By Galit Birk, PhD
I hope this piece serves to support other women who have experienced prenatal loss perhaps without a supportive circle of women who have survived it (and thrived) before them as I had the pleasure of having. I thank these women who have contributed to this piece through their personal contribution to me and I share with you some of our collective personal wisdom on how to cope, survive and thrive through prenatal loss: Let it be, Let them go, Rise above the body and Embrace a new normal.
Let It Be: Let go of the “should” and grant yourself the permission to be ok wherever you are.
Take your time, as there is no “should” when it comes to dealing with loss. It shouldn’t take this or that much time, you shouldn’t already be over it if you aren’t, and you shouldn’t be able to do, be, think or feel any certain way by any certain time period prescribed by anyone else but yourself and sometimes even including yourself! Just ditch the “should” completely out of your vocabulary and adopt a new mantra: “wherever I am is ok,” and allow yourself the space to just be. Be antisocial if you need to be, be at home more if you need to be, be alone, be with others, be productive, be lazy, be present, be withdrawn, be involved, be reclusive, be quiet, be vocal, work a lot, work a little, don’t work (if you can), be less this, be more that, be whatever you need to be and do whatever you need to do without judgment. Don’t rush yourself. Don’t try to be strong. Just be. Allow yourself to be in the moment and to be however it is you need to be. Let yourself feel. Cry. Talk. Vent. There is no right or wrong way to be. Just be and allow yourself to process the pain and the loss, it’s the only way out. No matter how far along you were or what your situation was, it is a loss to you and to your family, and you need to go through the pain in order to get through it. When we repress things they always come back! Breathe, surrender and allow yourself to feel your way out of this for as long as it takes! Take your time! For me it has taken almost four months to write again. I can have a lot of judgment on that time frame but I choose not to because I respect and have compassion for myself and what I went through. Today I finally feel grounded again and dare I even say thriving! Practice kindness, compassion, and loving-care with yourself and you will, eventually, discover yourself again. It may be a new version of you, or not, but you will emerge from the depths of sorrow and stand strong again. There’s always a growth opportunity in discomfort, in challenge, in times of struggle. You need not seek it out but rather allow it to find you when you are ready. I invite you to let yourself be.
Let Them Go: Reevaluate your circle of friends, let go of those with negative energy, and surround yourself with a strong network of people whom you can rely on for emotional support, help with the kids, and to bring you coffee and pastries!
Use this opportunity to surround yourself with people who bring you positive energy and let go of those who drain you. You need all your energy now to support your emotional health and to take care of your children. Ditch those friends who say “I know you’re going through a hard time but…” and keep the ones who say “don’t worry about dodging calls, everyone will be here when you’re ready to talk”. Create a support network of friends and family and rely on them. Ask for help, ask for space, ask for a shoulder to cry on, ask for someone to pick up your kids or take your kids for the afternoon or the night or bring you coffee or pastries or dinner, or go on a walk with you or leave you alone! Ask for what you need. Rely on your spouse or your partner and your families. Share of yourself with people in your life and you will quickly find yourself surrounded and supported by others who have in some way too walked through your shoes. It never occurred to me just how many women, even women I knew, had been through some sort of prenatal loss. These women can be your best supporters so find them and allow them to contribute to you.
Rise Above The Body: Avoiding those “when are you due?” questions may be inevitable at first, but we can rise above the body and look beyond it to move towards growth and healing.
Depending on how far along you were at the time of loss you may still look pregnant and people may still ask if you are or when you are due. This of course can be quite traumatic, especially initially, and is another totally unfair bonus blow in an already heart wrenching situation. For the first few weeks I hardly left the house for fear of such questions. I knew I could not bear to hear them without breaking into tears be it in the grocery store or the gym or my son’s school. So instead I hibernated a lot…and drank Frappuccino’s and ate bagels, which clearly did not help. I felt fat and empty and depressed and did not know how to move forward with my emotional healing while I still looked and felt pregnant. Then one day, one of these inspiring souls in my circle of strong fabulous selfless women, said “you have to rise above the body,” and focus on your healing no matter how much you weigh or whether or not your clothes fit. At first I would walk around with this new mantra in my head each time I got dressed, or passed by a mirror, or left the house, or noticed that curious look at the grocery store…“rise above the body, rise above the body,” but with practice (though I admittedly still mutter it to myself sometimes), it became part of me as I rose above the physical look of my body and focused on my wellbeing…emotional health, physical health, nutrition…and the tummy, though a work in progress, eventually subsided and the questions ceased and I started to relax into my body again. Women’s bodies are incredible. Think about what they can do. We house babies! That’s amazing! The more I thought about that and began to respect my body for this incredible thing it was designed to do and to focus on my healing despite the now empty ‘baby-bump’, the healthier and stronger I began to feel. So I invite you too, to rise above the body, to rise beyond the ‘bump’ and to focus on your emotional healing despite it.
Embrace A New Normal: Our life experiences, both good and bad, shape who we are in our continual process of becoming.
Release yourself from the pressure to feel like your old self again. We are forever changed by both positive and negative profound life experiences that reshape our way of thinking and present to us new perspectives of life and of ourselves. As human beings we have the capacity to adapt accordingly and to embrace our ever-changing new normal(s) in order to keep moving forward in our ever-changing lives. Choose to embrace your new normal, whatever it is, rather than be tied down to an old ideal. You may never feel like your old self again, or you may find traces of her as you move on, or you may embrace a totally new you – your old core with this new added life perspective that makes you who you are today. Today you parent from this new place, from this new perspective, from this new normal which forever shapes who you are in the future. This isn’t bad, this is just life. We are forever changing, always adapting, and continually becoming in this process called life. Even negative life experiences are pathways for deep personal reflection and positive human transformation. The loss is now part of your reality and part of your life experience and like many other meaningful life experiences you are profoundly changed by it. Embrace it!
Please feel free to share your own wisdom and advice for coping, surviving, and thriving through prenatal loss…I would love to hear from you.