“They should be over it by now.”
This was the unsolicited advice a friend of the family told another family member not long after we lost Baby K. Not only did I find this to be insensitive at the time (I still do), but even more so because this person is a therapist. Yes, a therapist.
The thing is, when you lose a child, you never “get over it.” Hell, when you lose anyone, you never truly get over it. There will always be a part of your heart and your soul that’s missing. But there’s a difference between living with baby loss and living baby loss. As bereaved moms, dads, siblings, grandparents and so on, we will always carry the heartbreak of not having all of our children with us, and all of the missed memories. And yet life doesn’t stop. So we learn to live in this new normal, which means some days functioning, and some days collapsing in grief. That’s OK. What’s not OK is feeling like you have to do it alone.
Perhaps the notion of getting over it, comes from the “acceptance” stage in the five stages of grief. People like to put things into neat packages. They like a beginning, middle and end. But grief doesn’t work like that. There’s a difference in getting to the point of acceptance that something happened, and pushing that situation forever out of mind. Why do we give people permission to grieve, but put expectations on it for what’s acceptable? Grief looks different for everyone. It doesn’t have an expiration date. Grief flows in and out of existence at the most expected—and unexpected—moments. And although there may be stages, it isn’t a straight line, nor is it a one-way street. Isn’t it possible that the best way to help people work through their grief is to allow them to do so in a fluid way?
A couple of weeks after losing Baby K, I was back to work physically, but mentally elsewhere. I had just gotten off of the phone with our new therapist to set up our first appointment when I started hemorrhaging from what we later found to be the result of an incomplete post-delivery D&C. My coworker took me to the Emergency Room while a terrified Double A rushed to meet me. When we were finally taken from the ER to the main hospital to be checked out, a 7-month plus pregnant doctor came in to evaluate me.
A 7-month pregnant doctor came in to help the woman who had just lost her daughter at 17 weeks.
How does this happen? Sure, I realize that it is a busy hospital where they see a variety of patients of all ailments, and that the first doctor available takes the next case. But at the same time, how could someone not think about the emotional ramifications of sending a clearly visible pregnant doctor in to help a bereaved mom?
This needs to change. Conversations must be had.
Support for bereaved parents varies across the board. Part of this stems from the hush-hush nature of baby loss. The guilt and the shame, and the notion that we shouldn’t talk about it. And part of it comes from the rushed nature of many of today’s medical appointments. It’s time to take a step back and reevaluate the processes. It’s not only about empowering the moms and dads, but educating the doctors. It’s about teaching bedside manner, and understanding that bedside manner needs to extend from the doctors to the nurses to the front office, and everyone in between.
The importance of finding the right support is key, whether you’ve recently lost your child, are still struggling to find your new normal, or pregnant again after loss. For us, finding the right therapist, one who understood pregnancy loss from personal experience, was what helped pull Double A and me through. I credit Aviva and The Blossom Method for the fact that we’re standing here today. She gave us time to grieve, but not wallow. She listened and asked questions, and gave us the questions and tools to empower us to advocate for ourselves. She was our biggest cheerleader when we couldn’t find cheer. In fact, I believe so strongly in their capabilities, and the notion of changing the conversation, that I’ve been doing community outreach for them to get in front of doctors to raise awareness, and make sure others can get the help they need and deserve.
I talk about my experiences in loss as a way to continue to process the grief, and to honor Baby K, Sarah, Benjamin and the four we never met. Each of us affected by baby loss—whether directly or indirectly—has a voice. And it doesn’t matter if we use our voice on a big stage, or to quietly encourage those around us, together, we can change this conversation.