Stillbirth: 7 Things I Wish I Knew in the Beginning

I wish there was a guidebook for surviving the first few days, weeks and months after you have your stillborn. It wouldn’t take the pain away, but it sure would help us navigate our way through a lonely, unknown path. I wish I has someone to tell me what I was feeling was normal or that I was allowed to feel what I felt. I wish I knew I didn’t have to hide my feelings. I regret some things I did and didn’t do simply because I didn’t know any better.

I remember sitting in my hospital bed after having Mac, unable to sleep, unable to focus on anything other than the thought of what I was supposed to do from here. Thoughts racing through my head… Has other parents experienced this? What did they do? How did they cope? How do I plan a funeral? Do I have to talk to people? Will people know my baby died? Can I hide away for the rest of my life? Is the world continuing without my son? How was I going to be a mom to my living children? What was I going to tell them? How can this be real? I remember pouring myself into every blog, article and story I could find from a stillborn’s mom. I wanted to know how they survived, what they felt and try to see myself surviving life after Mac’s death and that was only hours after delivering him. Looking back, I wish I had someone to guide me past the hospital, past his funeral, past having everyone around and into when everyone goes on… back into their life and I’m left trying to figure out what my new normal looks like. I wish someone gave me a guide book for those moments. If they had, I’d imagine it would look a little something like this… The seven biggest and hardest lessons I’ve learned after my son was stillborn:

1. You will feel alone.   You could be surrounded by flowers, cards, gifts, family and friends, yet feel utterly alone. You feel like what you are going through is unrelatable and difficult for others to grasp and you’d be right. What you need to hold onto is that they are trying the best they can and although we crave a specific understanding and support, it might not happen. There is a pretty good change support and empathy will look completely different than you expect. Keep your eyes open to it and you will see it in many forms.

2. You will feel like it is easier to hide your grief than share it. Some will try and rush you through the beginning when your pain is raw, your grief is active and it is incredibly hard to focus on anything other than the absence of your baby. If I can hope for you anything, it would be to have courage and be brave when others want to look away. This doesn’t mean your grief isn’t valid or your baby forgotten. It is uncomfortable to watch another in pain, but also know that you are allowed to grieve your baby in your way. Share him or her with those that have earned the right to share this space with you. Know it’s also ok to protect yourself from those that haven’t earned that privilege. Relationships change after loss, some for the better, some fall apart and as sad as that is; it’s ok.

3. You will go through a period where you feel unsure, lost, sad, angry, and numb and have guilt when you laugh, smile and feel joy. I remember the first few weeks feeling like I didn’t want to laugh. I felt like I was doing something wrong. My thoughts would go straight to my son, Mac, and I would feel an incredible guilt that I was here… laughing, but he wasn’t able too. I walked around in a haze, knowing that the world was going on as  normal, but not feeling like I was part of it all just yet. I was still trying to wrap my head around what had happened. This, I need you to know, will pass. It will. 

4. You might be disappointed in the people you expected the most support from. This was the hardest for me and still is sometimes. I think when we are hurting so deeply, without thinking, we go into automatic mode and reach for those that have always been our people… but, this time, this pain… this isn’t something everyone is able to meet us where we are. There will be things spoken or unspoken that diappoints us and leaves us feeling unseen, our grief unvalidated and our loss as less than it feels to us. This hurts deeply and if we aren’t careful it can lead to resentment and cause more pain than needed. I strongly encourage you to pay attention to your expectations of others. Are they fair? Now, I know in saying that, some loss mamas will say, “what do you mean is it fair?” I know. I get it. It’s enraging when others dismiss our grief AND we shouldn’t have to hide it. I get it. I feel it. BUT, in my experience, there are some that truly done’t mean it and truly don’t know they are being hurtful. They are (as hard as this is to see and accept) doing the best they can. For those, yelling at them and shoving our pain at them won’t help. Communication does help and hiding your feelings will never be helpful- for you or them. I encourage communication and patience because this, in most instances, is a learning process for all. However, if you have someone in your life that simply put, pushes your grief away or dismisses your feelings, it is absolutely ok to set up healthy boundaries with this person. It isn’t helpful to you as you heal to continue to allow this. You don’t have to feel like this is ok. It isn’t.

5. You will be a different.  My baby’s death marked the death of who I used to be and the birth of who I am now. You might feel that too and if you do, so be it. How could you not be different? Everything you knew to be true… the assumption your baby would be here… alive, the nursery you worked hard on would be used, the milestones you would witness come to pass with your baby as they grew… all shattered by the cold hard truth that WE put all of our trust in the naive assumption we would have our baby here, alive, but here we are, without our precious babies.  It is as if the world lied, our beliefs are challenges and all that we trust is now questioned. You’ll look at things much differently and with good reason. Then we have to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other after our heart is broken, our lives turned upside down and no rule book on how life goes on after our baby dies. Of corse we change. Don’t ever let someone use that as an insult to you. Please recognize that if they do, this isn’t someone that can even begin to grasp a fraction of what you went through. Never hang onto that as something to be ashamed of as I did before I knew better. I own my change. I am the woman I am today because of my grief, because of my baby. You, me, all of us navigating this messy life after loss are different.

The beginning is the hardest. The middle is messy and the rest, well, it can be messy too, but I can truthfully tell you it is filled with more than the sorrow you feel right now. I can now, 9 years later, smile when I think of Mac. I’m able to picture him, or what I think he would be, and imagine all the things. I still cry. I still ache for him, especially around milestones he would be reaching, but it feels different than in the beginning. I’m not actively grieving and you won’t be always be either. We learn to live with our grief, to carry it in a way that allows us bring them with us without the shear rawness of the pain.