The ’empty’ feeling following the loss of a baby is one of the most painful feelings that can affect a bereaved mother and father. In particular, a bereaved mother not only goes through the emotional loss of losing a baby but also the physical loss. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘double grief’ and that coupled with the feeling of physical and emotional emptiness can be one of the hardest hurdles to overcome in your journey through grief.
When a mother goes through labour, her body is run through the mill. But when that process is complicated by a miscarriage or stillbirth, the process can become even more strenuous. Her hormones are having to re-adjust to a ‘non-pregnant’ state during the period of which she should still be pregnant, her uterus is shrinking back to normal size which can be very physically uncomfortable (a process that any pregnant women will have to go through but can be an additional strain when she should still be pregnant), and depending on the stage at which her pregnancy has ended, her breasts may even still produce milk. All of this takes its toll on her body and can take between 6-8 weeks to return to baseline levels. She may often be left feeling in a state of limbo between pregnant and not pregnant – her breasts indicate she must be pregnant but the painful shrinking of her uterus and lack of pregnancy bump is indicating she no longer is. It is very common for women to complain of ‘achy arms’, when her arms literally ache to hold her baby and this is also a true phenomenon. All of this is can be very physically testing and it is a very difficult period for a woman following the loss of a pregnancy. On top of this, she is struggling emotionally to come to terms with what has happened. All the hopes and dreams of having her baby have been abruptly taken away before she even knew what was happening.
All of this confusion along with the other feelings of loss can create a feeling of emptiness in bereaved mothers. Her womb is empty, her arms are empty, her dreams and future feels empty and for a long period after the loss most of the time her head can feel empty too. This is not an emotion that not only men can have difficulty relating to but all other women that have not gone through this type of loss. Baby loss affects all aspects of a bereaved family, not only the parents. It affects grandparents, aunts, uncles and particularly if you already have children, the siblings of the baby that has died. No two people grieve in the same way and baby loss affects all of these people in different ways – a bereaved grandparents will not understand how a bereaved sibling is feeling and vice versa or a bereaved mother will not understand how a bereaved father is feeling. All of this is OK.
It is in these difficult times that communication is key. Talk to your partner and your family about how you are feeling – this can be very therapeutic. I have never been a person of expression but when we lost our son, I found myself opening up more than ever before and it really helped me and ultimately led me to this blog. Another coping mechanism can be to write – even if you have never written before, try to keep a journal of how you are feeling on a daily basis and it may fill you with a sense of comfort when even in two weeks time, you read back and see how much you have progressed. Writing can also be a comforting way of expressing yourself in these testing times. An important factor to remember when you have suffered baby loss is to try not to demand too much of yourself too soon. Take it hour by hour if that is what helps you. Your partner, family and friends can be there for you but it is only you that can create a change when the time is right and only when it feels right. I would find myself still breaking down every day a month after we lost Rubén and my mum and partner would tell me to ‘toughen up’ or ‘pull yourself together’. Although I understood their reasons for telling me and probably giving me the kick up the backside they thought I needed, they didn’t understand that it was helping me to cry and break down. Every time I cried it was releasing all my pain and anger little by little. And it was unfair for me to expect them to understand where I was coming from or what I was going through because no matter how much I tried to explain it, they never would. They would never understand because they weren’t going through what I was going through just as I weren’t going through what they were going through. We were all grieving for the same person but no-one was going through what I was going through. And that was OK. The key was that they understood that I grieve differently to them because I communicated that with them. A breakdown in communication can cause conflicts at anytime in someone’s life, but that break down particularly at a time when life is already fragile, can cause additional pressures on relationships. To prevent conflicts and express your feelings about your loss in a healthy way, talk with loved ones about what you’re going through; this in term, will give them an insight to why you may be reacting in a different way to them as well as reminding them that everyone grieves differently. If you find it difficult to express yourself to your loved ones, there are many organisations and charities out there that you can turn to also (some of which I have included below).
The best thing to remember in these testing times is that you have to do what is right for you – this is the biggest and most significant loss that anyone can through. It is difficult to lose a parent, partner, grandparent, aunt, uncle or a friend but you have create memories with that person over the years because they had a life. A family grieving the loss of a baby is so much different to that because their baby’s life was taken away before it even have the chance to begin. You are left wondering what they would have looked like, sounded like, what food they would have liked or what they would have disliked. It is important to remember that all of these feelings are normal and they are all a natural process in order to heal. Keep communication at the forefront and utilise the help and support from your family. It is important that each person going through this loss is coping with it in a way that is going to help them to deal with what has happened to them and ultimately be able to move on.