Grief is immeasurable and intensely personal. Using the word ‘normal’ to describe its characteristics and how you will feel is as impossible as trying to quantify how deeply you will feel grief and for how long. Someday, you will find a way to put together a “new normal”; that is, life after the death of your baby. Most parents of stillborn babies say they believe their grief will be lifelong; the pain will one day lessen but the sadness will always be with you, often just below the surface. Over the years you may also be surprised at how often it may return.
The death of a baby evokes a complex and sometimes conflicting series of emotional responses. The days immediately following the death of a baby are often described as a roller-coaster of emotions. There is no ‘normal’ way of feeling – or not feeling. Emotions you may experience could include feeling:
Inconsolable, irritable and angry when others try to comfort you or offer you platitudes to explain this tragedy. Likewise, feeling unsympathetic or annoyed when others tell you about their own experiences of death and grief is not wrong. Remember, this is your time to grieve.
Intense love and pride for your baby.
You can’t stop crying or can’t cry at all. Further, you may experience long periods of both crying and not crying. Crying, wailing and sobbing mark the end of shock and your progress towards trying to grasp what has happened.
Desperate to know why this had to happened to you and your baby, and wanting to go back to change things is likely to be at the forefront of your thoughts for the most part during your grief. Please know that it is not your fault.
Lost in a fog and that you don’t feel truly present in the moment. You’re not losing your mind, your mind is trying to survive the shock.
Irritation with your partner’s grief process. Grief is experienced differently by everyone and often there are gender differences which play a role in grieving. Your partner may not cry, may not want to talk about the baby and what’s happened, might want to go back to work straight away or might not want to go anywhere, might be consumed with finding answers, and/or may engage in behaviours that you disagree with (e.g. smoking, drinking, etc.). This may upset you particularly if you feel that their behaviour denies or does a disservice to your baby in some way. In these moments, you need to remember that your partner may grieve differently and this is their way of coping just as your behaviours will be a way of coping. Trying to make them grieve in the same way as you will only strain your relationship.
Losing or have lost control, that you can’t handle what is happening to you and your family, and are thinking harmful thoughts. Know that these responses are not the result of your inability to cope. These are signs that you need to seek help through your support network of family and friends, or from your social worker or counsellor.
You want to be alone. This is a fair response as this is such an intensely devastating experience. However, please remember that everyone who loves you (your partner, your parents, your family and friends) will want to be with you and take care of you. Your parents will in particular struggle with this situation as they experience sadness that both their child is suffering the death of a baby, and that their grandchild has died. It can be tempting to push people away and we can’t tell you not to. What we would suggest is that you tell people how much or how little you want them around. Perhaps tell them when you would like them to be with you and what you would like them to do so that they feel that they can still support you even if it’s from a distance.
All you want is answers. This is a powerful and typical response. It isn’t fair that this tragedy has happened and you are right to want to know why it has. We hasten to advise you that it is better not to seek answers all over the internet. Unfortunately, many sources will, at best, be misleading and, at the very worst, psychologically damaging to you. Some sources will encapsulate negative and toxic views that you don’t need to be confronted with. Sometimes, asking questions even if you know there aren’t any answers out there can still be a way of moving through your grief and releasing your deep sadness.
It will take you a long time to feel ready to accept that your baby has died and it will take a courage you might not believe you possess. It will take even longer to find a way to live again. Your child is, and always will be, a real part of your life. Knowing that you can acknowledge your baby and that you can take the time to grieve them properly is crucial. You may not feel strong enough to find ‘normal’ again for some time but you will someday. In the meantime, lean on the people you love and don’t deny yourself this time to grieve. Above all else, remember that the reason it all hurts so much is because you carry a profound love for your baby; that will never change.