Picking up the pieces...

Living in the aftermath of a loss has been likened to having a limb amputated: the stump heals, but the limb remains missing. And lots of times you continue to have phantom sensation in the missing limb. [Sometimes quite literally. I remember after each of my losses feeling "kicks" which were obviously not kicks at all, but nerves jumping. Each time this would happen, while it caused no physical discomfort, it caused incredible emotional pain.]

The first question most people ask regarding the future is, "Does it ever get better??" The short answer is, yes, it does get better. I was assured of this many times and every time I heard it it felt like a lie. I couldn't imagine how things would ever get better, how I would ever stop waking up in the middle of the night to cry, how I would ever be able to look at a new baby again. Even after my second loss, when I knew from experience that things would eventually get better, it felt like a lie. Living in the immediate aftermath of a pregnancy loss is like sitting at the bottom of the well while people assure you the sun is out. But I am here to tell you that this is truth: it will get better. You will never be the same person, but hopefully you will be a better person. One who will recognize pain in others and be more compassionate. "Normal" will not be the same normal you had before. Your innocence is gone. Most people, while they know it is possible to lose a baby, assume it will not happen to them. When it does, a whole wall is torn away and the vulnerability and fragility of life is revealed with such starkness that it takes your breath away. That wall will never be rebuilt, but you do gradually learn to live with that knowledge.

The next question is usually "When will it get better?" I found an image that describes the answer to this perfectly:


The short answer is "I don't know". Truthfully, everyone is different. Everyone is living in different circumstances. Everyone experiences a unique loss. But practically speaking, there is at least a visible progression. You wake up one morning and realize you slept through the night. You find yourself laughing at something. You think about your baby and don't immediately tear up. You get to the end of a day and realize you didn't cry. These little steps are always seen in retrospect. The important thing to remember here is no one can tell you how to grieve and no one can tell you "how long" to grieve. You can have a good day or two and then wake up one morning and come across a stray appointment card for the OB's office, sending you in tears to your room for an hour. These things can't be predicted and they mostly can't be prevented. This sounds awful, I know. The thing is, you will go from having a good few minutes to a good hour, to a good half-day, to a good few days. "Good" in this case, means "functional, calm, etc." it does NOT mean, "forgetting your baby". There will be two steps forward and three steps back, two steps forward, one step forward, two steps back, three steps forward, etc. This is normal.

Some other questions:

"Will I forget?"

No, you will never forget. Sometimes you wish you could forget, sometimes you are terrified you'll forget. The truth is, you never will forget, but you will tend to remember best the things that you think about the most. This is an encouragement to think about the good things, the blessings. The moments when I was told definitively that my babies had died are crystal-clear in my memory. I find this unfortunate. But I try not to think about those moments and other bad moments more than I can help. I try to remember the good things: the kindness of strangers, the beauty of the babies' bodies, the love from friends. I do suggest that you write out an account of the pregnancy and birth and anything else important to you and keep it somewhere. Do it while you do still remember the details. Then put it away. You will be able to let your mind move softly away from the grimness of some of the details while having the assurance that should you wish to remember them, they are recorded.

"What if it happens again?"

Ah, the anxiety of the encore performance. I can speak from experience here because I had this anxiety and yes, it happened again. What I can tell you is I'm still living and breathing and functioning. If you are blessed with another pregnancy, do what you can to take care of yourself and have a doctor/midwife who takes you and your concerns seriously. Beyond that, pray. There are no assurances but the odds are always better that you will have a living baby in nine months than not. I know we don't go by odds, but they are there just the same. God will not desert you. Once you conceive a baby this baby belongs to God and He will take care of him. You will be parents forever of this little one, regardless of the outcome. If you knew you would have a baby in your womb for only 4 months, would you rather it be full of anxiety and distance, not wanting to love the baby in case he didn't make it, or full of love and joy? You would surely want to be able to say that your baby knew four months of love and joy. It gives me comfort that every night of my pregnancy with Andrew I held my hand on my abdomen and told him how much I loved him and goodnight.

"When do I go back to work?"

Naturally this depends on what kind of work you do. There are physical considerations as well as emotional considerations. Physically speaking, you can check with your doctor or midwife as to what they think is best. The farther along you were in a pregnancy the more likely you are to need several weeks of physical rest. On the other hand, an earlier miscarriage can entail just as much labor and blood-loss as a later loss and you need time to recover from this. Emotionally speaking this can vary. Even with a very early loss you will need at the very least a few days to get over your shock before you can make sound decisions. Especially if you were showing or if your coworkers knew you were pregnant you will have a difficult time facing the questions and having to retell your story multiple times. Consider letting them know in some form or fashion before you return so at least you're not having to make announcements. Unfortunately you will almost certainly encounter people who will ask "how are you and the baby doing?" because they didn't get the bulletin. Take a deep breath and answer honestly.

As far as work at home (and there is always work to be done at home), don't overdo. Carrying heavy laundry baskets around 12 hours after delivery is a good way to start some heavy bleeding. Remember that even though your baby is not in your arms, you went through labor and delivery. Don't cut your recovery time short because you feel you didn't "earn" it. The good way to know when you're doing too much is to monitor your bleeding. If it picks up, you need to back off. Take naps. Put your feet up. Allow other people to help you. You can gradually resume household duties. But that's just addressing the physical side of things. Mentally you will be in a fog and may have trouble making decisions. If you're homeschooling or otherwise taking care of other children you may find you are easily overwhelmed. Allow the kids to take a short vacation before starting back. Or at least concentrate on subjects that they need the least help with or subjects that you are the most comfortable doing. This is not the time to take a field trip to the state court house. Do not beat yourself up for not being superwoman. Do not allow other people to do it either.

While you do need time to grieve, process and rest, it can be helpful to get back into some sort of routine. Start slowly but try to accomplish something (even just ONE thing) every day. You can feel some comfort in getting even small things done and being busy helps keep you from having too much time to think. Don't swing the pendulum all the way over and try to be so busy that you have no spare moment in an effort to put off grieving. It will always backfire. Accept that grief is something you must go through, not around, over or under, and take the waves that come.

"Is this grief or depression?"

(from "The Actual Process" under "Recovery"):
One thing that people are not told to expect is some depression. Obviously, there is the grief from losing your baby, but there are other factors at play. When you deliver, whether at 8 weeks or 40, the hormones that have been very high during pregnancy drop precipitously. This is usually referred to as “the baby blues” and if more severe or persistent, “postpartum depression”. What most people are not aware of is that women who miscarry are at as least as much risk for postpartum depression as women who deliver live babies and usually more. If you have delivered a living baby you will be distracted by the care of a newborn and you will be surrounded by balloons and flowers and congratulations. After a miscarriage you not only do not have these, but you have the added grief of pregnancy loss. There is an excellent article on depression after miscarriage here. Do not hesitate to get help if this is becoming a problem. Pills will not make grief go away, but you may need some support for the physical causes of depression.
"Actually, I'm doing ok. Is there something wrong with me?"

No. Be grateful! Just because you are traveling a slightly easier road of grief than some does not make you a bad person and it doesn't mean you didn't love your baby. Sometimes people miscarry before they even knew they were pregnant. Sometimes people are in the midst of other turmoil (major family upset, another family member's death, etc.) and the miscarriage simply diminishes in importance. Some people are simply more able to see things in perspective and continue to function normally while grieving. Everyone grieves differently. You can't look at someone who is laughing at a joke her children told while pushing them on the swings...72 hours after miscarrying...and say, she must not have loved her baby and didn't want him. True, some people will cope by completely denying that anything has happened, but others simply have more inner resources to pull from and just, well, "bounce back" faster.

"My husband/wife is already moving on/stuck in a rut."

I've already said that no two people grieve the same. Well, a husband and wife are no exception to this. Add to that the interesting fact that while men and women both grieve, men tend to hide it because they feel they need to be strong for the wife. In the wife's eyes this looks like the behavior of a traitor. He didn't love our baby as much as I did! For the husband, he may be frustrated that he can't "fix" the problem. Men are generally fixers. Show them a problem and they want to fix it. No one can "fix" a miscarriage however. What he sees is a woman he loves crying her eyes out day after day. What she sees is a man she loves who is carrying on as if nothing is wrong. (These are oversimplifications, but you see what I mean.) A large number of marriages break up after the death of a child. Don't be a sad statistic. TALK to each other. BE HONEST about what you're feeling and thinking. FORGIVE each other for not being perfect and not being able to "make everything ok". DON'T BLAME each other for causing the miscarriage. REMEMBER YOU'RE ON THE SAME TEAM.

[See Help for Men for more information including helpful links.]

"What are some things I can do?"
  1. Pray. Pray not only for yourself, for strength and peace, for your spouse, for your other children, but also for the child(ren) you lost. [Look on the "Prayers and Liturgics" page for more information here.] While they are pure souls it will make you feel better to pray for their peace and repose in Heaven. Also, and this is something a lot of people don't think about, ask for their prayers. We ask the intercessory prayers of the saints, ask for your child(ren)'s intercessory prayers! Surely they would pray for their mother! As Elissa (in the comments) pointed out, she takes comfort in "let them have a job in the family", by praying for others. I have asked my sons' prayers for me, for our family. 
  2. Have memorial services on the 40th day and anniversary. [Again, see "Prayers and Liturgics".] This cements that our babies are still members of our family. It warms my heart to see the children running around to collect bouquets of flowers to decorate the graves before we leave for the cemetery. They participate by singing, holding items for Father, clearing weeds from around the graves.
  3. Do charitable acts in your child(ren)'s memory. Give alms, volunteer, donate items. It helps keep the connection if these are things connected with babies/children, but they don't have to be. I crochet an knit tiny hats for a charitable organization who gives them to hospitals for deceased babies and who mail them out to bereaved families. [Some suggestions are listed on the "Resources" page.]
  4. Reach out. Help other women and families who are suffering the same burden of grief. There are many ways you can do this. Reach out to people in your parish, your neighborhood, your family. Many times families feel very isolated after the death of a baby, especially due to miscarriage. It's hard to "be there" for people in that much pain - be a friend. You don't have to cook two dozen casseroles, just hold hands, don't walk away, listen. Listening is severely underrated.

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[This page is a work in progress and intended to be a collaborative effort. Please leave comments asking questions or saying how you coped after a loss. Because everyone will experience something a little different, your experience may be very different from mine. There is NO ONE RIGHT WAY to grieve.]

24 comments:

  1. Thank you for this.

    The first anniversary of my 4th week loss was just a few days ago. I often felt I didn't "deserve" to grieve deeply since I started bleeding the day after I got a positive home test. It still stings. But that 24 hours were so joyous. I had waited many years for a positive and had various symptoms before I got the positive and so I really "felt" pregnant, if that makes any sense.

    I did decide to name my baby (after so many years of waiting it was natural to have a short list of names waiting in the wings), and I still can't bring myself to buy a St Christopher icon. Sometimes it is hard to even see the icon at the church, so I adjust my gaze accordingly.

    Thanks for listening. I guess I just needed someone other than Mr to talk with about this.

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  2. Anonymous, I'm so sorry about the loss of your first baby. No matter how long you were pregnant or how long you knew about it, you still deserve to grieve this little life. You will be his mother for all eternity and one day you will meet again. May Christopher's memory be eternal!

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  3. Matushka, this is a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you.

    I have found that praying for my lost children is very helpful, in large part because there is still something that I as their mommy can do for them.

    But the most wonderful thing is to let them have a job in the family - just as we do with our living children - by asking them to pray for us and for those in need in this world. (For instance, at the first news of the Newtown massacre, I was immediately leaping to my Luka to ask him to send up prayers.) That intercessory connection is so valuable to me.

    Thank you for this excellent post and for all the wonderful writing you've done on this site. It is a comfort to many. Thank you for your vulnerability and your wisdom.

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  4. Thank you, Elissa. I did just add a section at your suggestion. I agree that asking our babies to pray for us is a wonderful thing. (:

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  5. I actually found your blog through Pinterest. I am so grateful. I am Roman Catholic but my spiritual mother is Byzantine Catholic and has opened up so many treasures to me from the Orthodox Faith.

    It was providential that I found this particular page even though I was not looking for it. I am 48 and lost my last two at age 43 and 44. (I have four children--23, 20, 18, 8) They were both due in the spring so this has always been a difficult time for me. I am especially grieving the loss of fertility that comes with age. I have kept their memory by naming them and even wearing a small charm in remembrance. I have reached out to others through Hannah's Tears which is an online ministry and also enrolled them in the Book of Life at the Shrine of the Holy Innocents Parish in NY which you can do online. Some healing has occurred but the pain is still there.

    I can definitely relate to the good days then you see something that just sets you completely back to square one in tears! I have been able to do a little writing at my blog which also helps.

    I will keep all of you in prayer and ask the same. Bless you for your ministry in reaching out to others. ~ Theresa

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  6. Theresa,

    Thank you for your comment. I'm so sorry for the loss of your little ones. It's especially hard when they were your last children. <3 Innocent's second birthday is tomorrow and while healing has definitely occurred, there is still pain there. May our holy Theotokos uphold us all during these times of sorrow.

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  7. I would like to sincerely thank you for creating this site. It has been the most useful site I have found and made me feel much less alone. Before I lost my baby at 8 weeks (2 weeks ago)I had no idea how physically and emotionally hard miscarriage can be. Thank you for your honesty and the practical info and photos on this site. All of the questions on this page have been the ones I have asked. Right now I feel I have lost something but I don't know what I've lost, (a baby? an idea?).It just hurts.

    In terms of things that have helped me - making an effort to have things to look forward to each week has helped. My partner and I booked a weekend retreat in the rainforest a month after the baby came to spend some gentle time together. A massage, coffee with a close friend, being kind to myself and trying to put in place some things that I hadn't prepared for the first pregnancy eg getting my rubella vaccine. Putting one foot in front of the other even though I feel like staying in bed forever.

    My partner and I have sometimes clashed spectacularly through this process but he has also been the most kind and gentle man. If we come out of this closer and stronger then that will be something. Thank you and bless you for helping all of us and all my loving thoughts and sympathy to anyone who has need to visit this site.

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  8. Anonymous,

    Sometimes the biggest thing we can do each day is simply get out of bed! As you say, it really is just one foot in front of another. Thank you for writing and mentioning the things that are helping you heal. May your baby's memory be eternal!

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  9. Your story is very close to mine. I have lost two babies in the past 6 months. Both were at the same time (6 weeks for me). It has been such a topsy-turvey road and there are not a lot of people out there in my world that understand. Some think if you've just had one miscarriage it's no big deal. Others think if you have more than one it's no big deal. I don't think that way because to me it IS a big deal. There is no greater loss than losing a child. It's a horrible cross to bare. I was not able to bury my little ones, but I did name them and I have a section in my garden that is just their spot. It's right in the front of my house and right in the middle-- they deserve it. My first miscarriage was a completely different pregnancy from my first two. I feel he was a boy and I named him Gunnar. My family's background is from that area and I just loved that name, so Gunnar it was. My second miscarriage felt like a completely normal pregnancy for me. It was like my first two and I held onto that until I heard there was no heartbeat. I believe she was a girl because my first two are girls. I named her Zoey because I've always loved that name. It doesn't really go with our last name, but I LOVE it. So Zoey it is. I know they say it gets better and it's something I can try to strive for in the future, but right now I'm trying to live in the present. I want to feel moment by moment. It's all I can do right now. Thank you SO MUCH for having this blog! It is giving me the strength to live moment by moment while I look towards a possible future.

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  10. Kimberly, I'm so sorry you lost your little ones but so glad this site has been helpful to you. (((Hugs)))

    May Gunner and Zoey's memory be eternal!

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  11. Thank you for this blog! I discovered my baby had no heartbeat at 13 weeks and delivered at home the same week. Without all of the stories and pictures I would have been lost and the delivery process would have been so scary (even though I have another child). It gives me comfort to know so many other women have walked in my shoes and are experiencing healing. Blessings to all of you!

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  12. Anonymous, I'm so sorry for your loss. I, too, found it comforting to see that other women have gone through this and survived. I'm glad that the information on this site was helpful to you.

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  13. thank you for this site. i found it as i was miscarrying last week at 8 weeks. i find myself bursting into tears randomly throughout the day. i don't think my husband really gets it yet. i am so sad. i appreciate all the work and stories here. it was really helpful as i delivered. i really like the ideas about keeping a memory box. God bless.

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  14. Anonymous, I'm so sorry for your loss. Randomly crying during the day is very normal and to be expected. It *does* get better as time goes on, but allow yourself to grieve as you need to. ((hugs))

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  15. Thank you for making this site. I wish I could find comfort in God from losing my Son yesterday at nearly 17 weeks but I do not believe in God. I wish I could find some comfort as I try to care for my 3 year old Son and feel contractions thinking they are kicks and realising my Son is gone. I'm finding it difficult as my Husband works at the other side of the world and can't come home for another 4 weeks. IT is such a difficult time and I just can't see the light. I'm in a daze and feel numb. I don't want my Son to be impacted with this and don't know what to do.

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  16. Anonymous, I'm so sorry your baby boy died. Such a difficult thing under any circumstances but especially with your husband not there. Do you have any other support nearby? Friends or family?

    Your feelings are entirely expected right now. Your other son will certainly know that something is wrong, but children are remarkably resilient. Don't worry about 'scarring him for life' or something like that. Take care of his basic needs and cuddle him whenever he wants it. It's ok if your normal routine takes a temporary hit.

    As far as not believing in God, well, fortunately his love for you doesn't depend on that. :) God loves you and your departed son more than you can imagine. You don't have to do anything to deserve it. (((hugs)))

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  17. What a LOVELY site !! I became pregnant in 1971 while an IUD was in place, but did not find out i was pregnant until after I had separated from my husband. ( He had been unfaithful, I was subsequently awarded a divorce on the grounds of adultery.) At the time, I was not unhappy about being "forced" to terminate the pregnancy. I was SO very angry at him. The options that my OB/GYN offered were to remove both the IUD and pregnancy, or wait until my uterus became thin, and stretched, and the IUD caused it to break open, so I would bleed to death. Even though the medical advice gave me no real choice, I have always felt guilty about not trying harder to bring the baby to term. I had an 18 month old at the time, and would loved to have another child, even though it would have been incredibly difficult by myself, even though my wonderful parents would have been there for me. Especially as time went on, I felt awful about having to do such a thing. Your site has made me feel happy about the fact that I will see my child again, in paradise, after our Lord and Savior takes my hand. I know that your site is aimed at young mothers, but you also are giving comfort to a 65 year old grandmother. God Bless you !!!! Your voice shows that you have HIS love in your heart, and generous enough to share that love with people that you don't even know personally. Thank you so very much.

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  18. Emmalea's mother: I'm so sorry you had to go through that. It's a shame that those were the only choices your doctor gave you, although in 1971 it's possible they simply didn't know any better. I'm glad you can feel some comfort now knowing that God can forgive anything and that your child is safe with Him. Thank you for writing and sharing your story!

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  19. I suffered a spontaneous miscarriage on Oct 9 at 11 wks. My water broke and I actually went into labor and gave birth to a perfectly formed baby at home. Everything had been fine up until that day when I started spotting. We had two previous ultrasounds and had saw the baby growing on track and a beautiful heartbeat. I have had 3 previous early miscarriages between our two daughters and took progesterone supplements to help me carry through the first trimester, I spotted during all of my pregnancies so it was nothing out of the ordinary for me. It all happened so fast. I feel like my whole world was turned upside down in a few short minutes. I started to hemorrhage on the way to the hospital, which was an hour away. By the time we made it to the ER I was light headed, vomiting, had a fever, and was tachycardic. My husband was scared to death of losing me as well. As you said, husbands are fixers. He felt helpless for the first time in his life. It has been incredibly hard on him. I am a Christian and have turned to scripture for comfort, he isn't although he does believe in God he isn't religious. Being a man, he doesn't want to talk about his feelings too much and when he does he breaks down. Finally this past weekend he confessed that he thinks we should find someone to speak to bc he isn't sure we can do it alone.

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  20. Anonymous, I'm so very sorry for your loss. The fact that your husband admitted that he couldn't do it alone is a very big and healthy step. I suggest the two of you speak to just one person to start with, rather than have him go with you to a loss group. While women tend to find great comfort in the company of others who have also suffered losses, for men it can be overwhelming and cause them to shut down (at first - later can be different).

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  21. Thank you so much for your website, it has been such a blessing and encouragement to me over this past month. I only wish i had found it sooner, i would love to have some pictures of my little John David in water to see his features better. I wish i had taken more pictures. It has been very therapeutic for me to go thrugh and read everyone's story's and see all the picture. Thank you again.

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  22. Matushka, Thank you for this site, and to you and the other commentators, God bless you all and your children. I just lost my second and it was wonderful to find this site and know I'm not alone in my grief or in loving someone I only knew a few weeks. It was hard to be the only one who cared about holding 'him' (gender still undetermined but lots of boy 'signs') The pics, for those who shared, mean so much right now. Your babies are beautiful.

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  23. I had no clue that I was even pregnant until I had what I thought was just a very painful period. I found out when I passed 3 small pieces of placenta onto a tampon. I never did see the baby, I heard her fall into the toilet but I didn't understand what was even happening at the time. I was so scared but I really didn't know what to do, if anything. I guess I still don't know quite how to deal with this loss, because I never knew she was there until she wasn't anymore. This is my 2nd miscarriage in a row and I am very afraid that I won't be able to have any more children (I have a beautiful 2yr old girl who is very healthy, thank The Lord). I am still so bothered by my first miscarriage that I don't even feel like I am grieving appropriately for this little one. Does anyone know how to get over blaming yourself for losing your baby? I feel so sad because I know I was working too hard and too much at the time, but I guess I never really thought fully about the consequence of my actions. And is it too late to name my babies? My first that I lost was approximately 6 weeks along and I was devastated and still am. I lost my 2nd 5 days ago. I feel so lost and confused right now. And how do I name my babies when I have no idea if they were boys or girls? Does anyone have any advise for how to deal with this?

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    Replies
    1. I'm so sorry for your losses. It's very difficult to cause a first trimester miscarriage - please don't blame yourself for this. They just unfortunately happen. 😔

      It's never too late to name your babies! Some women named theirs 40 years or more later. Even if someone doesn't feel able to name their child they are still known to God. If you are in the very common situation of not knowing the sex of the baby you can still choose a name. Some people just go with what their gut feeling about the sex was and pick an appropriate name. With two of ours we didn't know the sex. The first we named Gabriel because he/she was conceived around the feast of the Annunciation and because angels are sexless. The second we named Demetrius because he/she was born on the feast of St. Demetrius. We didn't so much *name* the baby Demetrius as select St. Demetrius as the patron saint. Anyway, there are various courses you can take.

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