No parent should ever have to go through the unbearable pain and suffering of stillbirth. But it happens. Every single day. Seven years ago today I found out that my first child, Aiden, no longer had a heart beat. I was 24 weeks along into a happy and healthy pregnancy. My husband and I were devastated when the doctor said he was sorry that there was no heartbeat. We went home and cried a bucketful of tears. I hoped and prayed that the machines were all wrong and I would miraculously give birth to a crying baby. My wishes did not come true. The next day was the longest in my life. We had to go to the hospital so I could be induced.
I will not go through the whole story, because honestly, it just takes too much out of me. However, I want every parent who is going through this right now, or who has gone through this to know something. You are not alone. You will survive. You will pick up the broken pieces of your heart and create a new one. One thing will stay the same from this point on though. Your heart will always hold a piece of your child or children that died. You will never be the same again, nor should you be. You will be more. More compassionate. More understanding. You will not be afraid to sit with another who has a bleeding heart full of grief. You will love more deeply and dance more freely. You will care less about materialistic things and more about time with loved ones. But all this will not come easily or quickly. You will have very difficult days. And many hours will be spent feeling a mess of emotions. Of course, we would all give anything to have our children back on Earth with us, no matter how "more" we become.
When I first lost Aiden I did not believe any of what is in the previous paragraph. I thought I was broken and could never be put back together. I felt an emptiness like nothing I imagined was possible. Others would look at me with pitiful eyes and not know what to say. I certainly did not know what to say either. There are no words during this time in your life....there are only tears.
I remember the months after we lost Aiden, I just wished I could transport myself to years from that time. I thought time alone would heal my wounds. I found out that it is not just time that helps. I needed to process my thoughts and feelings in order to heal. I am writing this blog in hopes it will help others in the same place I was 7 years ago today.
Below is a list of the tools I used to help me cope with my deep rooted grief. These are not in any particular order. You will want to use the healing tools that are right for you. Not all of these work for everyone.
1. Writing in a Journal
This included writing notes to my son Aiden. I would write down all my hopes for him. I would write how much I missed him and what we would be doing right now if he were here. I would write my feelings about the grief and trying to see the world as beautiful again and how tough that was in the permanence of his absence.
2. Yoga and Meditation
Focusing on my breathing helped decrease my anxiety. This especially helped when I was pregnant again and desperately overwhelmed about the thought of losing another baby. I listened to peaceful songs during this time that would help decrease the anxious thoughts.
3. Going to a Counselor
This helped me to process all that had happened. The counselor was not judgmental and would just let me talk about my feelings. I spoke about the good, bad and ugly parts of my life at that time.
4. Choosing an Artistic Outlet
This was photography for me. But it is different for everyone. Here are some other ideas: painting, dancing, singing, drawing, pottery, jewelry making, wood working, knitting, cooking, etc. Just do something that gives you peace, even if that peace only lasts for a few minutes.
Speaking to God can be healing. Every religion has some form of prayer because it is good for the soul. Even if you're not religious, you can use spiritual thoughts or just talk out loud.
6. Grief Group Meetings
These can be found at local bereavement organizations, churches and sometimes hospitals. Search your area for these and ask around. Sometimes they can be difficult to find, but I assure you they exist. Our society is really good at covering up grief. Being in a bereavement group will make you feel less alone.
7. Honoring Your Child/ren
My family bought a brick with Aiden's name that was placed at a butterfly garden that we can visit. We celebrate his angelversary every year by bringing our loved ones together for a small ceremony and dinner. We have a shelf in our home that has important items that make us think of him. We light candles in his name. We donate gifts to the Children's hospital to honor his memory. We talk about him often so that our living children know about him and he is never forgotten.
Take time and let yourself cry. I could not believe the amount of tears a human could produce until I lost Aiden. Crying releases good chemicals in your brain and provides an outlet for your feelings.
9. Talk About It
Talking about your feelings to those who are supportive can be beneficial. Make sure you let them know that you are not looking for them to fix anything. You just need them to listen, hug you, and maybe even cry with you. There are some people who are not good listeners and just want to "fix" you. Try to avoid talking about your feelings to these people. They mean well, but you will feel worse after talking to them about your difficulties.
10. Don't be Afraid to Ask for Help
I went back to work fairly quickly after February 7, 2011. I didn't know what else to do. Luckily, I had a very supportive team at work that were great friends and took over when I needed a break. I asked for help when I needed it and everyone was more than happy to help. If you need to take more time off from work then do it. You are entitled to maternity/paternity leave (if your company offers maternity/paternity leave) and if your employer gives you a hard time then do your research about the Family Medical Leave Act.
There are many more ideas and tools you can use to help you through your grief. These are just a few things I did. My only other suggestion is to feel it. Do not hide from it. Do not distract yourself from it. Any time I did these things I did not heal. I felt worse once I came back to feeling the grief. think of it like going to the gym. If you don't go to the gym for a while you are very sore once you go back. Healing from your grief can be like lifting weights. You build a tolerance over time. If you stop working on it then it hurts more later.
Please do not get the impression that I am "over" my son's death. That is not possible and could not be further from the truth. It is a part of my life and I have made room for it. I still cry, I still need a creative outlet, and I still need to talk about him. However, I know that if I did not use these tools to help me deal with my overwhelming grief I would be in a different place in my life. I actually might not be here at all. Seek help when you need it. My heart is with you during this difficult time!
Larisa is a natural light photographer and teacher in the Rock Hill, SC and Charlotte, NC area.