Surviving Child Loss
Updated: Mar 20, 2021
10 Strategies for Doing the Impossible
If you are here because you've experienced it, I am so sorry. I see you, and I am here for you. Please know that while this will always be difficult, you will be able to breathe again and in time, that weight will become lighter. I know it sounds impossible, but I promise you, it will.
When we lost Lily, I didn't think that I could do it. But like any seemingly impossible task in life, you tackle it little by little — surviving moment by moment as best you can.
This is what I felt helped me move forward despite not feeling like I could. I want to preface this by saying that we all grieve differently. I kept things open here for you to decide what would work best for you and your partner. What worked for me may not work for you, but it may inspire something that does. I hope being open about my journey with grief will help you with yours.
Honour Your Child
Find a way to commemorate them in whatever way you feel comfortable. There is no wrong way to do this. Do whatever you feel gives you peace and honours the memory of your child. Don't spend a moment thinking about what anyone might think about it. It's not about them.
In the hospital that day, as I held our daughter, the nurses asked if we would like a photographer to come in and take photos. This is a service the hospital provides grieving parents in these unthinkable times. While it was a kind gesture, Josh and I simply couldn't bear to have anyone taking photos of us in that moment. We will never forget that day. We will never forget her perfect little face, or those tiny hands and feet. We didn't want anyone in our space while we said our goodbyes. But that doesn't mean that it wouldn't be the right choice for you.
Losing Lily so soon after losing my father, the thought of another funeral service was crushing, but it was a decision that we had to make in that moment at the hospital. We honestly didn't think that we could do it. But after a short conversation and the help of my mother, we reached out to the funeral home and managed to arrange a small service for our immediate family in honour of our girl. It was hard. It was really hard. But we are so happy that we mustered the strength to do it — for her. She was lain to rest with my father so that she would never be alone and we would always have a place to visit them together.
If a funeral service is not for you, there are so many more things that you can do. You can plant a tree in your backyard. You can make an annual donation in their name to an organization that resonates with you like the NICU. Or you can donate to a research foundation that is dedicating time to saving another mama from going through what you have. You can get a tattoo or a piece of jewelry that commemorates their life so that you can carry their memory with you. The list is endless. On Liliana's one year, my mom gifted me a necklace with her name and I have been wearing it ever since.
Whatever makes you feel closer to them, there is no wrong way. Whether you grieve privately or publicly, that is entirely up to you.
You are not in this alone
Your partner is your lifeline and you are theirs. It is crucial to establish a safe space early on. Talk about your triggers, talk about the things you are struggling with, and anything that is making it hard for you to move forward.
Doing this groundwork early on will ensure that when you reenter the world outside, you will know when and how to support one another without saying a word. I remember the first few times we left the house, seeing parents pushing strollers and how that made me feel. Or when that advertisement for diapers would come on, the one where Josh would always look to me and say "That's gonna be us soon" and I would smile and say "Yup!". That same commercial that once brought us so much joy now turned us inside out. Because we did the hard work of talking early on, we managed to get to a place where, when those little things happened, he would squeeze my hand or kiss my head and I would know that he knew, that he saw me and that he supported me.
It's not always going to be easy. And there will be days that are harder than others, there will be triggers coming at you from every angle, but if you prepare yourself and you establish a strong foundation, you'll be able to navigate it all a lot better.
Take into account that you may not grieve in the same way. Talk about the way you want to grieve and the way that you need to be supported. There might be something that brings you comfort but is difficult for your partner, that is ok. You just need to talk about it. If there is a way to do that thing in a private space, out of your partner's sight. Then you can continue to do what is helpful to your healing while respecting your partner's process.
You are in this together.
Don't tuck it away
Resist the urge to pack every little reminder of them away. Don't put away your mama and papa bear mugs — use them. You are a mom, and he is a dad. You created a life, no matter how long you carried them, no matter how long they were in your arms. Just because their story was not like the rest does not make their life any less valid; it does not make you any less a parent.
When we lost Lily, we had already begun nesting. We accumulating clothing, purchased her crib and discussed the artwork we wanted to hang on the wall. Josh and I decided to keep those things for Lily's brother or sister to have one day. We planned to tell them that their big sister had left it behind for them and that she would always watch over them. And I am so glad we did. When I dress Seraphina in the outfits we dreamt of putting Lily in, I feel her with me. We play with the Teddy that a family friend brought for Lily from London and the fox from her registry that my best friend bought after we lost our girl. Keeping these little pieces of her and sharing them with her sister makes my heart feel a little lighter.
If you are struggling to be around their things right now, I understand. If you find it painful to imagine doing this all over again; if that feels impossible, I get it. But if you can find the strength, store them away until you've had some time to mend. Keep them someplace safe and out of sight until you are ready. You might one day be able to share them with their brother or sister. I promise that you will be glad you did.
Keep the door open
Coming home and walking past her room knocked the wind out of me. And for a while, we kept that door closed. We couldn't bear to see it. We just kept flashing back to the memories we planned to make like the visions I had of her standing in her crib calling for us in the morning when she would wake. But I didn't want that room to be a dark space in our home. So I opened the door, I opened the blinds and let the light in. I tried to go in there from time to time, to face what I was feeling so that one day this room could be what it was intended to be... and it did.
Focus on the things you can control
I felt betrayed by my body — I never felt that anything was wrong. There were no signs. All I could do was take the progesterone, do the cerclage and pray that everything would be alright — that my body would keep her safe until she was ready. But it didn't. Nothing that I did could change that. I didn't have any control of my body. I didn't have any control over our outcome or my child's safety. The only thing that I had control over was and is my state of mind.
Believe in your ability to try again. Know that doesn't mean you are replacing your child. Take time to heal by focusing on the things you can control. While you are doing that, everything around you will start to settle and you will begin to feel a little more stable, a little more like yourself.
Do the work with yourself to rebuild that trust. Research what you can do to better your chances, see a specialist about your options, dedicate time to your mental and physical health. You want to prepare yourself for the next chapter if and when you decide to try again so you can be ready.
While I was on leave, I gave myself a few weeks to feel what I was feeling. I laid in bed and watched my ceiling fan. I cried, I let myself hurt and gave myself space to do that. Then I decided that I would use this time to repair myself and start again. Because no matter how difficult losing her was, no matter how intolerable that pain seemed, I knew that I was willing to risk reliving it all again to bring a child into our home.
I spoke to my midwife and family doctor about specialists that I could see about my condition. I established a routine and committed to it. I started waking up with my husband at 6:30. I made him a lunch and coffee and sent him off to work. I drank my coffee outside with Murphy (our handsome Old English Bulldog) and read a book about grief, cleaned the house, did the laundry. I even went to the gym. My daily routine forced me out of bed and kept me moving. I dedicated my time to prepare myself mentally, physically and emotionally, and it paid off.
I decided to finish what I started. I kept nesting. I whitewashed the wood boards that Josh and I had picked up for Lily's room and had Josh install them. I had him put together the crib while I organized the baby things my mom bought us. I had control of my environment.
Focusing on things like getting the house ready, getting my body and mind ready kept me from feeling helpless and spiralling. I also felt like the catharsis of finishing what I started made me feel like I could somehow will a baby into that room. I told Josh that I didn't want to use that room for anything other than what it was intended. Nothing would be stored in that room — It was a nursery and we would have another child one day.
Today, Seraphina sleeps in that room, with those whitewash walls in the crib meant for her sister.
Get comfortable talking about it
I have been really open about my journey and what I have found is if you get comfortable talking about it, others will feel comfortable having those conversations with you.
It is not a common topic of conversation, people don't often have the insight to support you and as a result, they either say the wrong thing or nothing at all. You end up in rooms with friends or family talking about their pregnancy experiences and it reminds you of that funny craving you had while pregnant or a silly thing your broken pregnancy brain made you do. But you sit there saying nothing because you don't feel like you can talk about that experience. Like, because your child is not here, your pregnancy and everything that came along with it, is not valid. But it doesn't have to be like that.
You can look fondly back on those memories. You can say their name. You can remember them and smile. You just need to do that work, to be open with your friends and family. Let them know early on how they can help you - what you need. Tell them to say their name. Tell them to remember their significant dates like their birthday, death date and due date. The people close to you may not know what the right thing to do is. If you don't feel comfortable saying the words - you can send messages, ask someone close to you to relay what you need or send links to resources that help loved ones to best support you.
Find an outlet
You need to let it out. If you try to bury it down deep it will haunt you. Over time, it will take on a life of its own, spread like black mould. Poisoning your lungs and making it hard to breathe. The long term effects of which are difficult to reverse. So don't hide your pain and fake a smile like a badge of honour. There is no reason that you should have to suffer forever in silence. There is no reason that your child's name should only be heard between the walls of your home.
You can do what I did and write it out, channelling your energy into connecting with other moms and helping them cope. Doing this is what brought me back. Writing is like having a conversation with yourself; no judgement, just you talking to the only person who knows exactly how you feel. It is a safe space for you to work through those feelings and make more sense of it all.
Therapy and groups are also great ways to work through the heavy stuff. If you aren't ready for that yet, there is a lot of groundwork that can be done by finding a person or group of women online who have suffered the same. A lot of healing happens when you connect with people that have lived it and are still standing.
Sleep is survival.
This one is important. You are in a fog as it is. The last thing you need is to add the madness of sleep deprivation. Sleep will allow you a break from your thoughts; take it.
I am not sure how long I struggled to sleep. It seemed like a long time. I just couldn't do it. For a while, every time I closed my eyes, I was back in that delivery room. The only way that I could get any sleep was to drown out the noise in my head.
Josh and I went to bed with the TV on. We would pop Netflix on and have Planet earth playing in the background. I would stare at the screen and listen to the narrator's soothing voice. And on days when that just wasn't enough, I took Gravol to help me get some rest.
Eventually, we were able to sleep again and we started to feel more present.
The sun will set and rise again to bring a new day. Carry them with you always, speak their name and remember your strength. Remember that you are never alone. You are in the unique position of having access to platforms that allow you to connect with so many women. Women from all around the world who understand. Women like me.
Motherhood is a sisterhood and we are all in this together.