October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, and October 15th is International Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day. This letter is to a mama fresh in the throes of losing her precious baby from me, a mama who thoroughly knows the heartbreak and the suffering you’re experiencing. I see you, and I’m sending you love. (featured image via Liv Inspired Photography)
I know the heartache that courses through every ounce of your being right now. The longing for your baby and searching for answers. The questioning why. The feeling of the ground falling out from beneath you. The realization that you are forever changed and that you will forever be missing a part of your heart—a part of you.
Seven years ago, I was you, newly grieving my daughter and experiencing each of those feelings in what seemed like a surreal loop of devastation, disbelief, guilt, fear, and sadness. After a perfectly healthy, happy, and normal full-term pregnancy and labor, our first baby Charlotte shockingly died an hour and a half after her birth. She aspirated meconium in the womb, and it got too far down into her lungs. Despite no signs of distress during labor, when she was born, it was immediate panic and trauma as doctors couldn’t get her to breathe and ultimately couldn’t save her. The first moments I really got to hold her and take in her round cherub face, chubby cheeks, and little pink lips were the last.
Losing her irrevocably changed me, and your loss will change you. But I want you to know these truths and keep them close to your heart as you navigate this new world—this club of which no one wants to be a part of.
Be gentle with yourself
Let me say this as loud as I possibly can: THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT. You did nothing to deserve this. I know the feelings of guilt are there. I still struggle with the “what if I did this” thoughts. It is so hard, I know, but please fight them. You love your baby, and your baby should be here, and if you could have done anything in your remote power to change that, you would have in a heartbeat. So, fight the guilt at every turn and know this is not your fault.
Lean into whatever you need to get through each day and each minute. If you need to stay in bed all day, do it. If it helps you to be out and about with friends to distract yourself, do it. If you can’t bring yourself to go to a baby shower, don’t go. If you want to skip Christmas this year, skip it (we did this the year we lost Charlotte). As a lifelong people-pleaser, I know it can be hard to put aside how others feel and react to the way you’re grieving, but believe me when I tell you– this is the time to put yourself first and take the pressure off. As you move through each day missing your baby, only you know what helps you put one foot in front of the other. No one else can tell you what you need. Wrap yourself in the freedom of lowered expectations for yourself and the permission to feel how you feel about your loss and your needs.
Grief is messy
Before losing Charlotte, I had no idea how all-encompassing the effects of grief and loss can be. How the peaks and valleys of despair could come so intensely and without warning– one day, the feelings of joy, laughter, and lightness come so freely, and the next, an unexpected wave can bring me back into moments of darkness and bitterness. I found that random things like a trip to Target triggered my grief. The memories of perusing the baby aisles while indulging my pregnancy cravings for iced decaf caramel macchiatos and feeling Charlotte kicking away in my belly. The first time I went back into Target, I almost immediately felt like I couldn’t breathe and had to leave while I bit back tears. You can expect to have this happen without warning, but please know you are not alone in this. A few months after losing our daughter, I saw this meme below that perfectly sums up “the stages of grief.”
Don’t let anyone fool you by saying grief is linear or has a timeline, or that you will ‘move on’ from losing your baby. It just doesn’t work that way, and no one should have to feel like it does. I still don’t fully understand why certain things are a trigger for my grief, but I can say that now, seven years later, the waves hit a little softer than before, and sometimes I even welcome them because those moments help me feel close to my daughter. It’s like a familiar friend coming back, reminding me how far I’ve come but that I’ll always have this pull and connection to her because she was and is a part of me. I’m able to understand that grief is love.
There is support
Before September 20th, 2014, I knew nothing about pregnancy and infant loss. I knew some people who experienced first-trimester miscarriages, but I honestly thought that losing a baby late into pregnancy, and certainly due to birth complications, was very rare. Now, I know how naive I was: A staggering 1 in 4 women experiences pregnancy and infant loss. One in 160 babies in the United States is stillborn, and there are roughly 23,000 infant deaths per year. These numbers are massive. Sadly, mama, you have a lot of company in this heartbreak you’re feeling, but there is a lot of support out there. Thanks to pregnancy and infant loss awareness initiatives, it’s become easier to find and access these support groups and places. Locally, some fantastic organizations helped me in the throes of my loss and have become dear to my heart. They are here for you, no matter how far along you were, how your baby died, or how you want and need to grieve.
The Tears Foundation, based in Wall, offers financial support for final expenses for families who’ve lost their babies, as well as emotional support programs and events. We participate in their annual Rock & Walk each year in honor of our Charlotte, and it has become a genuinely healing and special day to remember her. The 2 Degrees Foundation was started by two New Jersey moms who lost their beautiful daughters to stillbirth. They are some of the first women I bonded with through my loss, and I’m so proud to see the work they’ve done to raise money for stillbirth research and advocate for moms whose babies are born still. The Forget Me Not Foundation is based in North Jersey and is dedicated to supporting families who have lost babies during pregnancy, birth, or shortly after birth and educating the medical community about their emotional needs. The Hudson Shea Foundation was founded by two New Jersey families who lost their beloved babies and now partners with hospitals and research institutions to fund medical research and bereavement support groups, in addition to spreading hope.
Social media also played a huge role in my grief journey, connecting me to women across the country who lost babies around the same time. The many personal essays on Still Standing Mag helped me feel and process everything I needed to feel. Now, Jessica Lisboa, a #NJMOMpreneur and friend, has launched Raise a Heart, an online platform and community for baby loss moms to share their babies’ stories and lean on one another for support. Community is everything in all aspects of motherhood, but this unique pain can feel so isolating, so it’s crucial to lean on support now and throughout the years to come.
Sadness and joy can coexist
Above all else, know that there will be joy in your life again, sweet mama. There will be a moment soon where you will laugh again—I mean a genuine belly laugh—and feel that familiar sense of lightness return unexpectedly. It will feel odd and wrong in some ways but know that it is okay. It is a preview of days and years to come, where you’ll be able to find joy far easier than today. I know those days feel far away, but believe me when I say they are ahead. You will have happiness in little and big moments again, and sooner than you may think. Try your best not to feel guilty about it. You deserve joy, and you deserve to feel it fully when it comes.
But also know that joy and sadness are not mutually exclusive. You will have moments, particularly big ones, where the conflicting feels are so intense– where things are so bittersweetly, painfully beautiful. The births of each of my three precious rainbow babies have each been that way. Joy for what is and sadness for what isn’t. Acceptance of what is and longing for what isn’t. It’s confusing and difficult to explain to someone on the outside looking in. But we loss mamas, we understand.
When I look down at my three beautiful rainbow babies and revel in a sweet smile or silly giggle, I can’t believe how losing Charlotte seems like yesterday and forever ago at the same time. It’s been a strange realization to accept that the pain of losing her will always be with me, in the background of my life, even in all of the joyful, happy moments. But in a way, it has become a comfort to me now, the way we are forever connected between heaven and earth. I see her in every pink sky, blue jay, or butterfly that comes my way, and I know she is with me always. Your baby will be with you always, too.
I’m sending you love and understanding, warrior mama. You are strong, you will survive this, and you are not alone.