At the Blossom Method, we believe that strength comes from sharing our experiences with one another and that being able to relate to one another is an important step in the healing process. Today on the blog, read one woman’s story about her own loss—stillborn twins. If you’re coping with a stillbirth, contact the Blossom Method—we offer personalized, compassionate therapy and counseling options for fertility, complex medical diagnoses, stillbirth and pregnancy loss, and more.

Pregnancy and Full-term Baby Loss

My first pregnancy was a dream—until it turned into a nightmare. My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for about a year and a half, and anyone who has been through the roller coaster that is infertility can understand the toll that it takes—on you, your partner, your friendships, etc. We married in September of 2011, but I went off the pill months before. By the summer of 2012, we began all the fertility tests, and by the fall we had our answer: a structural problem. IVF would hopefully be the solution, and we were incredibly lucky to get pregnant on our first try in early 2013. We felt even luckier when we found out that we were pregnant with twins.

But I was an informed consumer, I read all the literature—twins were higher risk, and we still had a lot of hurdles to clear. When we passed our 20-week ultrasound the first week of June with flying colors I finally let myself start to believe that we would be taking home two babies. We found out we were pregnant with a boy and a girl. My husband said, “This is an embarrassment of riches.” I couldn’t agree more—I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

I loved those babies. I was so happy to be pregnant and would sing to the babies every day walking from my train stop to work, or in the elevator if I was alone. I daydreamed about them constantly. Not about what they would look like, but about who they would be. And who I would be as their mom. I wanted my daughter to value intelligence over appearance. I wanted my son to be the kind of man my husband is. I fantasized about their first day of school, road trips, basketball games, looking at colleges, Thanksgiving get-togethers. I still worried about my pregnancy, but I started spending much more time thinking about parenting.

We had a baby shower in mid-June with my husband’s family on the east coast. It was a little early to have a shower, but I would be too busy with work to travel in July, and wouldn’t be able to travel after that. We planned another shower in Chicago for August.  I was due October 21st, so I figured the twins would be born in early October or late September. Worst-case scenario, late August.

My Beloved Child, Stillborn

I was not prepared to go into labor in late June. On the way to the hospital I didn’t even know I was in labor. I was having very mild contractions, which I thought were Braxton-Hicks, but which turned out to be regular contractions, and I couldn’t get them to stop with rest and hydration. So we went in. I figured they’d give me an IV and tell me to take it easy for a few days. Instead they informed me that I was fully dilated and rushed me up to labor and delivery. My babies were born still a few days shy of 24 weeks gestation.

The hospital stay was awful. The days and weeks and months after were, in some ways, worse. We both grieved, but I was completely broken. I took more than two months off of work.  I cried every day. I drank too much, ate too little, and after quitting five years prior, I started smoking again. I felt like I would never be able to put myself back together again.  Many people saw my loss as the “loss of a pregnancy,” but I lost two whole lives that I had been planning and dreaming about. I never knew I could love two people I had never met so much. I descended to the bottom of a very black hole and it took me a long time to find my way out.

Baby Loss Support with Counseling

But for all of you who are living a similar nightmare—it actually does get better. When we were in the hospital, we met with Aviva (co-founder of The Blossom Method and perinatal/infant loss counselor at Prentice), and the first thing she said to me was, “I’m sorry this is happening to you, but I promise it gets better.” At the time I did not believe her.  I could not imagine getting past this heartbreak. But she was right, it actually does get better.  You never get over the loss, but you get through it.

So hang in there—I know how hard it is, I know your pain. But you will get through this.

In the months following the loss of our babies, I read a lovely article by Catherine Woodiwiss titled “A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma.” Even though Catherine’s loss was very different from my own, the article really resonated with me, and I have read it over and over again. In the spirit of her eloquent thoughts on trauma, I would like to share the 10 things I have learned about perinatal/infant loss for those of you brave women (and men) who have no choice but to navigate this path after me, even though it was the last thing you ever thought you would do.

A New Normal: The 10 Things I Have Learned About Perinatal/Infant Loss:

1.  This is trauma.  What you have been through is very traumatic. Don’t feel bad for feeling bad. And if the people around you are making you feel bad and telling you to “move on” and “get over it,” find a way to help them see your perspective. You will need your partner’s support, and it is important that s/he understands where you are coming from. But know that what you are going through right now is deeply traumatic, and you have every right to feel as awful as you do. But, know that you are not alone (which leads me to #2).

2.  Find your tribe.  You will need them! The moment I felt like I was truly heard and understood was when a friend of a friend reached out to me a few days after I lost the twins and said what I needed to hear: “This is awful, I’m so sorry, I’ve been there, too.”  She shared her story, her insights. I called her and cried and cried—and she understood. Aviva and Bridget started a perinatal loss support group at The Blossom Method shortly thereafter, and when I met three other women that first night I knew I’d found my tribe—three other women who completely got it. We talked about our babies and no one got uncomfortable. We used their names (for those who had named their children) and talked about the really ugly stuff—the emotions you are afraid to admit to anyone else. And we all felt better. Having this group of women–who all became fast friends—to lean on and heal with was an important turning point for me, and I believe anyone who has experienced this sort of loss would benefit from connecting with at least one other person. Find your person or your tribe, they will help you navigate these murky waters and will eventually also help you heal.

3.  Some people will disappoint you.  I was surprised when some of the people in our lives said nothing after we lost the twins. Shocked, really. I wasn’t expecting anyone to know exactly what to say, but I was expecting everyone to say something. But some people just avoided us. And it hurt. This was an additional loss on top of our loss. There is no way to really prepare yourself for this reality, but the truth is that the idea of an infant dying is scary for most people, and they don’t know what to do or say. Or they think that by saying something they are somehow reminding you of your loss (as if you, for one moment even, had forgotten). If you can try to forgive these people for their shortcomings, do that. If you cannot forgive them and you feel very angry, that is okay, too. At times I began feeling guilty for being angry with those who disappointed me, but it is not helpful or useful to pile additional negative feelings on top of how awful you already feel (so don’t beat yourself up for being angry).  Don’t be surprised when some people disappear, but some people will truly amaze you, too.

4.  Some people will lift you up when you least expect it but most need it.  This was just as surprising, but also genuinely heartwarming.  There were a handful of people (mostly women) in my life who were compassionate beyond measure and went above and beyond what I could have possibly expected of them.  One woman, who was a colleague and casual friend, went out of her way to figure out all of my FMLA paperwork and acted as a liaison between me and my boss and colleagues when I was just too overwhelmed to even think about work. She didn’t have to do that, it wasn’t her job, but she did it anyway, and I desperately needed it.  Furthermore, she texted me every day—for weeks. Things like, “I’m thinking about you” or “What can I do to help?”–every day.  Needless to say, she is now one of my dearest friends. I have countless examples of this happening, and it will happen to you, too. These people are angels sent to help you—graciously accept anything they offer!

5.  Life is long.  I know it is more commonly said that “life is short,” but “life is long” was a phrase I repeated to myself over and over in the long hours and days and weeks after losing my babies. It felt like everyone was moving on and I was stuck—people kept getting pregnant and having babies and raising their children, etc., and I was no longer pregnant, and it felt like I was further away from starting my family than ever.  And I would compare myself to others and felt like I kept having all the shitty luck (infertility, losing my babies).  So every day, I would try and remind myself that life is long—it may feel like I’ve had it rough for the past few years, but I tried to keep some perspective: It wasn’t always going to be me with the tragedy.  Some day it will be someone else who experiences the death of a loved one, or divorce, or serious illness—life is long and few of us escape without experiencing some kind of trauma.  So I just tried to remind myself that one day I will be trying to comfort someone else instead of wallowing in my own black hole.  And the same is true for you, too.

6.  You will not be the same person after this.  A wise woman who was a complete stranger (one of the many incredible people I met on this long journey), who suffered a loss at 27 weeks followed by another at nine weeks, told me, “You will be changed forever by this, in some ways for the better, in some ways for the worse.” At the time it was easy to see all of the ways I had been changed for the worse—I was much more anxious and pessimistic, I was angry at the world and at random people (who mostly didn’t deserve it), I was constantly sad, and I felt really sorry for myself. It took much longer to see the ways I have been changed for the better. For example: I get it when someone goes through something truly awful, and I go toward them and their pain instead of shying away. I am more empathetic than I was before. I don’t take as much for granted. I try to find ways to help others whenever possible. I think before I speak; I’m careful with the questions I ask and the responses I give. I look at other people and wonder what sadness they may be dealing with. I cannot think of a better way to honor the memory of my sweet twins than to be a more thoughtful and compassionate person because of them, and you will find your own unique way of honoring your baby’s memory, too.

7.  You will have really bad days, possibly for a really long time (maybe forever, I haven’t gotten that far myself yet).  Sometimes you can anticipate these days—holidays, family functions, anniversaries—but sometimes they come out of the blue and knock the wind out of you. Try not to beat yourself up about it. You are not losing ground or regressing, all of that progress you already made is still there. You’re just having a bad day. Cry it out. You lost your baby/babies, you are allowed to be sad. Talk to a friend. Have a glass of wine (try to avoid having the whole bottle). Go to bed early, if you can. See how you feel tomorrow. This will pass, too.

8.  Greif is hard work.  Time doesn’t heal—you have to work hard to heal yourself.  I wish there was a magic shortcut, but you really do have to put in the work. All this hard work is exhausting, so try to treat yourself as nicely as you possibly can, and be patient with yourself. Your progress may feel very slow, but you are making progress, and there is no “right” timeline, but you do have to address the grief to work through it.  So don’t ignore your feelings or pretend it didn’t happen—if you do, it will only catch up with you later.  You lost a child (or children), you need to grieve. You owe it to yourself to spend as much time as you need working through this, because only then will you begin to heal.

9.  Don’t be afraid to be a little selfish.  Do whatever it is you need to do to get through the tough days.  Don’t feel bad about blowing off obligations or friends.  Most people have a hard time with pregnancies and babies after losing theirs–if you need to avoid certain people or events (“triggers”), you should do that without hesitation.  If you need to take more time off of work, do that (if you can). A wise fellow baby loss momma once told me that at first she focused on just getting through the minutes, then the hours, then the days. Then you will have a “good” day or two here and there then you can worry about getting through the weeks, and so on. Take it slow, take your time, be selfish when you need to be. It does get easier, but you should not be afraid to put yourself first.

10.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  You may need something you never thought you’d need—therapy or medication—to get through this. Do not be ashamed. I don’t know a single woman who has not needed one or the other (or both) to get through the pain of losing a child.  Reach out for help.  There are so many of us waiting to support you, you only need to ask!

Support for Coping with Stillborn Baby Loss

The Blossom Method is a support and resource center for women, couples, and families who are dealing with issues related to starting a family—infertility, stillbirth, complex medical diagnoses, postpartum depression and more. We offer specialized therapy options, including one on one counseling, couples therapy, and support groups. If you’re struggling with loss, infertility or any other issue surrounding starting a family, contact us today—we’re here to help.