By Liz Paparella
You and I have never met, yet we share a bond stronger than most, the bond of grief. I delivered my perfect 8 pound baby girl three years ago. But, she did not cry. She never took a breath. She was supposed to breathe….
Maybe you are like me, or maybe your baby died, tiny inside your womb. Maybe you put your sweet-smelling baby down for a nap and he never woke up. I don’t know your story, but I know that when a mother loses her baby, nothing is ever the same again. You are forced to the ground in grief. The world is darkened, and time becomes wrong, too fast, and yet too slow. A piece of your heart is gone, and yet you must keep breathing. How can this be right?! The world should have stopped…
In three years I have learned a lot, felt a lot, and grieved a lot.
Mama, as woman we are strong. I know right now you feel as weak as a whisper- but know this- you are strong. Because as a mother you love your child, and to love something that will one day be separate from you, that one day you will lose, takes strength. You will get to the other side of this, but the other side looks nothing like the life you had before. I don’t know everything, I don’t even know very much, but what I do know is we are all stumbling along in this grief journey. There is no straight path, no right path, no safe path. I want to share with you some of the advice I have, but first I want to say something…
I am so, so very sorry for the loss of your sweet baby. Nothing I or anyone can say will fix this pain. Nothing will replace your child. And for that I am truly and deeply sorry. But, hopefully I can help you navigate somewhat.
In these first days and weeks your world has been completely flipped upside down. To have a baby die makes the sky red, 2+2=5, and time stops. Nothing is right. Now is the time to hunker down. I got down on my knees and cried out to God. I spent hours upon hours reading my Bible and praying, weeping to God. I let Him carry me. I don’t know what your faith is, or if you believe anything at all, but my advice is the same. You need to hunker down with those who can carry you and those who can love. Be that God, your partner, your other children, your mother, your sisters, your best friend….who can you run to? Who can you hold tight? That is what you do. You love on those who are here for you to love. Because you cannot hold your baby, you hold them instead. Time is moving so very slow use this as a gift to love.
Please do not isolate your self. You need to talk with others who have walked this before you. You need to read their stories. Find blogs, read books, join a grief group. All of these things have helped me, and other woman I know very very much. You are not alone. Here are some resources to get you started:
Your grief will come out. It must be expressed. If you do not find healthy ways to pour your pain out it will consume you, and those you love. There are many directions you can take with this. Some women journal, or write letters to their baby, some woman blog, some paint or sculpt, some knit.
Babies take up some much time and energy from their mothers in that first year, and when your baby dies that does not change. You have all this God-given energy that was supposed to be for mothering your child. Now you must find a way to use this. You can still mother your child, but it will look very different from what you imagined when you found yourself expecting.
One of my first art pieces after my daughter’s death.
Please see still life 365 for some ideas on creatively expressing your grief.
Yes, You are Normal. No, You are Not Crazy.
You will find yourself asking over and over, “Is this normal to feel this way?” and “Am I crazy?”
There are a million thoughts you will think and a million shades of feeling you will move through.
Yes, it is normal.
No, you are not crazy.
I know you need someone who has been there to reassure you here. Someone who has not lost a baby has no business telling you otherwise. It is perfectly fine to have joyful moments. It is OK to smile. It is OK to not stop crying. It is OK to be angry. It is OK to pursue litigation. It is OK to not. It is OK to obsessively research statistics and research papers pertaining to the way your baby died. It is OK to request an autopsy. It is OK to not. Is is OK to have a funeral for your baby. It is OK to cremate your baby. It is OK to bury your baby. It is OK to visit his/her grave every day, and it is OK to never visit. It is OK to try again. It is OK not to. IT IS OK TO TALK ABOUT YOUR BABY. It is OK to go to therapy, and it OK not to.
***One note here: if you are having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming others you should seek help. It is OK to ask for help!
Find Ways to Include Your Baby in Your Life
Your baby will always be your child. It doesn’t matter if you were barely pregnant, or you raised him/her for months. This is your child. You are a mother. It is OK and right to include your baby in your family. Talk about your baby with your partner, children, family. Find a way to celebrate his/her birthday. A miscarriage or still birth is still a birthday. Some mamas have birthday parties, some release balloons, some light candles.
In our family, we include Aquila in all our family portraits by having one of our children hold her bear. It was a bear the funeral staff gave me. It just became ‘her’ bear.
My kids after the birth of my rainbow baby– see the bear? That is Aquila’s bear…
Some other families I know hold a picture of their baby , or a name plate in their family photos. Sometimes it is a flower.
Some mothers talk to their babies when they are alone. This is totally OK! Look for signs from your baby. Many, many mamas will see little things, signs that remind them of their baby and warm their hearts. Be open to that.
Stargazer Lilies are Aquila’s flower.
It Is OK To Weed
Let me warn you, if you have not experienced this yet, some people will say and do hurtful things. Right there, while your struggling just to breathe and stumble along, someone you love dearly will kick you in the teeth. I do not know a single grieving mama who has not had to deal with this.
Personally I had a dear friend who was my daily phone buddy for years completely drop off the face of the planet the day I told her my baby died. She wasn’t the only one.
Know this: some people cannot handle grief, even yours. Lucky them, they don’t have to handle anything…they can just avoid you. Ouch. Here you are forced to live a nightmare, and this person who should be there to talk with you and hold your hand, has vanished.
And people will say the wrong thing. They may say things like, “It was God’s will” or “you can have another baby!” They might say, “God needed another flower in His garden.”
I know how badly these words hurt. The only thing they should be saying is, “I am so sorry for your loss”. Try not to be too angry. At least they are trying and not being silent.
But worst of all, there are the nasty comments. If you are public about your loss there will be complete strangers judging your grief. They will judge your mental health. But that won’t hurt nearly as bad as if it comes from someone close. I had some very nasty words written to me from my sister in law which hurt like being stabbed.— and here is where I say , “It is ok to weed in your life”.
Ypur life is a garden and when grieving, weeds will choke the very life from you. You do not have the energy to deal with people who try to hurt you when you are already hurting so bad. You do not have the energy to try to make people care who have disappeared. It is OK to let these people go. Focus on those who love you. Focus on your baby. Do not give them your pain. They do not deserve it.
There is an old saying , “In times of adversity, the cream rises to the top”.
You will find new friends, and old bonds will strengthen. Some bonds will deteriorate and some will shatter. Remember, you are not the same woman you were. You are on a new path.
***I hope some of my advice helps you navigate these stormy waters. Three years out I still deeply miss my baby, but I can say that I am healing. You will smile again.
And I want to telly you that your baby did matter. Your baby is still your baby and you are still a mother. Death cannot take that away. You are a mother in love- and death has no power over love.
Liz Paparella, Mother to 8 , including my daughter Aquila, in heaven.