When an older person dies, there are many memories of that person that can be shared with family members and friends. Whilst very painful to begin with, these memories can go on to bring comfort at difficult times. When a baby dies, these memories to share and bring comfort are not there, however a most precious, loved and longed for life has been lost. Instead, parents are faced with a lifetime of grief for all of the should be's and the life with their child that they had so lovingly planned for and dreamed of.
This grief can often feel incredibly lonely as it is so difficult to explain to others who have not experienced the loss of a child, the continued life changing impact this tiny life lost has had upon you as parents.
Coming home from the hospital with empty arms, an empty nursery and a silent house is one of the hardest things that any parent will have to go through and the starkest and cruellest contrast to what they should be doing with their baby. Instead of all the happiness a new life brings, bereaved parents have to begin planning a most heartbreaking funeral. Although the world around them continues as normal, parents can often feel in a state of limbo for a long time as they try to come to terms with the fact that the life they had dreamed of has been so cruelly snatched away. Some pieces of their old life may not fit anymore and on top of grieving for their child, they are also grieving for the parts of themselves that have died along with their baby.
Grief can come in all shapes and sizes and can sometimes feel like you are going mad, however there really is no right or wrong. A few perfectly normal feelings are:
Numbness – Some days numbness can take over and everything can feel like a dream or like it's happening to someone else.
Jealousy – It is normal to have feelings of jealousy towards other families, towards pregnant women and seeing other babies (particularly babies of the same sex to the lost baby). All of these are painful reminders of everything a parent should be doing.
Fear / Anxiety – All of a sudden the world can seem like a very uncertain and frightening place. If a baby can die, perhaps even without a reason, then what else can happen? A whole future of dreams has been taken, so what else can be taken? It can be incredibly hard to look to the future.
Longing – Longing for the baby who has died and for the life a parent has spent so much time and love dreaming of. Parents can also find themselves longing for the “old” them and the part of themselves that seems to be missing. Memories of the excitement and happiness brought about by pregnancy and thinking back to these memories when the world made sense can be very painful.
Guilt – Most parents feel guilt following the loss of their child or that they have failed them in some way, no matter the circumstances or how many time they have been told it was not their fault.
Anger – Along with guilt, many parents feel anger for the loss of their baby. It seems impossible to understand why a baby has died (even if a reason has been found) and / or why this has happened to them.
Regret – When faced with the many heartbreaking decisions a parent has to make upon finding out their baby has died, nothing at all feels right. As time goes by in the future, parents can often feel deep regret for the decisions they made. Perhaps not dressing their baby, or holding them for as long they wanted. These regrets are incredibly painful and often follow on to feelings of anger or guilt.
General - Even small things that would not normally upset can seem like huge problems and parents can feel extremely vulnerable particularly in the early days / months / years.
Fear of not being understood, or that your baby might be forgotten with time can be overwhelming. Comments such as “you can try again” or “time is a healer” all spoken and meant with the very best of intentions can feel belittling and dismissive to the grief for the longed for baby that has died. Whilst the difficult and terrifying decision to try for another baby may well be something some parents consider for the future, a lost baby can never ever be replaced.
As time goes by fitting back into the world can seem impossible. It can feel like happiness is something that will never again be possible. Many parents have said that they feel like they are wearing a mask to the outside world when they smile or laugh, whilst inside they are crumbling away.
No matter how many years pass, anniversaries, birthdays, Mother's Days, Fathers Days, Christmas's etc can continue to be painful and are stark reminders that a very important member of the family is missing.
But whilst time can never truly heal a heart broken by grief, genuine happiness is possible again for the future. The grief felt for a lost baby very gradually becomes part of everyday life and whilst waiting for the old “normal” to come back, a new kind of “normal” very slowly begins to take shape for parents. A new normal that accepts and acknowledges that they will forever grieve for their baby. All of the above feelings that are so hard to live with to begin with, gradually become a little easier. The mask mentioned above that parents feel they have been wearing for so long, where the laughs and the smiles at first feel false or wrong to them, slowly begins to slip and the laughter and smiles become genuine.
A new life where a lost baby will forever be a part of a family emerges where the pieces of the old life that don't fit anymore are reshaped, or make way for new pieces.
If you are reading this having just lost a baby, we know you will find it hard to imagine how things can possibly get easier. We would have too in the early days / months. We are all different and there is no time limit, but with patience, through the pain, with understanding and a listening ear from those who understand and / or care and support us, future happiness is possible. That does not mean ever forgetting your baby (not that that would even be possible!). It means gradually being able to move forward in life and being able to look to the future with hope with your baby firmly in your heart every step of the way.