Q&A: How Did You Cope?

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QUESTION

How did you cope?
“I wish I had sought you all out in the very early days. I was too scared to look online. I was too afraid of judgment.”

What helped you to cope in the aftermath of ending your wanted pregnancy?

How did you cope physically and emotionally?

What got you through those first few days and weeks?

What do you wish you had known at the time?

ANSWERS

All answers are from members of our private support group.


There are a two mottoes that helped me: “I took the pain so my baby wouldn’t have to feel it” and “I will hold her in my heart if not in my hands.” From that starting off point I did a few things:
1. I purchased a ring that was engraved with her name and angelversary so she could always be with me.

2. I read the stories of other women who were grieving. The next part may sound callous, but I saw how some of them grieved and knew I didn’t want to grieve that way. (They weren’t wrong, as there is no wrong way to grieve—it just wasn’t for me). I sought professional therapy.

3. Through therapy I came to terms with what had happened. “Losing Rose was the saddest thing that has ever happened to me but no child wants their mom to be sad, so I will find a way to live without being sad.” Personally, sharing Rose’s story made me feel better. I felt so alone in the beginning. I decided her journey would be through my efforts to comfort other mom’s who have to end a wanted pregnancy.

4. I painted a room in our house for her, the guest room. I didn’t want “her room” to be the nursery because I felt like that would be replacing her if I had a rainbow baby. That may sound ridiculous but when you only plan on one kid, thinking about subsequent kids feel odd at first. So instead Rose welcomed all of our guests, whether they knew it or not.


Don’t be afraid to avoid parties and gatherings of family/friends until you are ready. Even then they may be difficult. Kids or pregnant women may trigger your feelings of loss all over. Baby showers will be extremely difficult. Don’t be afraid to send regrets or to duck out early.


I took care of my body because it was a manageable way to take care of my mind. At first, this meant feeding my body healthy food, avoiding sugar and processed snacks, and making sure to eat a lot of vegetables and good fats (fish, olive oil, avocado). Later, once I got the doctor’s OK, I added yoga and running to the mix. I hate to run, but the days I ran were so much better than the days I didn’t. So I kept running.

I made a very short list of goals, and I did them every single day. Get up. Dress self and daughter. Walk to grocery store (fresh air and sunshine are good for you, no matter what). Stop at park on the way home. Cook healthy dinner. Eat. Put daughter to bed. Go to sleep. Repeat. (Later, I added in running first thing in the morning, and a shower. I couldn’t shower at first because it let my milk down.)

I accepted help from friends and family. If someone offered to bring a meal, I said, “Yes, thank you.” If someone told me, “I wish there was something I could do.” I asked if they could come for a visit sometime, and keep me company—with the understanding that I might need to cry, or I might not. I never turned down seeing a friend. I know that a lot of people gain comfort from retreating from social situations, but I am a hardcore extrovert, so for me friends are medicine. Exposing myself to my very most trusted friends, one at a time, really helped me through those early days.

I also asked friends, family, and neighbors to spread the word of my daughter’s death like a wave all around me. I call this “protective gossip.” I needed people to know about my loss without always having to be the one to tell everyone. “Is there anything I can do?” “Yes. Could you please tell the Smiths and the Browns for me?”

Eventually, after a couple of months, I reached out to support groups. This one, online, and an infant loss group that meets in my area.

Lastly, I learned to forgive myself for my completely unpredictable emotional responses to things. Just to ride it out. If I started sobbing somewhere public, and it was embarrassing, I learned to shrug it off. If I started laughing and it felt strangely inappropriate, I learned to let the laughter in without judgment. Basically, I learned to treat myself with the consideration that I was asking of my friends and family. It took a while, and it was always up and down, but even being able to touch a place of acceptance with myself helped me weather that first rocky year.


My husband said something at the time that helped me tremendously. I was sitting at the top of our stairs, just crying because I was overwhelmed by what we had to do. He sat down with me and held me and said, “You and me and Charlotte (our living toddler) are like a little island. And right now, our island is completely under water. But when that water recedes—and trust me, it will recede—our little island is still going to be here.”


Someone on the Yuku board said these two simple things that I have held on to: “This journey is a roller coaster; you are going to have ups and downs and one day you will have more ups than downs.” And, “No, things will never be the same but you will find a new normal.”


Do what feels right at the time of your procedure—don’t worry about what you “should” do. The advice we read said to bring a camera and take pictures. We had the camera but when they brought our baby to us and we held him, I just did not feel that he wanted to be seen or remembered that way. I’d been in for labor 42 hours after the KCL injection, and he was very dark by then. I was traumatized by the way he looked, and I knew that seeing pictures later would cause me to relive that trauma. The hospital said they took a picture and put it in a file, and I could ask for it later if I wanted it. I never did. I never will. To this day I find seeing pictures of other’s lost babies upsetting and I’m one of those pretty hard to upset people. Even 15 years out I have no regrets about going with my gut on pictures.


1. I wish I had sought you all out in the very early days. I was too scared to look online. I was too afraid of judgment.

2. My husband was raised by a very catholic family, and he wanted to keep this very private (just between us). It seems crazy but I didn’t even tell my mom what really happened. I wish I had been braver. I eventually shared, but I really could have used the appropriate hand-holding early on. People react differently when they think the baby died on its own.

3. I needed more time off from work than I took

4. Despite not taking enough time off work, I shut myself away from my friends at the worst possible time. I didn’t think anyone could possibly feel like me and so I didn’t even allow people to try to get close. I’m still paying for that 8 years later. It was all very hard to undo for me. I still have trouble letting people in.


I told my husband I was sad/mad at myself for not holding her for longer, his response was “forever wouldn’t have been long enough.” He was right and I could never have held her forever and I couldn’t be mad at myself for something so out of my control.


Be gentle with yourself. Know that time does not equal depth in terms of grief. Avoid department stores and grocery stores in the first few weeks. Ask for help and accept it. Cry. Know you and your partner will grieve differently at times, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t hurting too. There is no shame in contacting a professional—just make sure he or she is versed in perinatal bereavement. And lean on us: That’s what we are here for!


I read books about ways to handle the grief. Friends who had lost a pregnancy told me to be sure to hold the baby and take pictures to remember her. I had an amazing nurse who took care of us through multiple shifts (I later learned she shifted her schedule to take care of us). I asked her to tell me if she thought I should see her or not. When the time came and she told me she didn’t think I should see her, I trusted her judgment.

The hospital made us a memory box with photos, foot and hand prints, a card signed by all the staff who had helped us, a baby bonnet, and a pendant from a local jeweler. I did eventually look at the photos and I know we made the right choice to not see her or hold her after several days of labor. We also went against advice and did not name her the name we had been discussing, but named her Nina after the nurse we grew close to. We don’t usually refer to her by name though.

I agree with going with your gut on social engagements. I had friends and family members who were pregnant at the same time I was. I could sometimes be around them without pain, but chose to not go to baby showers for a few months.

I had been on antidepressants in the past, so I requested them in the hospital. I used them to help me through the immediate aftermath, then stopped taking them when I wanted to try to get pregnant again.

Be true to your feelings. I was devastated for a few months and the experience affected my career and several other choices I made, but I’m truly not sad about it anymore (a few years later). Maybe it’s because I’ve since had three daughters or maybe it’s because I’m not religious or sentimental. Whatever the reason, I don’t commemorate the due date or end date or even remember them. I don’t even think about kids the age she would have been in any sad way. I understand other people who do feel these things, but only mention the way I feel about it because I haven’t really seen many references to my approach. I think I’m still mentally healthy and well-adjusted.


About two weeks out, my doctor’s office told me to contact a support group called Difficult Decisions that met in our area. I called that day and there happened to be meeting that night. That group got both me and my husband through that first year.

On a daily basis, for me, the only thing that got me out of bed was my dog. He needed me so he and I went for lots and lots of walks.

I steered clear of baby sections in the stores, and I stopped watching television programs or movies with pregnant women or babies.

I stayed off the internet beginning with the day we got the news. I did not want to see the pictures of babies with the same anomaly that my son had or hear the horror stories. Google was not my friend.

We lost our son the day I graduated from college. I still did a family dinner four days later and then Christmas a few after that. I loved that my family let me have the space I needed but allowed me to still be part of the day on my own terms.


This is a hard question. I am definitely the type to shut everyone out during hard times. It goes without saying that this was/has been the hardest time of my life. I cocooned myself and chose not to talk to family or friends for two or three weeks. My wife did the talking for the both of us, and let everyone who knew we were expecting know that we’d lost the baby. Only those closest to us knew we had ended the pregnancy. She asked that our close friends spread the word to others who knew about our pregnancy. This was helpful for both of us.

While I found it very difficult to speak to people “in real life,” I almost immediately took to the Internet. I discovered that there was a secret group of us who’ve had to make this horrific decision and read as much as I could to feel less alone. I found the stories on EWP and just let myself cry and cry. I found the TFMR board on Baby Center and shared my own story. I kind of fell off the face of the earth for a while and existed only online. I just could not for the life of me connect with anyone who hadn’t gone through this experience. I didn’t want to hear their canned condolences (that’s what it felt like at the time), I just wanted to wallow in my grief and self-pity. And that’s OK.

I still do my fair share of wallowing, and I still think it’s OK. We are blessed to have a living child, so I stayed as strong as I could for him and reminded myself that all is not lost. I looked to the future and met with my RE to discuss when I would be able to try to get pregnant again. For me, this really helped. I needed something to look forward to. My wife and I have met with counselors/therapists, but still, I continue to find that connecting to women who have gone through this is what helps the most.


My mom gave me a great bit of advice in the aftermath. I was struggling with the huge decision of whether to try to get pregnant again, try to adopt or just stop at the one living child we already had. My mom said, “You don’t need to decide anything right now. You’ve just been through several huge decisions and you’re in ‘big decision’ mode. Give yourself a break from making decisions for a while and come back to those questions when you’re feeling better.”


Lots of walking. I live in a city, so it was easy to do and I had an amazing friend who just kept coming back. We’d walk our dogs for miles and  miles. I felt like I was walking off the thickest, hardest part of the early grief and forcing myself to move was one of the things that kept me from closing the blinds and never getting out of bed.


The most freeing advice for me was to allow myself to be OK with however I acted or didn’t act, and to give myself a pass to say or do whatever felt natural whether it unfolded in public or even alone. Along with that came a deep sense of stopping any harsh self judgement. I realized the importance of being kind to myself to get through the heaviness of my choice and my loss.

 

 

Image: The Decameron (detail) John William Waterhouse, 1816. {Public Domain}