You are searching for guidance, for answers, for help! When I first looked online I was overwhelmed by the number of stillbirth stories, yet it was extremely hard to find any support in my physical sphere. Sadly, many of us are met with this ambiguous silence.
If you’re finding you’re not getting enough support, please keep reaching out, don’t give up! Someone will show up. Your baby will guide them to you or you to them. I understand how difficult it is to seek help, as your mind is overwhelmed with traumatic grief and your capacity is scarce.
Personally, aside from the severe trauma and grief, mentally I struggled with PTSD, depression, anxiety and memory loss. Emotionally I felt broken. I was preparing to give birth and meet our baby girl, Bridget soon; our second child. She was breech. At 38+3 I had an ECV done to turn her head down. Two days later at a follow-up appointment, my entire world utterly collapsed when suddenly I was told: “I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat”.
Stepping through the hospital exit doors empty-handed was awful and driving home with an empty baby capsule was satire. Returning home without Bridget literally felt like she had been stolen. I believe, the fret and fear of how a mother feels when her child is kidnapped, was experienced. I was so confused.
In total, leading up to her funeral I spent 13hrs with her, in hindsight, I don’t feel that was enough. I was consumed with trying to organise the most beautiful funeral for her. I was worried about how it would affect my 2yo if I was away for too long and how it would affect him if I brought her home. The time I spent with her I’ll treasure forever. Now, I do wish I had mourned over her body for longer. Perhaps I would’ve experienced the shock of her ‘disappearance’ to a lesser degree.
My motherly instincts were bewildered. I received zilch support or sympathy from the hospital and society’s inability to comprehend the magnitude of the loss, compounded my trauma response. I reacted with great angst and for a long time, I held anger towards those who didn’t acknowledge Bridget. Five years on, I’ve let go of this anger but the loss will always be painful. No matter how well I progress in my healing and even if I die as a free and wise woman, I know I will still carry this deep-seated pain with me.
Knowingly birthing your child dead, or being confronted with the disturbing news during birth, immediately after, or not long after birth, is fierce trauma. It’s a cruel overlap between the joys of new life and the devastation of unjust death. We find ourselves in a state of crisis, a pandemonium of the heart. Utter dismay. We are being asked to continue living when the little person we created and live for has died, within us.
I repeatedly asked myself, “How could have this happened?” And I was certain that I would never ever feel okay again. There was no hope. Once I realised that my relationship with Bridget didn’t die, our relationship had just changed, from a physical to a spiritual one, I found just enough hope. Though, this type of abrupt change in the relationship can take a very long time to adjust to. I was preparing to nurture my little baby, yet, my stillborn baby was the one who ended up comforting me.
The person who helped me cope the most was Bridget. What a paradox. Bridget’s stillbirth was the cause of my suffering, yet, she was also the only one I had, to lean on for comfort. Bridget was the reason why I, eventually, became ‘ok’. I grieved with her. I cried to her. I sought guidance and peace from her. I could not handle anything unless I was actively making Bridget part of my everyday. Talking about her to my 2yo son, creating little rituals and talking about her to as many people as I could; the barista, Woolies checkout person and strangers I met.
It’s an isolating and lonely experience. I was very open about my loss and grief. I sent a text message to family and friends explaining what I needed, which essentially was to please keep asking me how I’m feeling and that I always need to talk about her. Unfortunately, largely I was still met with silence. I persevered; I didn’t shy away from saying her name.
By making your loss known, someone who has experienced a stillbirth may reach out to you or put you in contact with someone who has. The one thing I highly recommend for everyone to try is to find a stillbirth or baby-loss support group, (ideally face to face, but there are safe online spaces too), and befriend other baby-loss mums. Here you will be heard and understood. Here your baby won’t be a stranger but acknowledged and cared for. You may find that you will classify people into two groups; the Baby-loss Community and then there’s the rest of the world. This is because only those whose babies have also died can comprehend the gravity of your grief.
I did find a few special individuals along the way who didn’t fit in either category. These are the rare ones who have not experienced the death of their baby, yet were drawn to my intoxicating love for Bridget. Their ability to see this love eased any discomfort my grief and Bridget’s death creates for others. These are such rare and heartwarming encounters to have.
The more you talk about your baby, the more likely you will find someone in the ‘non-bereaved circle’ who will have an open heart and will listen to your journey of love and loss and will likely be inspired by the radical love you have for your baby. And by talking about your baby you’re also spreading awareness about stillbirth, which potentially could save a baby from stillbirth!
I had to prioritise self-care. I created a ‘Bridget’ playlist which I listened to all the time. I noticed how music helped move my emotions to the surface. I wrote. I meditated. I did some DIY art therapy. I saw a psychologist and a grief counsellor. I went to a stillbirth support group. I did acupuncture for grief. I focused on womb healing. Attended a bunch of woman’s circles. I went on two retreats. I started doing yoga regularly again. Did some breath work. I found an amazing Mind Body Soul Holistic Therapist and Kinesiologist.
I was very active in nurturing my heart, body and soul. I had to, I wasn’t able to function otherwise. I needed the help and am so grateful to all the people who have supported me along the way. The combination of these therapies helped me to deeply connect with my emotions, my grief and with Bridget. Eventually, this led me towards a state of recovery. Once I was feeling more stable, ever so slowly with loads of self-care, self-love and connection with Bridget, years later, I started to experience the unimaginable, moments of healing grace! It’s our love for our child and our baby’s love for us, that ends up healing us.
I believe making time to connect with our baby is the most potent form of therapy. Go deep into your heart space, (and womb space for mothers), gently and courageously sit with all the pain that you find there. Acknowledge it, hug it and then flood it with the love you and your baby share. We don’t physically have our babies, but we certainly have the love. The love is mightier than the pain. This love can transcend the pain into purpose and power. My power and purpose is to keep healing my entire self, to keep evolving, and to nourish my kids and the Baby-loss Community.
However long or short our babies have lived, I believe each of them comes into our lives with a great purpose. They ought to be loved and respected for the profound influence they have on our lives and the direct and indirect ripple effect they have on others. Unfortunately, most of the western world by default ignores baby loss because it’s too difficult to fathom. People avoid the topic because it makes them feel awkward and unsafe. I think the subconscious narrative is, “babies can’t die; they aren’t supposed to die; it makes no sense; the beginning of life cannot be met with death. Babies don’t die. I don’t want babies to die” and so on. It’s ‘easier’ to suppress and pretend it doesn’t happen. Prior to Bridget’s stillbirth, I was one of those people too.
After her passing, it took me about 2 years to face the horrific fact that Bridget died. I mean REALLY face it! Like death stare death right in its face. Up until that point subconsciously I was in denial. Even though I was very active with my grief, I blind-sighted myself by indulging myself in the spiritual connection I have with Bridget. That was my coping mechanism.
My husband on the other hand, who is very different to me, grieved very differently. When he looked at Bridget, he literally saw nothing but death. He didn’t experience denial as I did. When I looked at Bridget, predominantly I saw my baby girl, my daughter. I had a few other lenses sheltering me from the stark reality of just seeing death. Even though I was obviously well aware that she was dead, I guess my maternal love sheltered me from (please excuse me for saying this) just seeing a helpless corpse.
The longer I questioned the cruel mystery of, “Why did my baby die?!” Moments came when my denial was confronted with the stark images of her corpse. I meditated with her humble corpse and overcame a significant layer of my fear; the fear of her death. This year I healed another layer of fear, the fear of re-visiting that moment when I was told, “I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat.” I was able to do this through the process of writing Bridget a love letter.
For me, the answer as to why Bridget died, intuitively came very quickly. Both my husband and I sensed that she came to be our guardian. But that didn’t stop me from desperately investigating. My human side was unsatisfied with this initial insight. Filled with rage, I continued to ask “Why did you have to die? Or yell “I didn’t want you to die!” Whenever I drove alone in my car, I turned it into a screaming session. Good therapy!
Once I exhausted my anger, I surrendered and began to ask with an open receptive heart. Once the answer felt clearer and clearer, I knew I had my answer and stopped searching. Maybe for some, there will be no answer, or not a definitive one, but asking these types of questions, willing to receive whatever answer, takes great courage. I can now confidently say that Bridget’s dying purpose was to help me live a heart-centred life. To heal myself. This is something I’m currently writing about in great detail in my book.
I believe our children are our greatest teachers and healers. Most bereaved stillborn parents I’ve listened to, all speak of this phenomenal love that now propels them to live a fuller life. Our baby’s lives are meaningful, impactful and purpose-filled. This in no way discounts the loss, grief or trauma experienced. That heartache is excruciating. But the polarity between the pain and love, turned into power and purpose is something worth reflecting on. Many bereaved parents witness their baby’s wisdom come to fruition in the person they choose to become.
I invite you to gently reflect upon your baby’s short but incredibly impactful purpose-filled life. Of course, each of us would choose our baby to be with us here on Earth, over any acumen gained from life’s harsh terrain. Given that this has happened, never would anyone wish for it, but given that it has, ask yourself, “What is my baby’s legacy? How am I going to live my life to honour theirs?”
This kind of attitude gave me just enough strength to persevere.
Having Bridget as my witness, I’ve overcome many dark times. I knew Bridget could see everything I was doing, I decided I wanted to be accountable for how I spoke, how I behaved, how I treated others and how I treated myself. Bridget became my motivation to live mindfully. I vowed I would never allow myself to fall into deep depression ever again. My love for Bridget (and my children) is strong enough to keep me away from it. Anyone who’s struggled with depression will know it’s almost like an addiction, it’s a familiar pain that we can easily fall victim to. I didn’t want Bridget to be the reason why I became (mentally) crippled once again. She was way too important. She deserves a mother who reflects her strength and beauty.
Dear heart, please find your way to reach inwards, go deep and hold your grieving heart, do not be afraid, nourish it as you’d nourish your baby because I believe their essence lives in your heart. Truly, how else could we have survived otherwise?
Your baby’s humble spirit lives in you. You are living a life as two.
With love, peace and hope.
Written by Angelica Fricot (aka The StillBORN Author), Mother to Bridget