Monday, October 1, 2012

Silent Grief: Pregnancy and Infant Loss

[Reviewed and updated May 22, 2024] 

Our duty is to remember them so their place in our lives is one of beauty, a beauty beyond this world. Our duty is to love them boldly, wildly, with every part of our being, and to carry their spirit into the world. ~ Dr. Joanne Cacciatore

A reader writes: It’s been two weeks since my baby died. I was 6 1/2 months pregnant. She had been extremely active ever since I first started feeling her move, but at around 22 or 23 weeks there were days when she wouldn't move at all. At 26 weeks, when I hadn't felt any movement for two days straight, my doctor ordered a full ultrasound, which showed no movement at all, although there was a heartbeat.
During the emergency c-section that followed, my baby was stillborn. After the C-section, I was in the hospital for three and a half days, during which I got to spend as much time with my daughter as I wanted. At first I thought this was a crazy idea but those precious moments I got with her in those days are all I will ever get to hold on to. Plus, we got the opportunity to get some pictures which we may never look at or maybe we'll cling to them -- who knows? The hospital was great, they helped us get foot prints and even called someone in to make molds of my baby girl’s feet. They also made us a birth certificate, since technically we don’t get one since she never took a breath.

I didn't cry until the night I got home from the hospital. It hit me in a wave. In the days since then I've been trying to stay as busy as I possibly can, which isn't very much seeing as I'm supposed to be resting for the next few weeks. But if I stop for two seconds I have a panic attack. I miss my baby. Yesterday there was a memorial -- but yesterday was supposed to be the day I got my 3D ultrasound pictures. I'm not supposed to be grieving the loss of a daughter I never got to know. I'm not supposed to be worrying about no one remembering her but me. Or people belittling my loss because I never got to be "attached" to my child. No one can "remember" her -- except for my baby's father and me. And really all he can remember was the dead baby we got to spend time with at the hospital, and that’s not the daughter I think of. 

It’s weird and hard to explain to anyone else except to say that when you have someone growing inside you, you feel like you already know her. I knew what time of day she kicked the most, I knew that she liked to be on the left side of my tummy and I knew that if I put headphones on my tummy and put a certain track of a classical CD I have on she'd start to kick like crazy. So even though I didn't know the color of her eyes or the sound of her laugh, I knew a different baby than the one they gave to me. It’s still hard for me to admit that that was my baby. In the hospital I held her as much as I could bear to -- but I never told her I loved her, and I never kissed her, and now I wish I did. I felt like I was holding a doll. I felt like I was going to wake up and it would be some horrible nightmare. 

I’m sure wherever my baby is she knows how much I love her, but I wish I could go back in time and express that more when I had her with me. I loved my child from the second I found out I was pregnant. All I ever wanted was for her to be healthy and for some unknown reason this had to happen. I am so angry and sad and I don’t know how to move foreword. I don’t see myself being able to move forward. I know people say it takes time, but I want my baby back. I'll always want my baby back. I just don’t know where to go from here. I feel so alone in my grieving for this baby, like no one else can truly understand because she was inside me and I was the only one who knew her in any way when she was alive.

Now I can’t help but wonder “what if?” about absolutely everything that I did during my pregnancy.  These questions keep circling around in my head and I feel a bit insane at times. I'm worried that whenever I get pregnant again I'll be afraid to leave my bed. I hate to look at my body because my boobs are starting to shrink as the milk dries up, and my stomach is slowly deflating -- I can see my toes again but I'm not supposed to be able to right now. I think the worst part of the physical part is the fact that I am going to have a permanent scar to remind me I lost my daughter. Emotionally though all I can think is that as soon as it’s physically possible I want to be pregnant again. I would never dream of having a child to "replace" this baby because that simply isn't possible and I know that, I really do. But I was very, very ready to be a mom.  Being a mom has always been number one on my list of things to do. That idea is what I cling to when I feel like everything is falling apart. 

My response: My heart hurts for you as I read your tragic story ~ I am so very sorry for the loss of your precious baby daughter, and I can only imagine how empty your aching arms must feel right now.

As a bereaved mom myself, I do know how it feels to lose a precious infant. Although it happened many years ago, when my own newborn baby David died unexpectedly after an uneventful pregnancy at the age of three days, the world as I knew it (and as I expected it to be) was suddenly turned upside down, and everyone in my corner of the world (except my husband) acted as if nothing of much consequence had happened. No one at home or at work or among my dearest friends would talk with me about it at all. I had no place to take my sorrow; back then there were no grief counselors, no grief support groups, not even articles or books about the grief that accompanies the death of an infant, and certainly no Internet with websites and forums aimed at grieving mothers.

While things have changed considerably since then, thank goodness, the sad fact remains that stillbirth or the death of a premature infant -- or even the death of a newborn at full term -- is trivialized by our society as a fairly insignificant occurrence, which can leave you feeling very angry, isolated and alone. Your heartache may be misunderstood by others, which can give you the impression that it is inappropriate and even abnormal to be mourning the loss of your baby. But the death of any baby is worthy of tears and grief, no matter what the age! And if you really wanted and planned for this pregnancy, you've lost much more than your baby.

You lost all the hopes and dreams you may have had for your little one as well. You've lost the opportunity to mother your daughter, to hold her, to love her and to watch her grow up. I can only imagine what you must be feeling and thinking, because it is only human to question "Why me? Why my baby?" Keep in mind that feelings are neither right or wrong, good or bad -- they just are, and we cannot always help what we feel. Right now you have every right to feel angry, hurt, singled out, and Heaven knows what else. What matters is what we do with what we are feeling, and feelings that are stuffed just sit there and fester. Feelings that are acknowledged and expressed will dissipate.

I don't know where you are taking your feelings about all of this, but I sincerely hope that you will make an effort to find others who've experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant loss, so that you will feel understood and validated, and not so alone in your pain. Grieving is difficult enough without having to do it all alone! Since this loss is so new, feels so unresolved and is demanding your attention now, I would expect that you still need to find someone to talk to about it -- someone who understands first-hand the trauma of infant death. Sharing your feelings, reactions and experiences with others in an "in person" support group comprised of other grieving mothers gives you a safe place to express yourself, helps you understand that what you are feeling is normal, and may give you the hope that if others have found a way to survive a loss like this, then you will find your own way, too.

You might consider contacting your local hospice organization, mortuary, church or synagogue, or even your local library, and ask what bereavement support services are available in your own community for mothers who've suffered a miscarriage or early infant loss. It's also beneficial for you to spend some time on the Internet, exploring many of the caring sites devoted to this important topic. Most of these sites have been developed by bereaved mothers, whose feelings and experiences may be similar to your own. You will find them listed on the Death of an Infant, Child or Grandchild page of my Grief Healing website. See especially The M.I.S.S. Foundation: Mothers In Sympathy and Support.

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