Sunday, May 22, 2011
Back in 2004 when we experienced our first miscarriage, I did not know there were books, or online groups, or other things that might help me remember the baby we had just lost. Some people around us did not even consider it a "baby" ... because "you were only 10 weeks along". It did not matter to me how far along I was ... I had spent over a month getting excited and planning for and dreaming about this sweet baby to come. And then it was over ... no more baby, no more dreams.
I had not yet walked this horrible road, I didn't know how to cope. I admit I avoided most of my family and friends for a while. I could not go one minute without thinking of my baby, without feeling such sadness and I doubted that most people in my life could understand that. I didn't want to have to explain why I would just spontaneously just burst into tears. Then, a friend who had miscarried years before sent me a book titled Empty Arms. And that motivated me to search for other books ... it helped to read other mom's stories. And another friend whose baby was stillborn several months before I miscarried sent me a sympathy card and flowers in a beautiful glass vase that was shaped like pink and blue baby blocks. She also gave me a sweet teardrop remembrance necklace. Her recognition of our loss and her willingness to talk about our baby meant more to me than anything.
We have now lived through 4 miscarriages and have come to learn that most people would rather not discuss the loss. Many loved ones will avoid contact with grieving parents in those first weeks. And if they do come around they encourage you to "move on", "try again", or "go home and hug those kids you do have". I know death and grieving can be uncomfortable subjects and most people who have made those comments had good intentions, they only wanted to see us feel better. But please know those are not helpful things to say to a grieving mom or dad, and there is simply nothing that will make us feel better right now.
A parent experiencing a loss (miscarriage, still birth or death of a child) already knows you can't fix their situation, they do not expect you to, nor do they expect any magical words to make them feel better. Trust me there simply are none! What we need is someone to say how sorry they are for our loss, ask if we named the baby and then if we did have a name for our baby please use that name. Ask if there is any special way we want to memorialize or remember our baby (or babies). And most importantly we need you to listen ... just listen ... you can't fix it, please don't try to, and please don't try to talk us out of our grief. We need time to grieve, true healing can't begin without first grieving. If grieving moms feel that we must try to stuff our grief down inside or hide it away it only ends up eating us up inside and causes various other problems.
One of the saddest things to me was that I had held this tiny little life inside of me, I loved her so much and was dreaming of names and nursing and first smiles and all those wonderful baby things. Once my baby was gone I still loved her, I wanted others to still love her too. But almost no one ever mentioned her again. I couldn't wipe out all those dreams and all that love ... it grew roots inside of me ... it became a part of who I am. It hurt so much to think that to most people in my life she just disappeared overnight. But thankfully my friend who had experienced stillbirth got it! She used Liberty's name and let me talk about what I was missing and what I was feeling. She let me grieve with out attempting to fix it or fix me. I've come to realize that moms who lose our babies (at 4 weeks, 4 months, 4 years or any age) need memories to hold onto and it is of some comfort to know that others want to share in those memories. I realize its hard to talk to a mom about the baby you may have never met, or the child who has been dead for a year now. But trust me, we want to know that our baby or child is remembered and still loved by other people.
Every mom is different, we had different dreams, different ways of expressing love and we'll have different ways of grieving. So I don't think there is ever going to be one pat answer for how to help a mom who has lost a pregnancy/baby/child. But I can share what has helped me and the other grieving moms I've talked with and gotten to know. The teardrop necklace has been a treasured possession of mine ... it not only reminds me of my baby but of a friend who cared enough to walk this sad road with me.
The books and websites and poetry that I've been sent have allowed me to know I am not alone in this grief that others have walk this road and survived.
Grieving moms can feel such strong grief one minute and such anger the next and simple things seem to no longer make any sense ... many of us in our first days of grief have wondered if we are going insane ... and many of us who have no one to share with do indeed go insane. It is a sad lonely place to be. But when I heard other moms describing the same thoughts and feeling that I had been having it made a difference. I've heard many other moms say that sharing their story with other moms and hearing the stories of others' grief helped them survive. Again, I'll remind you it does not "fix" anything, it doesn't make it "all better", please do not make that your goal ... but sharing with us and letting us share helps us survive.
In my most recent loss we came to realize my body was not doing the job of miscarrying on its own. It was terribly emotionally painful to know that the belly I felt swelling and growing no longer had a living baby inside it. And my pregnancy symptoms were not going away. When I would eat and then still become nauseous and sick, I would get so angry ... why couldn't my body just realize!!! So we ended up needing a d&c this time. We sought out help from I.R.I.S. (Infants Remembered In Silence). I wanted a small casket like container to take to the hospital for our baby's remains, so we could later have a service and bury our baby. My friend who helped and blessed me so much in my first miscarriage came to my rescue again and was able to pick up the container from the I.R.I.S. office in Fairbault and get it to me before the date of our scheduled d&c. I.R.I.S. not only sent the container we needed, but an angel pin for both me an my husband, a sweet tiny baby blanket, several books and pamphlets on loss and grief and support, and a hand knit prayer shawl with a card from the woman who knit it and then donated it to I.R.I.S. She too had experienced a miscarriage years ago and wanted to provide prayers and comfort to other women in their tome of grief. I was overwhelmed with the love and compassion these gifts expressed.
During my search for more information on d&c and containers and burying this tiny baby I came in contact with a woman who wrote one of the books that I.R.I.S. had given me. Her name is Sherokee Ilse and if you click on her name you can read her story and see her books at her website. She offered to be what we describe as a perinatal loss doula. Click HERE to read the best description I have found for what a perinatal loss doula does. And you can click HERE for another point of view about having a doula during loss. I can not even begin to put into words the ways that Sherokee and Kara Jo have bless us and helped us through this past two weeks. Kara Jo is a dear friend of mine who was to be my birth doula. Coincidentally she had actually taken a class last year given by Sherokee on loss in pregnancy and how a doula can help the grieving family.
God blessed me with not one comforting doula, but two! Then he blessed me with several other angels on earth ... a sweet nurse who had walked this road of loss her self and a wonderful chaplain who came in to pray over us not just once, but twice. The hospital we were at has an OB nurse, Sheila, with the specific title of "Perinatal Loss Coordinator". Sherokee had worked with Sheila before and contacted her a few days before my d&c. Sheila helped us navigate hospital policy so our baby's remains could go home with us. She also helped the surgery staff know what I needed, she stayed with me in the OR and she blessed us with a sweet little lamb and blankie. Kara and Sherokee read scripture to me and Allen, they prayed with us, they helped me ask the hard questions and made sure that the medical staff respected my wishes and caringly addressed my fears. They brought books, poems, the tiny baby blanket and things that helped me feel cared for in this sadness. My baby was being born ... yes tiny and no longer alive ... in fact he had already been resting in Jesus sweet arms for a few weeks, but his body still had to part from mine. I can't describe the lonely aching that comes with this realization. Its not how it should be!
Whether it happens with blood and cramping at home or in the sterile medical environment of a d&c in the hospital, a baby who is no longer living needs to leave its mother's womb. Its not what I wanted ... not how I wanted my baby to leave my body. I wanted him to grow and kick for months to come and be born wiggling and crying. I wanted his daddy to cut the cord, wrap him in a blanket and place him in my arms. I wanted to kiss his sweet head and toes, nurse him and sing him lullabies. None of those things were possible at this birth, but my doulas made such a beautiful effort to help me grieve that loss. My baby's remains were respected as just that - my baby. I received a tiny baby blanket to cover my baby with, we placed him in a tiny cradle and we played hymns and lullabies from a cd we brought with us and we were given a certificate and hospital bracelet with his name and mine on them. He was real, he was ours. And it is OK that we miss him. Its ok to miss the dreams that will not be.
I am well aware of how we were lifted up in prayer as we learned our baby no longer had a heart beat and then the next week when we headed to the hospital for a d&c. Although I wish this never had to happen, I can tell you I see God's hand in many of the "circumstances" in the last two weeks ... placing certain people at certain places at just the right time to bring me comfort. And the cards and meals and phone calls arriving at just the moment I was in need ... I know better than to believe in coincidences ... we call them "God-cidences". My Heavenly Father sees my pain and relates better than anyone ... His son died too.
I want people to know there is no way to make this time "good" for any mom whose baby has died ... but there are certainly ways to make it worse. Please don't avoid a grieving mom and please don't try to "fix" her. Just be with her, honor her needs and her memories. Sherokee told me that our goals were to try and have as few regrets as possible and maximize our path to healing. We took care to respect this birth, to give us memories and time to love our sweet Journey Peace. It is not the birth I wanted but it was much better and much more healing than the impersonal and lonely "medical procedure" it could have been. It is my hope that those who care for and work with pregnant moms would grow and learn that there are ways to help us, there are ways to provide us a few precious memories ... those are moments we carry with us the rest of our lives, those moments and memories help to launch our healing process.