Imagine being told; “In a couple of hours, everything you thought you knew about life will be gone. Your whole belief system and soul will be ripped out of you – physically and mentally. You will experience indescribable loss, yet somehow, you will remain.” Baby loss is multi-faceted, complex and messy. The pain is indescribable. The moment I heard those words, “there is no heartbeat”, I left my body. Nothing seemed real.
What it Feels Like to Lose a Baby
Your worst nightmares seem like daydreams; reality is too much to bear. How can you move on with your life when all you see is them; when the memories and the trauma still remain? Separate to the physical pain of your baby being taken, your core is ripped out of you. Everything you thought you knew: your belief system, thoughts, feelings, relationship with yourself (never really knew I had one before this), friendships, lifestyle, work ethic, morals, support systems and strategies, in fact your whole entity – gone; and to make it worse, society treats you like an outsider.
It’s not a club I ever wanted to join, but it’s an amazing place to be. When you meet another mum who has experienced loss, you don’t even need to speak. There is an instant connection, an unspoken mutual understanding. You fight and build resilience over time. You survive because you know others have endured this before you and lived to tell the tale. They are living proof that life goes on. That we can recover from this catastrophic blow to our spirits, to our lives.
‘In baby loss, we accept, we adjust, but we never forget’
Still a Mama
All your life philosophies and parenting approaches fly out the window when a baby dies. Your entire being is deconstructed in ways you never knew possible. It is unimaginable that anyone can survive the aftermath of baby loss. Living on without your child is unthinkable; continuing to function is impossible. Just because your baby isn’t here doesn’t mean you are not a mother – you will continue to parent your child every day; just not in the way you had hoped or planned.
‘I am and always will be ‘still a mama’ to Gracie Rose, stillborn on 7 July 2016 – always loved, never forgotten’
The Most Agony, The Most Love
Losing Gracie meant everything I thought I knew had changed; but even in the extreme pain of loss, the decaying of everything you thought you knew is quite liberating. There is strength in being vulnerable. It takes bravery to be open to the hurt, to let it matter. This remarkable baby loss is the most agony I’ve ever felt, yet it holds the most love I’ve ever known. It has also given me a new definition of self, a new way of seeing, and a new love – one so strong that it made saying hello and goodbye in the same day worth all the pain.
What I Have Learned Along the Way
- Just breathe – this is all you can and will do for a very long time. This is ENOUGH.
- Do not let your suffering be a measure of your love – I punished myself in those early days; relief from grief is allowed; punishing yourself isn’t helpful.
- Your mental health is a priority – self-care is a priority, your existence is a priority.
- You are still a kind person if you say no – do not expect yourself to be the person you were before; this is the new you. You will be getting to know yourself for the next few years. On that note, do not give yourself timescales, particularly in the early months, regarding when you think you’ll feel better. I did this and set myself up for the biggest fall of my life.
- You will lose some of your support network – this is normal in baby loss. People will do things that hurt, and it is okay to take a year out and re-assess relationships and friendships. It is okay to distance yourself from people who are pregnant, to unfollow people on social media. You are not a bad person for doing this.
- Speak with another loss mum – it confirms that your thoughts that feel crazy are very normal in baby loss. You will bond over your shared experiences of how society deals with this tragedy.
- There are reminders everywhere – motherhood seems like some cruel joke taunting you in your face. Protect yourself as much as you need to. Be aware that grief stings when you least expect it. Do not fight it. It will always win.
- Your relationship with your partner – this will be tested beyond belief.
- Live each day to honour your baby – they are never more than a thought away. You will learn a new kind of love that can only be experienced to be understood.
- Live minute by minute if needed – hour by hour, and day by day when you can.
Parenting after Loss
My blue eyed boy forever bringing colour to my darkness. I often used to wonder what life would be like if I was lucky enough to parent after loss – I genuinely thought the darkness would diminish somewhat; but I guess that’s a silly thought as the darkness is the price I pay for Gracie’s love whether she has a sibling or not, the darkness is also somewhere I worked so hard to make my home – because really what other choice did I have other than to surrender to my whole being that was severed in ways I never knew was possible? My heart doesn’t feel less heavy – it is still excruciatingly painful, however I don’t feel the pain as often – not because of Archer, but because of the hard grief work I have done over the past four and a half years.
I could never forget Gracie – unlike other deaths I’ve experienced (not that I forget them), she is ever present with me and every breath I breathe. My heart is literally forever beating for two. Sometimes, the longer time goes on, the further I feel away from her (probably as people fail to mention her), but what I’ve learnt, is that she is only ever a thought away and rituals like yoga, walks in nature, pink skies, roses etc. universally connect and remind me that she is my greatest guide and teacher. I feel complex guilt to both my children, I wish I was more present with Archer, but I will forever compare his milestones to his sister’s; I also wish I had more time to focus solely on my girl.
I’ve had recent conversations with people whose siblings have died when they were younger and how this affects them is quite profound. Losing your child demolishes you. It severs your being. To breathe in this new life after loss is literally suffocating, so, yes, inevitably it will impact those around us. This work isn’t easy but we must choose to heal by learning how to breathe again, we need to share our stories for future generations and those who have silently lived this pain before us. I also want Archer to grow up into a compassionate human and not to be wounded by the trauma his Mother has endured. After all, motherhood is a love story with no ending; even though one child is in my heart. However, I do get a say in how it is written from here on in.
I want Gracie’s brief and beautiful life to be a love story and I want Archer to share that love too. I want him to know, as he grows, that pain and joy can co-exist and collide, and that no matter how much pain he experiences in his life, that he will always be offered grace on the other side. His big sister will always gift him this, as she has gifted me. I want him to learn that joy will become sweeter, not apart from the pain but because of it. After all, we all need to weed out our pain and sadness, so that we can make room for the joy that we all deserve.