How do you move on after losing two children?
BY YUMNA SIDDIQUI-KHAN, The Institution of Parenthood
PHOTO © Fabian Schmidt/123RF
Nov 6, 2017
In the world of parenting, there is a struggle greater than raising a child: losing one.
But the events, and subsequently the grief that comes from losing a child by miscarriage or stillbirth, are topics oft-discussed privately. And consequently, most people aren't quite adept at dealing with them.
According to Sunnybrook Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network, "as many as one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage, and each year in Canada there are approximately six stillborn infants in 1000 total births." This is a startling statistic that many are are not educated about, which makes it harder to deal with and talk about. But we need to talk about it.
Additional Reading: What My Miscarriage Taught Me About Love
In an effort to better understand the emotions, the coping mechanisms and how to be okay again, I sat down with a friend who first experienced a miscarriage, and then a stillbirth a year ago. My friend, who I'll call Elle out of respect for her anonymity, wanted to share her story because she feels that it can help others in similar situations.
Elle believes that having these tough conversations can help us feel less alone, and allow us to process our feelings, whatever they may be. And it is a process, so no two stories and timelines will be identical.
You experienced the most profound loss a parent can. How did you cope at the beginning?
"The first few weeks after I lost the baby, I was unable to process my grief, and unable to cry. It took time for me to accept what had happened and process my grief.
During the initial phase, I did whatever I could to keep myself distracted from my pain. I binged watched TV shows, gave myself plenty of downtime and surrounded myself with the people closest to me.
I also reached out to other women who had experienced stillbirth, whose advice based on their personal experiences was extremely valuable and helped me process my own feelings. The best advice they gave me was to accept that the healing process isn’t always a forward-moving process. Some days you’ll feel better, but then there is a trigger, something as small as watching a parent play with their child in a park, and you’ll find yourself at square one again."
How did you and your husband approach grieving as a couple?
"In talking to other women with similar experiences, I learned about couples who struggled through the loss of a child. People tend to either shut their partners out or incorrectly project their feelings of anger and resentment toward them. This causes miscommunication and hurt, which can sometimes lead to the breakdown of a relationship. My husband and I decided early on that we had to deal with this as a joint unit. Often, the loss of a child can be a guilt-ridden experience.
My husband blamed himself for not taking care of me well enough through the pregnancies. I felt that the miscarriage and stillbirth were somehow my fault because the babies were growing inside me, even though I had done everything right both times. However, we openly discussed our feelings of guilt and grief with each other, and understood that this was a joint loss, and one that we had to help each other process. This not only helped our relationship survive two devastating losses but further strengthened it."
Sometimes it can be hard for people to do or say the right thing to someone experiencing this type of loss. What’s your advice on this?
"In my particular case, I just wanted to feel normal again. More than clichéd phrases and ceremonial visits, I wanted to be treated like my old self. Each person is different though, so respect the wishes of the individual.
If they want space, give them that. If they are expressive by nature, then just be a sympathetic ear to them. If they aren’t ready to vocalize their grief, then try to be there for them in other tangible ways like bringing over food, offering help to clean up, or taking them out for an outing if they are up for it. Such quiet, kind gestures can go a long way in their healing process."
You have lost something that seems to come so easily to so many people. How do you combat negative feelings about those who have children?
"Early on, I would see parents with their children and wonder why that wasn’t me. However, over time I have come to recognize that everyone has their own burdens to bear. Becoming a parent is just one part of life and it doesn’t preclude people from experiencing other challenges and losses. It is important to keep a positive mindset for your own mental health and well-being or this loss can consume you."
Miscarriages and stillbirths are common but as a society we still shy away from discussing these instances. How can we normalize this conversation?
"Many women do not want to discuss their loss — not because they feel guilty or ashamed of it, but because fertility issues are deeply personal and still carry a certain stigma. I agree that the conversation around miscarriages and stillbirths needs to be normalized as a society, but on an individual level, it is each woman’s prerogative whether or not she wants to share her story."
If you have had a miscarriage and/or experienced a stillbirth, you still may not be ready to discuss it. Maybe it is too new or maybe you haven’t entirely processed it yet. This shouldn’t be a cause for concern, because we all take different roads to recovery. Choosing to keep your grief private isn’t a sign of failure, but just know that if this is the path you choose, resources are still available to help you cope.
One of them is Sunnybrook Hospital’s Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network, which provides helpful resources for grieving parents. Sunnybrook also has a Butterfly Garden, which can be visited most of the year and is a place of reflection and remembrance for children we've lost. Finding a peaceful place of tribute could be a good first step, while conversations with family and friends can come later. Then, when you're ready, share your story like Elle, because maybe then the little shadows walking next to us will be easier to handle if we walk in a crowd.