If this title applies to you, I am so very sorry that you are here, reading this. I know the feeling of living in an alternate universe following the death of your baby. Everything in your life appears the same, your belongings, your home, and the people in it...yet nothing in your life feels the same. Nothing is different. Everything is different.
If you've very very recently experienced your loss, you may still be feeling that "numb" feeling. For me, this lasted for about three days before the severity of reality came crashing down around me and the numb wore off. Do not be afraid of the numbness. It's there to protect you for a reason.
If you are still in the hospital, and have the opportunity to do so, spend time with your baby. Take pictures. This may not make sense to you now, but trust me, in the future you will treasure any tangible memory that you have of your child. Refer to your child by his or her name, ask your family and friends to do the same. Ask the hospital to allow you time to dress your baby, or swaddle them in a special blanket. Then keep these items. You will be grateful that you did.
Allow visitors to visit you and meet your baby, if you feel up to it. I am so grateful for my friends and family who were brave enough to come to me in the hospital the day my son was suddenly born and died prematurely. I will forever be grateful that others got to meet and experience him, if for only a very very brief time.
If you are religious, or have a particular religious affiliation, have the hospital contact their religious staff or your own pastor/priest/rabbi/imam. I never felt more betrayed by God than I did the morning that I lost my son, but a visit from the hospital priest helped center me. Weeks later his words began to make sense and provide comfort to me.
I am just so overwhelmingly sorry that this happened to you.
Let's talk about you.
You are going to experience such a roller coaster of emotions as you come to terms with this loss and learn to live in babyloss and grief. But my number one piece of advice (because everyone loves to give new parents advice, apparently even ones in loss) is to protect your heart. Protect it ferociously. If you don't feel ready to leave your house for a few days? Don't. If you don't feel like accepting a million phone calls and explaining what happened? Don't. If don't feel like you can go to those places that you went so often when you were pregnant? Don't. If you don't feel like you can handle going to a baby shower? Don't. (I still can't and it's almost been a year.)
Don't do anything you don't have to do, if you don't feel ready. This is a new world you are now navigating.
People will understand. And if they don't? Too bad. You need to protect your heart.
There is only one thing that you are going to be able to think about for quite sometime and that is the fact that your baby died. I hate this for you. I wish more than anything I could change that. Going about your daily routine will be very difficult at first. All around you there will be signs of the life you had before your baby died. Things you never even imagined would bother you, will sudden reduce you to tears.
You will feel very alone.
You are not alone.
It's going to feel like everyone else gets to keep their baby, and you did not. The unfairness of it is staggering.
But you are not alone.
A dear friend once texted me on a particularly rough day, "remember, there are other babyloss parents all around you, you just don't know it. They are sitting in traffic in the car beside you on the highway. They are in line in front of you in the grocery store. They are all around you. They are surviving and you will too."
Realize that the first time you do something will be the hardest. The first time you run into a pregnant friend. The first time you go back to work. The first time a well intended acquaintance asks "where's the baby?" The first time you get an email reminding you to update your baby registry. The first time you get a bill from your hospital stay.
The first times will always be the hardest. Allow them to break you down. Allow yourself to cry. You will learn, and over time, you will get better at this.
I know that it doesn't feel like it. And I also know that you shouldn't have to explain this awful nightmare to anyone, but it will come up. And it will be horrible at first. But it WILL get easier.
One thing that I heard over and over again in the weeks following my son's death was that "you'll never forget what happened. You'll never get over it, but you'll learn to live with it." And at first that sounded so ominous...like, I'll NEVER get over this?! How can I live like this?! But, I assure you, it's true. And now when I hear that line, it feels comforting...because I have learned to live with it, over time. Over lots of time and therapy. But I don't want to forget it, because I don't want to forget him.
I got 22 weeks with my son while I was pregnant, and the 6 minutes that he lived after he was born. I don't want to forget a moment of that.
Let's talk about the people around you.
There will be people around you who want to help. Allow them to. Let them run errands for you, do laundry for you, prepare dinners for you. You would be receiving this special treatment had your baby survived, and you need it even more now that your baby died.
There will be kind, sweet, well intended people who will say all the wrong things. You won't even know what "the wrong things" are until the words come out of their mouths and hit your ears. Initially you'll be extremely hurt. They will try to come up with a reason why this happened. They will search for ways to explain this away, to explain the unexplainable. They will say things like, "God just wanted your baby more," or "you can always try again."
They will not understand how hurtful this feels. I didn't know it, until I experienced babyloss myself. I cringe at some of the things I said in the past to friends who experienced loss. Not because I didn't care, but because I didn't know better.
That's what's hard to remember...these people want to help you. They are trying to say something that helps you explain away what happened.
But in reality, the words that will mean the most will be, "I don't know what to say, I'm just so sorry."
These people who love you will not realize that you are desperate to talk about your child. They will try to avoid the topic, as to not hurt your feelings further. They don't understand that you are living without your child every single day. You are well aware that your child died. If they mentioned your child they are not bringing up a sad memory...they are acknowledging his or her existence.
They will not realize how beautiful it sounds to hear them say your child's name. So, tell them. Let them know it's okay to talk about him or her. Just last week a mom at my daughter's school told me that something that day had reminded her of Reece. It was totally unprompted and came out of nowhere, and it completely made my day.
Let's talk about the people who you need to have around you.
The most precious people around you will be the ones who learn to sit in silence with you. They will sit with you in your grief, and in their own way, they will take on a part of it for you, even if they don't understand exactly how you feel.
These people will be so valuable to you on the most difficult days. Don't feel bad "dumping" your grief onto them on your worst days. They can take it, they are brave. They will not try to fix you, they will simply be an ear for you. Just by being there, they will help you immeasurably.
Connect with other babyloss parents.
You will soon realize that there is a great chasm between parents who have lost babies, and parents who have not lost babies. I have had the experience of being on both sides of the chasm, and it is starkly different. There will simply be parents who do not understand your grief, and have no idea even how to understand your grief.
By connecting with other babyloss parents you will feel less alone. You will realize that your feelings are justified. You will feel like someone understands.
After my son died, I was pretty vocal about speaking out about my loss. As a result of that, I was connected with other babyloss parents. Some who were public about their loss, and some who were private. These fellow mothers have helped me get through the darkest of days, because they too experience them, and they completely understand.
If you don't know any fellow babyloss parents, find them. Call your hospital and ask about babyloss support groups. Find them online. There are communities on Babycenter and the March of Dimes website for babyloss parents. Explore these.
Read the blogs and stories of other parents who have lost their children. Realize that you are not alone in your grief, even though you may feel like you are.
I realize the title of this post leans itself towards mothers, but that's only because I only know the experience of being a mother, and not a father; however I am certain that much of this applies to babyloss fathers as well. Dads often get lost in the mix. Acknowledge that this is a loss for dads too. Invest in your relationship. Consider your spouse and his grief process.
Bereaved parents face a higher rate of separation and divorce. I never expected to be one of the couples that didn't "make it" through loss. But unfortunately we didn't make the cut. Walking alone through grief haunts me every day.
Consider your other children, if you have them. They are grieving in their own way. Provide them an outlet to talk about their deceased sibling. Whether it be coloring, or writing...don't forget that they feel this loss too. Try to be open with them when you are feeling sad.
Grief sucks. There is no way around it. But I've found that trying to avoid it is impossible. You can only delay it for so long. There is no way to move past the horrible scary feelings unless you face them.
I am so so sorry.
I hope I'm being kind enough to you right now. When I go into "explanation mode" I often sound like an instruction manual. "Do this, don't do this. Say this, don't say this." I'm not trying to do that.
Please know if I were there with you I would hold your hands, and hug you, stroke your hair, and cry with you. I'd sit there in silence with you for as long as you needed me to. I would make you hot tea, or a cup of coffee if you needed it and listen to you vent. I would hug you more. I would let you cry on my shoulder until our eyes were red and puffy. And when all that was over I would let you know that even though you don't feel like it right now, you WILL be okay. It is not okay that this happened. It is horribly horribly unfair...but YOU will be okay.
My goal in writing this is to let you know, I understand. I have been in your shoes.
You will survive this.
You are not alone.