter talks about wanting a sibling, or when I think about wether I can mentally go through it again, I am floored with pain and fear, but I hold on to knowing that each time I have managed to see beauty in the world again. You will be different but you will survive.

The term rainbow baby refers to the baby that arrives after the storm of losing a baby. Suffering recurrent loss made me feel angry about this term for a long time, each time I thought I was going to get my rainbow it was snatched away again – how many storms do I have to weather to be deserving enough of a rainbow? And then eventually I realised something, so I leave you with this final thought.

Rainbow babies may not always happen, but rainbows will, they come in all shapes and sizes, people, words, music, love, passion. There is always one to be found, it may not be where you hoped, you might have to wait and you may find it in different places, but if you wait, one day you will see one again.

Resources

Miscarriage Association – offers support in many ways, their website has a wealth of information including printable leaflets, they have a large online community both on the website and via Facebook. They are also always fighting for improvements

Tommys – Tommys have recently opened the first early miscarriage specific centre and they offer a variety of support too.

Saying Goodbye – Saying Goodbye run services across the country, usually in cathedrals that people can attend to honour theor lost babies no matter the gestation, or how long ago it happened. This goes some way to providing an opportunity to say goodbye.

Carly Marie Project Heal – Carly Marie has suffered her own story of babyloss. She works endlessly to help women heal. Each year in babyloss awareness month (October) she runs ‘capture your grief’, a project aimed at helping you heal through acknowledging your feelings – alongside my counsellor this was the next best thing, and the most proactive thing I managed to do that healed me most.

Written by Melissa Brierley