My first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, and so the second time I was expecting I was filled with relief after a healthy nine-month pregnancy. I looked forward to the moment when I would hold my son in my arms. However, what should have been my greatest joy turned into one of my greatest nightmares.
When I went into labor on my January due date, everything seemed to be progressing normally. My doctor, a midwife, and a doula were by my side. But when my son finally emerged, after 14 hours of labor, he was strangely still. Partially delirious because of the lengthy labor, I did not immediately understand what was happening. The doctor performed CPR on my baby for an hour, before telling my husband and me that he could not be revived. His oxygen had been cut off as he was descending; he was still-born. In an instant, our dreams were shattered.
The days, weeks, and months that followed were almost unbearable. I sometimes imagined that I had died right along with my son, and that I was simply now a walking corpse. How was I going to move forward? How could I ever recover from such a tragedy? My son belonged with me. I was supposed to take care of him, nurture him, and guide him. The natural order of life felt upended. Parents don't outlive their children. Birth doesn't result in death. I felt cheated, angry, sad, overwhelmed, debilitated, weak, confused, and hopeless. I could not imagine ever again feeling joy, laughter, hope, or happiness.
So how did I get through it and learn to live again? Well, it took a lot of perseverance and creativity. I needed to fill the emptiness and soothe the aching, and I wanted to do it in a way that wasn't destructive. I began listening closely to what my body and heart were telling me. The following five creative self-care tips helped me move through the early months of my grief, and eventually led me to a space of greater healing and transformation.
1. Talk or write about it.
This may sound difficult, but re-visiting the events of your loss can be very helpful in processing what you've experienced. Speaking or writing about your child and your love for him/her can help you feel closer to them. It's important to share with someone that you trust--a close friend, family member, or counselor who can listen with an open heart and no judgment. I kept a grief journal that included writing prompts, which helped my thoughts flow freely.
2. Make a memory book.
No matter when you lost your baby, you can still capture memories of your child's time with you. You may wish to glue in cards that loved ones gave you in honor of your child, a letter that you wrote to him/her, hand and footprints, or pictures that you may have taken. I love opening my memory book at times when I want to feel more connected to my son or during a holiday or birthday.
3. Experience a change of scenery.
Sometimes removing yourself from your current environment can bring about some revitalization and renewed energy. You may choose to travel a short distance or take a long trip. Either way, make it a place that provides a soothing atmosphere, that will allow you some time for peace and self-nurturing. About one month after losing my son, my husband and I left the cold, gray Missouri winter and headed to a warmer climate. Feeling the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean helped relax my central nervous system and calm my over-anxious mind. It was a place where I felt I could fully release my feelings and allow the tears to flow, hear my own thoughts, and get some much-needed rest.
4. Join a support group.
When you are grieving the loss of a baby, it can be easy to feel like you are the only one. Statistically, every year over 11,000 babies die on the first day of their lives in the U.S. Just to know that you are not alone in your sorrow, that there are other parents going through similar heartache, can provide an important perspective. Sharing feelings and ideas for coping, creating new friendships, and helping others can be very healing.
5. Create a ritual.
Developing a ritual to honor your child can be very nurturing for your soul. You may wish to create a ritual that is specific to birthdays or anniversaries. Or you may wish to create a daily, weekly, or monthly ritual. Each year around the winter holidays, my sister puts up a small tree in honor of my son, and hangs little owls on its branches representing his spirit. You might consider planting a tree or memorial garden that you can visit. You may even wish to observe your baby's birthday each year.
Never feel that this is an experience you need to forget--your child was and will always be part of you. You will never "get over" the loss of your child, but it is possible to healthily "move through" your grief to a space of living more fully once again.