“People grieve differently”
My hope is to help break the silence and taboo around pregnancy loss. People grieve differently– some like to do it more privately, others like to talk about what happened with a wider network. For me the biggest challenge was feeling alone with my experience and not finding a vent for my feelings. Not having many women in my social network who had shared their experiences in the past (and I’m so grateful to the ones who did!), I ended up scouring the internet to read about how other women were coping. It gave me immense comfort to read about their experiences because they validated my feelings. I relied on them to get through the initial few days when I couldn’t express myself and found a vent in the words so eloquently written by complete strangers.
By sharing my story, I hope that women feel comfortable talking about their own experiences, in whichever way they find healing.
Early this year, my husband and I were eager to find out the sex of our baby at the 20-week prenatal appointment. Instead, we found out that our baby’s heart had stopped beating. Our world came crashing down. There was a 1% chance of such a late miscarriage. We obviously knew that statistic beforehand, but going from a 20% chance of miscarriage before 12 weeks of pregnancy to a 1% chance before 20 weeks of pregnancy gave us a false sense of comfort. Of course, being a part of that 1% meant a 100% chance of death. Our daughter evidently had passed away a few days ago. My body just hadn’t reacted to her death. How could I, as her mother, not have known this sooner? For someone who had not anticipated a pregnancy loss at 20 weeks, I was much too unprepared for labour & delivery. I got admitted to the hospital for labour induction, and after 24 hours, I gave “birth” to our daughter in the most surreal experience of my life. The nurse asked us later if we wanted to see her. I may not have been prepared for anything that happened in the hospital that day, but I knew the answer to that question — I wanted to see her, hold her, and find a way for her to be remembered. The time we spent with her is my most precious memory of her. I marvelled at her growth, her pointed chin and elbows, her slender arms, her tiny but distinct fingers and toes. We sang to her our favourite lullaby, half-crying, half-smiling. We apologized to her for not giving her the life she deserves and promised her that she’ll be in our hearts forever.
“I wanted to see her, hold her, and find a way for her to be remembered”
We named her Vera and sent out a “birth” announcement to our family and friends. We weren’t sure if it would be well received but we wanted to proudly talk about our little girl, who had a short but significant life. It was obviously a sad moment, but I felt so proud to be her mother. After a 3-day and 2-night stay at the hospital, where I met the kindest healthcare staff, I came back home with some “souvenirs” in hand, but not a baby. Nothing can ever prepare you for the emotions and the physiological responses after a loss. I felt empty and powerless. I felt like I had failed at the most basic feature of evolution. I felt like I had wronged the baby, my baby who depended on me completely. I was very aware of the fact that my daughter was no longer inside me. I missed her, but it was so much more physical. I needed something to hold, something that would always be in contact with me, a physical reminder of her. I seriously considered getting a tattoo, but finally decided to get a ring with her name engraved on it. It is surprising how much comfort it gave me then and continues to give me now.
I thought the worst was over when I had to deliver a dead baby. How wrong was I! As if to rub salt on my wound, my body hadn’t received the memo that there was no need for milk production. I couldn’t let the milk come out otherwise my body would keep producing more of it. It was an agonizing reminder that I had no baby to feed and it dragged on for days. 9 months later, as I reflect back on my journey of grief, it seems almost impossible that I survived through those initial days of raw emotion. What helped me personally were messages of support from family & friends. Even a simple “thinking of you” reminded me that I was not alone in grieving the death of my little girl. It helped to reach out to women who had been through a similar loss and hear their account of what helped them process the grief. It helped to read a book that was specifically written for pregnancy loss (“Empty Cradle, Broken Heart”). It helped to talk to a therapist. It helped to attend PAIL Network support group meetings where I felt a strange kinship with the other women. It helped to immerse myself in the grief completely – I stared at images of my baby and her footprints, held the blanket she was wrapped in, trying to recall the glorious hour we spent holding her, and cried and cried. It was exhausting but cathartic.
“I don’t think I have yet fully accepted losing my little girl”
They say grief is a life-long process. You are never “over it,” just that the pain gets more bearable over time. I try to be kind to myself and indulge in self-care when there are expected and unexpected triggers. I don’t think I have yet fully accepted losing my little girl. But what makes me happy is that no matter the outcome of the pregnancy, she made me a mother. And no one can take that away from me.