I’m so sorry, babyloss moms

I look back at some of the people I’ve cared for who have had losses and I feel terrible.  How could I have cared for them better?  Some of these women I was barely acquainted with and some I knew quite well.  I know no one can really imagine what it’s like or what someone needs unless they’ve been there themselves.  But now that I know what I’ve needed, I feel like I’ve failed these other women. Could I have called them more?  Did I remember their due dates?  Did I make sure someone (if not me) was following up with them?  As if it weren’t awful enough to lose your baby- to not have enough follow-up?  These poor women must have felt so alone in their grief.   And I, as a midwife, should understand the significance of having a baby and the significance of losing a baby.  Perhaps it’s because I hadn’t even had a baby before.  Maybe our practice is too big and some people don’t get anchored to one of us.  Maybe I felt too awkward or didn’t know what to say.  Maybe I thought I would be a reminder of something sad.  Maybe I didn’t want to be reminded of something so sad.  Maybe I felt ill-equipped to deal with grief.  All these things have some truth but are also bogus.  If I could rewind and change how I was, I would.  I would call them every week on the weekly anniversary of their baby’s death.  I would call on their due date.  I would ask, “tell me about your day” instead of “how are you?”  I would say their baby’s name, have them to tell me their birth story in their own words and ask them to show me pictures.  I would ask how they chose their baby’s name, what they remember about their baby’s body and how they plan to memorialize their child.  I would go to their babies’ wakes.  I would send a card.  I would hug them sincerely and cry with them.  I would tell them that their engorgement could last a week and to start icing and binding as soon as possible.  I would make a plan with them for how to survive the days.  I did some of these things with some people.  But the experience of going through this has shown me just how inadequate I was.  I am so sorry.  I will be different, I know that.  I will be better.

I think as I go back to work in the hospital, normal birth will be hard.  I will be reminded of all the things I did not have.  Because we are human, we midwives can not help bringing a little of our own experience into the delivery room.  Before Mabel I had never birthed, so I was a blank slate- no prejudices or experiences to color my care.  But now all my care will be colored.  I know I will help woman through fear of childbirth, but think what do they fear? I will comfort women in their pain, but think what pain do they really know?  These are not fair questions.  Sometimes I fantasize about having a specialty practice- where I just help people through losses.  I feel like I might be inadequate at helping women through joyful births.- it might be too painful for me.  How can I give good care when I’m hurting so much?  But someone facing a loss- that I know.  It’s a familiar pain.  I can empathize.  When I was pregnant and then later grieving my loss, I was desperate to know someone who has done it.  Not necessarily to see how they survived, but to have the sympathy of someone who knows the depth of this hurting.

Send me the babyloss moms.  Send me the poor fetal prognosis moms.  Send me the moms of babies born still.  Send me the moms pregnant with babies with Down Syndrome.  Send me the moms with infertility.  I have not been all these people but they all experience a pain I am too familiar with.

I truly do not know how I will be as a midwife again.  My instinct is to gravitate towards what I now know- loss.  But it might be too sad, to live loss over and over again with people.

I have heard of some programs at other hospitals.  Perinatal hospice and difficult diagnosis teams.  Mulitdisciplinary teams that help people like me navigate the system. Social workers, nurses, neonatologists, pediatric surgeons, bereavement specialists, OB providers all working together to help a couple with difficult decisions when handed a possibly fatal diagnosis for their baby.  I had excellent care, yet there were many times where I felt a little lost.  What specialists should we be seeing?  What information do I need to make decisions?  I don’t think I really understood that Mabel was likely going to die until we met with the neonatologist.  We had to decide on monitoring, when we would intervene to save our baby, how aggressive to be with treatment.  There were almost impossible decisions to make. If I, with all my knowledge of what these things mean, had trouble, how would someone not in my field manage?  My hospital is a well known one, perhaps the best in my state, but no such program exists.  Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing to bring to my hospital?  Then I could truly say, send me sad and worried mothers to be and I can help.

What I need

Yesterday the grief hit hard.  I wasn’t prepared for it.  And it slammed into me like a mack-truck.  I thought I was sad before, but I’ve reached a new place.  My family had left the day before, leaving only Chris’s brother.  My midwife came over that night and spent hours just talking.  She asked the questions others are afraid to ask- like: Do you miss her moving? How was her burial?  What are your thoughts on the next pregnancy?  And she distracts well too- we watched sketches from Jimmy Kimmel.

So I was well distracted all that day.  The next morning came and I just crumpled.  I was mush.  It was the first day we didn’t have much on our plate.  I don’t think I realized how comforting it was having family around.   They were a nice distraction and I could retreat to my bedroom anytime I wanted to cry.  I didn’t have to think about anything- food and scheduling were all taken care of.  It was tiring to have so much company but it was also lovely.  I think that having family and planning services kept my mid and heart busy, but also kept me from really processing all that happened.  I think people were impressed about how well I was holding up.  But I was distracted, in some sort of la-la land.  If they could only see me now.

Now it’s time to really grieve and grieving I am.  I spent the morning in bed, unable to stop crying.  I tried distraction, but it wasn’t working.  Some things even made it worse.  I looked at something on social media that I wasn’t ready for, which made me cry harder.  It made me realize that certain things that used to make me happy now spotlight my grief.  And then I feel bad for feeling bad about something I usually celebrate.   It’s a horrible cycle.  I could feel it physically.  I was nauseous. I felt pangs in my breasts.  I was lethargic.  I had moments of reprieve- a friend stopped by a visited and I didn’t cry.  Chris was finally able to get me out of the house to go for a walk.  We went out to dinner and I held it together publically, save for one quick cry in the bathroom.  But even when doing these things, the thoughts creep back in my head- I shouldn’t be doing this, my baby just died.

When I get right down to it, my heart just aches.  I had a baby.  I waited and worried for so many months.  I was trying to prepare for this scenario, but how do you really prepare for the death of your child?  I worried in pregnancy that I might have come across as having little hope.  Chris and I even verbalized that we thought our baby might die.  Words are just words though.   The depth of my sadness makes me realize how much hope I actually had.  I wanted her, whether she was on a ventilator or needed dialysis.  I wanted her to stay.  I wish so hard that I had more time with her.  I wish I could just have one hour a day where I could hold her again.  One hour a week.  Just one more time even.

I worry that people will forget her.  I worry that people will forget me.  When I was pregnant with her, my belly was a constant reminder to both me and the world.  We were a duo- people thought of her whenever they looked at me.  Now I am alone.  I worry that people will expect me to be strong, act a certain way, be ready for normal life- all when I’m not.  I’ve had such an outpouring of love- so many cards and messages and I want to recognize that.  Thank you, all of you who have reached out.  I read every card, every message, listened to every voicemail.  They help.  They really do.  I know that as Mabel’s birth and death slowly fade into the past, things will taper down.  People ask me what I need, and at first I was speechless. I didn’t know what I needed.  Now I know.  Chris returns to work next week and then I will be alone.  I’m hoping I’ll be in a better place then, but I’ll need people.  I’ll need to both talk about my baby and be distracted from my grief.  I’ll need people-I know that much.

These also might be helpful.  

http://www.glowinthewoods.com/how-to-help-a-friend/

and

Taken from:  http://jacwell.org/Summer_2002/comforting_those_who_have_lost_a_baby.htm

Below are some guidelines to help you support and comfort “those who mourn”.

  • The first and likely the most important thing you can do is realize that a baby has died and this death is just as “real” as the death of an older child. The parents’ grief and healing process will be painful and take time, lots of time. They may not be recovered or done “thinking about their baby” after a month or even a year. Realize that the parents are sad because they miss their baby, and that he or she can never be replaced by anyone else, including future children or children they may already have.
  • Let the parents know that they and their family and the baby are in your prayers. Call or send a sympathy card. You don’t have to write a lot inside, a simple “You and your baby are in my thoughts and prayers” is enough.
  • What the parents need most now is a good listener and a shoulder, not a lecture or advice. Listen when they talk about the death of their baby. Don’t be afraid, and try not to be uncomfortable when talking about the loss. Talk about the baby by name, if they have named the child. Ask what the baby looked like, if the parents saw the baby. Let them talk about the baby – most parents need and want to talk about their baby, their hopes and dreams for their lost child.
  • It is okay to admit that you don’t know how they feel. A good thing to say is, “I can’t imagine how you feel and I just wanted you to know that I am here for you and am very sorry.”
  • Give a hug, this is a sign of love and concern. Even if this is all you do, it’s a nonverbal way of saying “I’m sorry” or that “I’m praying for you.”
  • Offer to bring over meals; often mothers have no “energy” to do even basic things.
  • Offer to go food shopping, help clean the house, do laundry. Anything that lightens the burden of daily chores that need to be done. This is especially helpful if the mother is still waiting to miscarry the baby. That process may take days and is physically and emotionally draining.
  • Be careful not to forget the father of the baby. Men’s feelings are very often overlooked because they seem to cope more easily. The truth is that they are quite often just as devastated as their partner.
  • Try to remember the anniversary of the death and due date with a card, call, or visit. Anniversaries can trigger grief reactions as strong as when the loss first happened. Months down the road a simple “How have you been doing since you lost your baby?” can give much comfort.
  • If you are pregnant, it may be hard for the bereaved parents (especially the mother) to see or even talk to you. You will need to be very understanding and extra patient with them. They still love you and are happy for you, but it is just such a huge reminder of what they have lost. Some may not be able to talk to you right now. If this happens, please don’t take it personally it is just that to avoid pregnant people at the moment may save your friend’s sanity. Your bereaved friends may even feel a little jealous of you (especially after your baby comes), and then feel angry at themselves for feeling that way because they don’t really begrudge your happiness, it’s just that they are mourning the loss of theirs.
  • Remember that any subsequent pregnancies can be a roller-coaster ride of joy, fear and bittersweet memories.
  • Remember also that mourning puts a tremendous strain on relationships between family and friends.