You hear those 7 dreaded words, “I’m sorry, I can’t find the heartbeat”.
At that moment, your future is shattered and you don’t know if surviving stillbirth is even possible.
As you are thinking of surviving stillbirth, it is crucial to know that dealing with stillborn loss or resurrecting marriage after a stillbirth, takes time and patience.
Your pain may be raw and unimaginable as you wonder, how do I survive this?
If you deliver your baby in a hospital trained to support you, you may receive amemory box filled with special items to remember your baby filled with pictures, jewelry and poems and cards from the nurses who cared for you.
After spending months preparing for your new baby, you now prepare for a funeral.
For surviving stillbirth, it’s ok to go to counseling alone and together as marriage after the death of a child mars the pictured parenthood.
It will take time and unbiased, gentle expert guidance to help you understand how grief affects relationships, and make incremental progress towards surviving stillbirth as a couple.
It’s ok to feel angry and happy at the same time.
It’s ok to be walking down this path together and separately at the same time.
Your feelings and grief are not linear. Be patient with yourself and with your partner. Trust that you can stay connected and grieve separately at the same time as you take small steps towards surviving stillbirth.
Trying to get out of bed to exercise each day might seem impossible when you are coping with the loss of a baby and making little headway in the direction of surviving stillbirth.
In the beginning, it is, and it is still so important to push yourself a little bit to move each day.
Exercise is crucial because it activates the brain to begin the recovery process.
It allows you to focus on something other than the pain you feel in your heart.
Start with a small goal like walking for 5 or 10 minutes first thing in the morning and increase it when you are ready.
3. Check-in with your partner daily
It’s really important to continue communicating with your partner as you both heal from the loss of your child. Surviving stillbirth is hard for couples both physically and emotionally.
Setting aside some time each day to check in with one another helps you open up and ensures that you are meeting your needs while still meeting some of your partner’s needs. The check-in can be brief with a few questions to guide the conversation.
During the first few days and weeks, it may be hard to do anything. You might sleep all the time or not at all. You might feel like eating everything or nothing. You might feel like it’s not worth it to get out of bed.
All of this is part of grieving and normal to experience after such a traumatic loss.
If you can get up each day and do one thing that you used to do it will help you slowly get into your new routine. This can be taking a shower, making a meal, writing a note, or texting with a friend.
At some point, as you try surviving stillbirth, you have to get up and move forward, and doing it little by little each day helps it be more bearable.
5. Find support from other parents who have lost a baby
Online, drop-in, and closed supports are just a few of the options available today. If you know someone who has experienced a stillbirth and reaches out when they are ready and seeks support, you must encourage them to seek counseling or support groups.
There are unique questions you might have that only a parent who has experienced a stillbirth or early infant loss will understand.
If you are unsure of where to find support for surviving stillbirth, contact your local hospital social worker or mental health organization for resources.
If either of these is not available you can search online or through different social media platforms.
6. Embrace the grief, it will ebb and flow
As you grapple with your new normal, be patient and kind with yourself and your partner.
Grief ebbs and flows differently for people.
You or your partner may feel helpless that you can’t take the pain away. The pain doesn’t ever go away completely but it does change.
Sometimes it’s big and knocks you down, seemingly out of nowhere. Other times it’s small, giving the tiniest sensation as your toes dig into the sand.
Embrace the grief and allow the feelings and thoughts to come when they are needed. Most importantly don’t apologize for anything you feel right now. Your feelings are valid.
Know that even though the pain doesn’t fully go away, you will also have moments of joy and happiness again.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Maureen is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in Northern NJ. Her life experiences, family and education have helped shape her into the counselor she is today. She believes that with unconditional support, together people can explore emotions, beliefs and behaviors that may be holding them back from achieving all of their life goals.
(Maureen Gaffney is also listed in Best Marriage Therapists in Wayne)