Many women who have lost a baby during pregnancy or post-birth understandably find it a real challenge to spend time with other infants, children and pregnant women. We spoke to some mums who have navigated this painful path. They’ve shared their experiences in the hope that it might help other grieving mums.
Living with grief
It’s difficult to imagine the pain women – and families – endure when they lose a much-loved baby. While every woman deals with loss differently, most share the experience of grief as a life-long companion and have found being exposed to other babies or pregnant women a struggle at some point.
Robyna lost her baby boy to SIDS when he was just two weeks old. She says her grief was difficult to predict.
“My grief was so variable that my reactions to other babies changed from day to day, even hour to hour.”
Sam experienced three early-term miscarriages and then a very late term miscarriage of her baby boy. Discussing how she began to come to terms with her loss, she remembers struggling with volatile emotions.
“I don’t know that you can prepare yourself for being around babies after loss, for me I could never predict how I would react on any given day,” she recalls.
Shani lost her baby just over 12 weeks into her pregnancy after debilitating Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Required to have a dilation and curettage (D and C) procedure at her local hospital, she woke up in the bustling maternity ward where she was expected to spend her recovery period.
“I could hear babies crying and see visitors coming and going with balloons and flowers. I just wanted to turn into myself and disappear. The sounds of the babies were awful, just a constant reminder of what I had lost. I wanted to curl into a little hard ball and just sleep, and turn off the grief and anger, the pain and the sadness.”
Deb experienced a miscarriage at 19 weeks, 13 years ago. The experience has very much shaped who she is today.
“It still feels quite fresh. I didn’t cope well at all. I cried when I saw pregnant women and small babies,” Deb remembers. “I think now all these years later, I’ve paid the price for not talking about it and have been dealing with chronic depression for the last 12 months or so. The start of my depression, I think, started back then.”
Take small steps
While babies and pregnant bellies are a painful reminder for mums who have suffered the loss of a child, life usually conspires to make these interactions unavoidable. For some mums there was comfort in holding the babies of people they loved and cared about. For others it was a heartbreaking experience.
“When we lost (our baby boy) my sister-in-law was also pregnant and we were due in the same week,” Sam says. “Obviously it was extremely difficult meeting her baby. When I first held my niece in my arms I just sobbed. The pain of not having my little boy here was excruciating.”
“When Xavier died, my close friend was heavily pregnant,” Robyna remembers. “She cried with us, supported us and was incredibly sensitive. When she had her baby boy, I could hold him with joy, relief and hope for my own future, secure in the knowledge that his mother fully understood where I was emotionally.”
The babies of people mums didn’t know sometimes proved more difficult to handle, perhaps because there was less opportunity to prepare for these interactions, perhaps because the lack of connection made the experience feel more raw or ignored.
“It was the babies of strangers and acquaintances that were harder to deal with,” Robyna explains. “Particularly if their age reflected Xavier’s. When I saw what I lost so clearly, but had no close relationship with the baby or mother, it just felt like fate’s betrayal all over again.”
Deb feels that there’s a lack of understanding about how women grieve for much-hoped-for children.
“Once you get past the 20 week stage it is considered a stillbirth and seems to be taken more seriously. But I was just short of that and therefore it was a miscarriage. No-one really wanted to discuss it. It seemed to be not a big deal. So if others thought it wasn’t a big deal, I felt a bit foolish thinking it was,” Deb says.
The silence and stigma surrounding the death of a baby or child mean many mums struggle to ‘fit back in’ to their lives, post-loss.
“The only network I had at the time was a small group of women from the playgroup I attended with my little boy, so I spent a lot of time with this group thinking it would help me. It didn’t. The mums and dads were all caught up in their own lives and no-one asked me about my miscarriage. I never brought it up,” Deb remembers.
The women we spoke to dealt with their grief in different ways, but all agreed that finding ways to talk openly about their loss was key.
“For me, my years of grief were a lesson in accepting sadness as a part of life. I have cried in the most public of places and in that ugly full body heaving type way on a number of occasions, in the street, in waiting rooms, but mostly at home. I’ve learnt to let myself do this and explain later,” Sam says.
Deb says trying to deal with her loss alone came at a cost and encourages other mums to seek help as soon as possible.
“My advice to other mums would be seek help! If not a professional, then friends, family, anyone who will listen. Don’t bottle it up. And try to surround yourself with positive people who are open and happy to listen. Walk away from people who say it’s time to get over it. Yes, I heard that a number of times. Gah!!” Deb explains.
“It’s unrealistic to think that you can escape new babies after loss. Sometimes it feels like they are intentionally being set in your path. But you don’t have to be super-woman over it. It’s okay to say “this is too much for me right now” or just to walk away without an explanation,” Robyna says.
Remembering little lives
Finding ways to honour and remember the babies they’d lost was an important part of the coming-to-terms process for some mums.
“I bought a little wooden box, and put inside it the scans, the pregnancy test that told me I was carrying the baby, a letter to my unborn babe, some special rocks my toddler had given me when I was in hospital, a dried flower, some rosemary, and tied a yellow ribbon around it,” Shani explains.
If you or someone you know is struggling with the loss of a child, there is support at hand via SANDS. Contact them on 1300 072 637.
Thanks to Deb, Shani, Robyna and Sam for sharing their stories with Babyology readers.