Bereaved parents are masters at hiding their emotions. Carrying on with work and putting on a happy face so co-workers don’t ask insensitive questions. Saying everything is “fine” when it most certainly is not. Pretending to have moved on and be okay with attending a friend’s baby shower. Becoming experts at forcing back tears, avoiding certain aisles at Target, and ignoring the insensitive small talk at holiday dinners.
Except it's impossible to ignore the harsh comments, reminding us "it's time to move on" or "don't worry, you'll get pregnant again." The reality is everything is not fine. None of it is fine. Grief is beyond exhausting. The heaviness weighs down on bereaved parents every single day. It's a constant battle of taking steps forward and then having triggers interrupt any progress we felt we made.
Finding a support system to walk alongside in the grief journey is important. Being heard and seen by others who have similar loss stories can make an incredible impact on your own healing. We are here when you need to let your mask down (figuratively and literally). It's okay to let someone help you carry the weight of grief. ❤️
1. Allow yourself to mourn. This is the most important and the hardest part of grieving. Grief is the collection of internal feelings you experience after your loss (sadness, anger, etc). Mourning is expressing those emotions outwardly. Examples of mourning are planning a memorial ceremony, planting a remembrance garden, journaling, crying, etc. Many of us were raised that grief needs to be "swept under the rug" and you are "stronger" if you don't cry and keep your feelings to yourself. This is not true - it's so important to feel ALL the feelings while grieving and to give yourself grace. Take it one day at at time - sometimes you may need to take it one breath at a time.
2. Gather important keepsakes. You don't have to be crafty to make something special to honor your pregnancy and baby. Anything you do will be meaningful - trust us. Consider making a basket or shadowbox for special mementos such as your baby’s ultrasound photos, blanket, outfits, sympathy cards, etc. Many bereaved parents set up a shelf or bookcase for their baby's items. It can be very healing to see these physical things.
3. Write your feelings down. It can be incredibly difficult to explain to someone else how you are feeling - this is why we encourage journaling first. Journaling either on paper, on your computer, or even with an online blog can help express your feelings. Many bereaved parents will re-read their journal entries months later and be surprised how far they have come in their grieving journey. Consider writing a letter to your baby—what were your wishes and dreams?
4. Embrace your spirituality. Seeking to find that part of your life through prayer or meditation can bring a sense of peace to some families. But please know that spirituality doesn't have to mean organized religion and church. You could attend a yoga class or meditation workshop - try something that encourages you to focus on your breathing and taking a few quiet moments for yourself.
5. Develop a support system. You will find many people may say insensitive things to you after your loss - some simply don't know what to do to help you in this situation. We encourage you to find safe people or a support group that you can share your story with. Contact the Massachusetts Chapter of The TEARS Foundation for current groups, dates and times. We recommend attending at least three support groups to see if this is a good coping tool for you. It can be very healing to just listen to other parents' stories even if you are not comfortable sharing.
6. Talk about your grief. Say your baby’s name when speaking with others. Speak from the heart and be honest. Ignoring your grief will not make it go away. There is no quick fix for grief, but sharing your story over and over will help you acknowledge what happened. Please remember that every person's grief is different - there is no timeline or "right" amount of time in healing. You may also notice that you will feel better for a period of time and then a trigger may cause you to feel your grief heavy again - that is completely normal. Grief ebbs and flows just like the waves of the ocean.
7. Take care of yourself. Grief takes a toll on you emotionally as well as physically. Get daily rest—even if you have trouble sleeping, try to at least lay down. Lighten your schedule. Focus on drinking lots of water. Spend time outside - whether it's a short walk or just lying down on the grass.
8. It’s ok to say “No”. Your baby has died. Understand and respect your limitations. If you are not up to attending your cousin’s baby shower or the Christmas gathering this year, it’s always okay to say “No, I can’t attend. Please respect the time I need right now.”
9. Ask for help. Reach out to family or friends and tell them exactly what they can do for you (housework, taking care of other siblings, making a meal, shoveling snow, picking up groceries, etc). We know it can be hard to ask for help, especially months later when people tend to go on with their own lives. But family and friends do want to help you feel better - let them take care of things to help lighten your load. We also recommend speaking with a mental health professional as therapy can be very helpful as you navigate your emotions and start to find your new self. Reach out to the Massachusetts Chapter of The TEARS Foundation for counselor recommendations. Please remember you should not suffer alone - we are here for you.
10. Continue to honor your child’s life. On the anniversary of your baby’s birth or due date, find a way to remember your child. Bereaved parents are so creative and many ideas include lighting a candle, making a birthday cake, painting “kindness” rocks and hiding them at a park, planting flowers or a tree, writing your baby's name in the sand at the beach, making a donation in memory of, asking family and friends to send you pictures with your baby's name/symbol, wearing a special color, paying it forward with an act of kindness like buying coffee for a stranger, etc. We always encourage you to attend a TEARS Rock & Walk for Babies event to honor your baby as it's incredibly healing to see other families from the community together.
What other ways do you honor your baby and cope during your grief journey? Please share them with us.
By Emily, Lena's mom
I delivered my daughter stillborn on January 10th, 2016. In the days and weeks following her death, many people reached out to me and expressed how sorry they were for our loss. “I can’t imagine the pain you are feeling” or “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” were common things said.
But how about, just for a moment, you try to imagine it. Try really hard to put yourself in this situation. Imagine you are lying on the table at a routine OB appointment as your doctor waves the Doppler over your belly, patiently waiting to hear a heartbeat. Minutes pass. No sounds detected. You follow your doctor down the hallway, half knowing that something is terribly wrong but half believing you be proven wrong. You lay on the table in the ultrasound room, and then you hear the words that will break your heart into a million pieces: “I’m afraid something has happened. This is where the heartbeat should be.” Now your reaction may have been different to mine – we react to shocking news in unique ways. But try to imagine what your reaction would have been in that exact moment. Screaming. Crying. Disbelief. Shock. Anger. Sadness. Questions. So many questions. Why? Why? Why?
Imagine having to go back home and wait two days before being induced. Imagine that your baby, who was living inside of you for more than five months, is no longer kicking, her heart is no longer beating. Imagine being at the hospital, in a room similar to where your son was born three years ago, but with the understanding this outcome will be very different. Imagine going through hours of excruciating labor only to know you won’t have a healthy baby at the end to make the pain all worth it. Imagine feeling so scared when it’s time to push – you know this needs to end but you don’t want it to, because then it will be truly real.
Now imagine this – the silence. Deafening silence. And then imagine holding your stillborn baby - examining her features, noticing how even though she is tiny, she looks very similar to her big brother. You want to scream as you hear a newborn cry down the hall while you hold your lifeless baby. Imagine watching your husband sob as he carefully holds your daughter. Nothing in these moments makes sense. You are thinking, “why did this happen to us?” “We’re good people, we don’t deserve this.” “This is so unfair.”
Weeks pass and sympathy cards and gifts arrive. Many struggle with what to say. “At least she wasn’t full-term.” “At least you’re young, you can have more babies.” “At least you have your son.” There is no “at least” when a baby dies. Imagine how hurtful these statements can be. Whether 8 weeks, 38 weeks, or 8 days old...your life changed the moment you saw the positive pregnancy test. Dreams for the future are gone, forever changed.
The next time you are about to say, “I can’t imagine”, I suggest you reconsider. Saying something like “I can ONLY imagine what you are going through” is more sensitive to a bereaved parent and shows you are willing to take on their pain, even if it’s for just a moment.
This is where we share YOUR stories - your loss matters, your baby matters, you always matter.