Once upon a time, you were pregnant, but now you are not. Some time has passed since your loss, and maybe in some ways, life is returning to the way it was. People don’t ask how you’re doing, or people who were awkward around you or even distanced themselves are coming back around. It may feel as though everybody has assumed that you’re “better”, or “healed”, or “over it”, but inside, you quietly carry your loss everywhere you go. Welcome to the new normal.
Long ago, it was thought that grief had a beginning and an end, and that “closure” was needed for grievers to “move on” and feel “healthy” again after a loss. We know now, that grief is a process, not a static event, and it grows and changes over a lifetime. We know that time doesn’t heal, but it does help. And we know that life is never the same after a loss, which means embracing the “new normal”
What does your “new normal” look like after ending a wanted pregnancy, stillbirth, or miscarriage?
- Learning to live in and embrace your body again can feel impossible. Many formerly pregnant people may feel as though their body is “unsafe” or their “enemy” after babyloss. If this feeling applies to you, it us understandable. You may have thoughts that your body betrayed you, or that your body is not what nature intended, because you could not house a pregnancy or keep it safe. You may have experienced the bodily changes that come along with pregnancy and even delivery without the satisfaction of holding a baby in your arms. It can take time for you to feel your body is a safe place to live, but it can happen. Sometimes, you can even feel disconnected from your body, so a useful exercise can be to simply engage in deep diaphragmatic breathing, in which you breathe in, expanding your belly (not raising your shoulders!), low, and slow, for 3-4 beats Hold, then exhale for 4-5 beats longer. The goal is to exhale slightly longer than you inhale, and increase the time of both inhalation and exhalations as you become more and more comfortable with your practice. You can find many recordings online that can help guide you through this type of breathing. Another useful exercise can be to body scan and draw or color your grief. Find the outline of a body online under an images search, and check in to see where you’re holding any pain, aching, numbness, or unusual sensations that might have to do with your loss. Do you feel tight in the jaw? Do you have cramping pain long after the loss has happened? Are your shoulders tight or hunched? What color is your grief, or what would it look like if you could give it a physical form? Draw or color it onto the body outline, and consider a massage, or using a TENS unit, a cheap and small device that provides painless electrical currents to your skin and can help decrease tension. Check in every week with your body and draw or color new feelings or the retreat of old feelings as they arise. Pamper yourself! Get your hair washed and blow dried, try a new look for a change, or make some tea and rest under a soft, weighted blanket. A weighted blanket can help you feel “held” and supported as you lean into nurturing your physical body. Think forgiving thoughts. Your body has been through a trauma, not just your mind and heart. Be compassionate and forgiving of your body, and send it messages of healing. Don’t call yourself names, avoid looking at yourself in the mirror, or insult yourself. This body has been with you since you were born, and has grown, changed, and lost with you all this time. It may not be perfect, but it’s the only one you’ve got, and it helps to learn how to love it.
- Relating to others with different types of babyloss can feel awkward. Remember, no two losses are the same, and this also applies to babyloss. Miscarriage, stillbirth, and ending a wanted pregnancy (TFMR/TOPFA/EWP) all involve the end of a pregnancy, but they can happen at different times and in many different ways. Some involve making a decision, and some happen spontaneously, across all three trimesters. Resist the urge to compare your grief progress to anybody else’s, as grief is as different as the person experiencing it. It is always helpful to find online peer support groups to chat with others who experienced a similar type of loss, but even within your own loss population, experiences may truly differ. Some people may want to try for another baby immediately; some may have experienced multiple losses; some may be going through infertility treatment. Therefore, it is important to keep the advice or comments that are useful to you and forget the rest. You may want to find gentle ways of reminding others that your loss is not the same as theirs, with sample statements such as “I appreciate you sharing your experience, and it sounds so painful. My loss wasn’t a miscarriage, so my feelings are a little different”. Or, “Reassuring me that I will have more children because you did only reminds me that I’ve had so much trouble creating a family to begin with”. You also don’t owe anyone an explanation or feedback if their attempts to connect don’t land with you. You are entitled not to respond as well.
- You can have guilty thoughts about recovery. As time goes on, the end of your pregnancy may not feel as immediately painful as it once did. You may no longer track due dates, time since loss, or other markers that once felt very meaningful. You may find that you are starting to feel better and look forward to the future. You may even consider trying to conceive again. When this happens, it is likely you will feel guilty, as though you are betraying the baby you lost, and maybe even the babyloss community. But moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting, or that you care any less about the loss you went through. I like to think of memory in terms of filing cabinets. When loss is new, that file is fresh and open all the time, and even if you try to put it away, the cabinet may spring open and file may spill out. In time, that file becomes less unwieldy and stays in place longer. But it is part of a larger story and group that belong to your life, and you will never forget it. It is permanent. Every now and then, the file can spring open when you are triggered, but for the most part, it is up to you to take it out and sort through its contents. The file that was once at the forefront of your mind is now integrating into the rest of its contents, and that is normal and a good thing. Your loss is becoming integrated as part of your life story, and as the memory feels less intrusive, you can examine it whenever you want. Some parents fear they will forget about their loss, but that is not possible. It is OK to laugh, enjoy yourself, and feel positive, without beating yourself up in the aftermath. You are not betraying, but honoring the pregnancy that ended and reflecting hope and healing to your loss community moving forward. Forgive yourself.
The “new normal” may mean keeping the baby that you lost in your family by way of rituals and routines, talking about them, donating to charities on special anniversaries, or working in therapy to feel better. Try to go with the waves of emotion as they come and go. Remember, swimming against a tide will tire you out and drag you under, but “going with” instead of fighting the experience will carry you safely to your destination.