- I lost a pregnancy at 22 weeks. It was considered a stillbirth since it was after 20 weeks.
- My body reminded me of the loss every time I went to change my bloody pad.
- These are the things I wish I had known before I went through a late loss.
I wish I could say I can’t imagine what she’s going through, but, unfortunately, I very much can. I had my second late-term miscarriage at 22 weeks (technically a stillbirth, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since it was after 20 weeks).
If I could have talked with Maya last week, here are the things I’d have told her — and anyone else going through this.
Consider getting to know your child’s body
You are allowed to ignore those who say it’s morbid to want to touch, hold, and examine your child’s body. Some hospitals and birthing centers are trained to administer care with kindness after stillbirth. Mine did not. The nurses and midwives where I delivered warned me that seeing the body would be too upsetting.
They were right; it was excruciating to hold my lifeless child.
But I am so grateful I did. Against their advice, I unwrapped the tiny body, caressed the little toes, sobbed over the open mouth that would never utter a cry. I still remember the sandy tongue. I took pictures of the tiny fingers wrapped around my own, close-ups of details I needed to remember.
You don’t get to go home with a wiggling, grunting baby, but you do get to memorize the physical remains of what could have been.
Your own body will remind you
Every time you go to the bathroom and change your pad, every time you reach for something and don’t have to grunt with effort because your baby is no longer in there, every time your breasts sting or ache with engorgement, you will remember your baby is dead.
So will your brain. Anguish, anger, shame, despair, rage, terror. Yes, it is normal to feel every one of these in the span of half an hour.
Blaming yourself is normal.
You’ll wonder if it’s your fault. Or your partner’s. Your doctor’s, nurse’s, boss’ — literally anyone’s. Trying to find fault will soothe you for a minute, but there’s no sense in this loss. It doesn’t matter how or why medically your child has died, no one is to blame. But it’s normal to try.
Get comfortable with grief
You will have pockets of sunshine because the people you love will go on being wonderful, but expect the clouds to come back. Don’t try to make every day a sunny one — take them as they come.
Nothing else in the world matters right now. The definitions of words have changed. Food may lose its taste. You may forget to breathe. Don’t be tempted to rush, to push through, to move on. Even though you might have to “make arrangements,” get back to work, or take care of your living children, don’t try to outrun the urge to curl into a ball and sob. Eventually, it will catch up. Go ahead and cry now.
I thought my sadness would never end. It only began to lighten once I decided to stop pushing grief away. The moment I embraced loss as a new part of who I am, I started to breathe a little easier. That said, expect it to never go away completely. Expect to cry unexpectedly — though the sobbing bouts may lessen in frequency — for the rest of your life.
Your partner lost a child, too
Your partner’s pain will be different from yours, but expect it to be just as devastating. Their relationship wasn’t a physical one. They won’t have to think of the stillbirth every time they go to the bathroom. But that might be just as hard to deal with since their connection was more ephemeral.
Everyone will be concerned about you, and that is as it should be, but know your partner lost a child, too, even if they didn’t carry it in their body.
You’re allowed to talk about it
People around you, close or not, will want you to “move on” because it hurts them to see you hurting. They might squirm or seem awkward when you talk about your loss. Their discomfort is not your fault, and it is nothing you can control. If you find yourself uncomfortable talking to people, I recommend getting a therapist if you have the means.
Thinking out loud was one of the most important steps to my becoming functional again. On top of my personal counseling, my partner and I also went to couple’s therapy.
It’s also fine to speak publicly about your loss. Commemoration is important. Some people, as I did, get a tattoo to honor their lost child. It’s OK to say “my living children” or something similar when describing your family.
It’s beautiful to speak the name of your lost child.