After your baby dies, you may have moments when you doubt that you can survive this ordeal. Your sorrow and longing may seem so unbearable that you doubt you can ever heal.
Here is some brief and basic information about the grieving process. While gaining insight into grief cannot shield you, it can prepare you for what lies ahead and help you have realistic expectations.
Grieving is a natural process.
Because grief is so distressing to endure, many people believe that grieving is something bad to be avoided or gotten over as quickly as possible. But it isn’t a problem to be solved—it’s a process that unfolds over time, where you yearn and rant and cry over what you have lost. As you release feelings and adjust to the new reality, you also can let go of what might have been and adjust to what is. Grief is what enables you to come to terms with your baby’s death.
Certainly, there will be times when you hold in your grief. A flood of tears may not always be appropriate or comfortable at certain times or in certain places or with certain people. But you can save it for later, rather than burying it forever. It is your grief that will take you to the other side. By grieving, you are also moving toward healing.
Grief is complex.
While you certainly expect to feel sad after your baby’s death, you may not be prepared for the storm of other strong and agonizing feelings.
Grieving parents experience a wide range of pronounced and bewildering feelings, including numbness, yearning, betrayal, failure, anger, guilt, sadness and despair. You may experience physical symptoms such as tight chest, poor appetite, fatigue, and arms aching to hold your baby. You might have hallucinations of hearing a baby cry. You’ll probably feel preoccupied with your baby and be so scattered and disorganized and isolated, you might wonder if you are going crazy. It’s even normal to feel like you just don’t have the will to live. Consumed by grief, you may question how everyone else can keep going after your world has come to a screeching halt. Everything seems so pointless and trivial. These are all parts of grief.
Grieving takes time.
Throw deadlines out the window. Recognize that your painful feelings will ebb and flow, and that for a while, as your shock wears off, you will probably feel worse as time goes on. This can be discouraging but remember that it is normal and expect this to happen. Just knowing that it’s supposed to be full of unpredictable ups and downs can make your journey easier.
Also expect to have “anniversary reactions”. At first, you may feel most unsettled or sad at certain times of the day or week. As time passes, you may notice that you feel especially blue at certain times of the month or year. It’s like your body remembers and associates certain conditions with your baby’s life and death.
Dwelling your baby is a normal part of grief. Early on, thinking about your baby is nearly constant and inevitable. If you’re a mother, your postpartum body reminds you that there should be a baby. You may feel totally preoccupied and filled with yearning.
Your longing and preoccupation are signs that your mind and body are fighting the reality of your baby’s death. Even though your bond has been altered by death, you still have powerful biological urges to nurture and protect your baby. Especially as a mother, the biochemical postpartum changes in your body put you in parental overdrive. You may feel like you should be able to recover this baby, if only you could figure out how. You may be obsessed with your baby’s body, wanting to be with it, to know where it is, to keep it warm. You may cuddle, dress, and sleep with a baby doll or stuffed animal.
Your obsession can lead to hallucinations and mothering behaviors that make you question your sanity. But you are not insane. You are missing the very thing that would give meaning to these natural feelings and behaviors: your baby.
As time goes on, your preoccupation and urges will fade. For now, accept yourself where you are. The resilience of your mothering urges is evidence of your biological inheritance as well as the depth of your maternal love. And although a supremely painful reminder that your baby is gone, your milky breasts also offer affirmation. There was a baby and you will always be his or her mother. Dwelling on your baby can benefit you by helping you feel close to your little one, so that your letting go more gradual. Do what you need to feel the comfort of your baby’s presence.
As you grieve, you are adjusting and ultimately healing. Instead of imagining grief as a bottomless pit, imagine a tunnel. When you are in the middle of it, you may not see any light. But as you work through your deepest feelings of yearning, anger, guilt, failure, sadness and hurt, you will come out the other side. Here’s another helpful way to think about grief: You need to shed a certain number of tears, or feel a certain number of pangs before you can come to terms with your baby’s death. Every time you cry, every time your heart aches, those particular tears or pangs are behind you and you come closer to healing. It’s been said that tears are like a river—they can carry you forward.