January 3, 2016 was his due date and I could hardly wait. He was conceived purposefully and we wanted him deeply. He was to be our second boy and we were all excited to welcome him in to our world. What most people don't think about is how much a part our world he already was. So many decisions we made in those seven months were chosen with him in mind. Our decision to take a trip oversees that spring, our decision to turn down a job offer in silicon valley that summer, our decision to buy our first home that fall, our decision to move closer to my mother's. Countless decisions from nursery decor, to prenatal yoga and beyond. So much planning, so much thought and investment. He was there, deeply involved in our day to day for seven months.
Then it happened. The dark ultrasound room, the silent screen, my sweet OBGYN with tears in her eyes, and those cursed words. I almost wanted to laugh.
Excuse me? What do you mean there's no heart beat? I see the screen, he's there. I see him. He's real. He's alive?
Jay loses it to my left and his fear intertwined with pain is palpable in that tiny dark room. He's crying, uncontrollably and it hits me like a high speed train. I feel the adrenaline, pain and fear rushing through my veins like a cocktail of death. And it doesn't go away. Morphine...
It's been six months since that harrowing day. It took some time, weeks or months, to realize the day that followed was sweet and will be a day I cherish for the rest of my life. These are the things that I found most helpful during my own personal healing Journey.
Hold your baby. Pray over your baby. Get lost in those moments and don't let anyone tell you its time to let go. Take your time. Engrave every small detail about your baby and those moments of togetherness in your heart. Later you will want to write them down.
Keepsakes. There are studies that show the negative effects of stillbirth on a mother. You can't avoid going through a deep depression, but there are things you can do to help yourself find acceptance and peace again. One thing that has been found to help mothers is to keep tokens or momentos of your baby. A piece of clothing, ashes, photos, a special bear, a memory box. Anything that helps you feel closer to your baby in spirit and mind.
Journal. Something my mother suggested was to keep a journal and to write letters to my sweet Julian. I followed her advice and I wrote my feelings on a locked iPhone note. Anything that I felt I needed to say to him, I wrote down. This helped me tremendously and I know other mothers have found solace in journaling as well. If you feel guilty, write it out. If you feel angry, write it out. Maybe you want to make promises to your baby about how to handle a subsequent pregnancy. Maybe you want to tell your baby how much you miss them. Getting your thoughts and feelings on paper, just the act of doing it can relieve some of the pain and frustration. Download my FREE Baby Loss Journal here.
Medicate. During the early days following my release from the hospital, I couldn't sleep or eat. Jay actually had horrific nightmares and terrible anxiety. I also had horrific nightmares nightly and my mind was stuck in replay going over and over the entire tortuous ordeal like a sort of demonic carousel. The only way to stop this evil sleepless cycle was to take sleeping pills. I took them for days maybe even weeks. I couldn't trust myself to get any rest without them. During the day I forced myself to eat well, took vitamin D, flaxseed oil and a daily multi vitamin. I also abstained from caffeine during the early months and drank a lot of soothing teas. I felt like crap, but I also knew how important sleep, diet and vitamin D is for a functioning emotional state.
Keep loved ones, close. At the time, I was raising our 2 year old boy. I had the choice of sending him off with the grandparents and allow myself some time to grieve alone, or to grieve with him at home. I chose to keep him close and I know I made the right decision. Little V helped my husband and I remember why we were still alive, and gave us purpose for tomorrow. Now, I know not every mother going through this has living children of their own to hold on to. So my advice is to reach out to family and friends, include them in your sorrow and allow them to partake in the grief journey with you. This is not easy, but don't let shame take this away from you. I am very close to my family, and they all came to the hospital. Our parents on both sides met Julian and held him at our hospital room. My sister was there to hold my hand through it all. My brother brought our church pastor to pray and bless Julian. My mother in law stayed with us for weeks to help with the day to day and kept us company. Our beautiful friends came to visit us at home and called to pray with us. My father and mother called me every day and visited for weeks to pray with me and encourage me. It was beautiful to see their amazing support and love for our little family and especially our sweet Julian, but mostly it has allowed us to not go through this completely alone. I think by including loved ones, we avoided a lot of heartache from insensitive relatives and thoughtless words.
Note: if your family are jerks (Ive heard and read plenty of horror stories), then lean on your spouse and friends. Don't block them out.
Find an outlet. After such a traumatic life event, it was no surprise that I had a reservoir of negative energy pent up in my heart. Instead of trying to suppress my negative feelings, I knew I had to transform it into something positive. I needed an outlet and for me that meant, prayer, hot yoga, pilates, weight lifting and artistic projects. These were all things that I had always enjoyed in my life, however death has a way of sucking all enjoyment and motivation out of your soul. Finding the motivation to go out and do these things was absolutely impossible at first. Thats OK! Please remember to be kind to yourself. I started out small, made lists, set reminders and little by little I was able to reliably stick with a self-help plan. I focused my negative energy into those activities and it slowly (very slowly) helped my broken spirit feel revitalized once again.
Reach acceptance. I don't discard the events of Julian's demise to "everything happens for a reason" and I am not at all satisfied with our current lack of medical understanding when it comes to stillbirth and other adverse pregnancy outcomes. However, I do accept what happened to me and I choose to become a better person everyday because of it. I also accept that the healing process will never be 100% complete and thats ok. As long as I have a beating heart, the pain will be there but so will the love I have for my sweet J.
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