Losing a baby has impacted me far more deeply than I could have imagined. It’s been almost 2 years, and I’m still putting all the pieces together. I’ve worked through the rawest and hardest places. I no longer feel like everyone at Target is looking at me, and it’s been months since I cried myself to sleep. The details haven’t changed, but my memories of Olivia are more like a gift now. My life has been changed, and I am not the same person I was two years ago. And I’m okay with that because I’ve learned a lot. And maybe, just maybe, I’ve learned something that can help someone who has struggled- or will struggle- with loss.
What I Learned About People
I was blessed to already be surrounded by people who had a hopeful perspective. Everyone around me attached value to Olivia’s life, even before she was to be born. As we drove to the hospital for the unthinkable, my gut reaction was to get through the whole ordeal as quickly as possible, to remain as unaffected as possible. I thought I’d always want to forget. After all, if we ignored something, wouldn’t it just go away?
Thankfully, my mom and dad were there to encourage us through the tough decisions. I’m grateful we were open to their advice. We chose to go through labor and delivery. We held her for hours. Pictures taken after her birth- which we didn’t want at first- became a precious gift. We gave her a first name- Olivia- but didn’t choose a middle name until several months later. We decided a year later to have a memorial service and burial. (We thought it would be just my parents and us, but our extended family once again demonstrated how much they loved this little one, braving the elements on the coldest day of the winter on what would have been Olivia’s first birthday.)
My husband and I went through the loss together. He was always willing to listen— a hundred times a day, literally, for a year. I didn’t want to cry by myself, to go through this alone, so every time I started crying, I went and found David. Our heartbreak brought us closer together and built a stronger marriage.
Olivia’s death also brought about new relationships and stronger friendships with women who understood because they’d been there. It has been amazing that something so tragic has brought people together and been used for good. I’m grateful for the gift of these friendships.
What I Learned About Guilt & Fear
Although the whole process of going through this birth was terrifying, I was mainly afraid I would be scared of holding my baby and what she would look like. But when she was born, I wasn’t scared at all. I loved her immediately. She was my daughter. I studied her. I have a memory of her in my head that photos couldn’t match. Although she was swollen and not picture-worthy, her fingers had fingernails. Her hands were the size of dimes. Her eyes were shut and looked like she was sleeping. Her toes were tiny and precious. She had a little round tummy. In my heart she was perfect.
After I returned home, I found myself constantly looking for a reason my baby died, Was it something I ate? What had I been doing before her heart stopped beating? Even receiving a diagnosis didn’t immediately release me from feeling responsible for what had happened. These were irrational thoughts, based on the lie that there was something I could have, should have done. Thankfully, there were people in my life who were there to point out the lie and remind me of the truth — it wasn’t my fault. I hadn’t done anything wrong.
After the meals stopped coming, it felt like people had forgotten, that they didn’t care anymore. I felt ignored. I slowly came to understand that people were uncomfortable being around me. They didn’t know what to say. They didn’t want to make me sad. They didn’t know it was healing for them to ask how I was doing. They didn’t know I wanted to talk. Over time I’ve been able to let go of my hurt feelings and expectations; I’ve learned to offer grace instead.
I struggled with the difference between moving on and moving forward. I was afraid others would judge me if I wasn’t sad, that they would think I had forgotten, that losing a baby no longer mattered. I felt guilty for laughing or having a good time with family and friends, like I wasn’t honoring her life. I had the opportunity to reach out to a friend who recently lost a baby and was struggling with similar feelings. I shared with her what I had learned. “The guilt was hard, but it was all fear based for me. I knew I was sad and missing her, but I feared others would think differently. The truth is that I can’t control what anyone else thinks. Letting my mind wonder about what they might be thinking was keeping me from finding joy in the midst of pain. Smiling doesn’t mean you’re not sad. Laughing doesn’t mean you’re not missing your baby. Live life knowing that you are grieving no matter what you look like on the outside.”
Since my loss, I’ve had many people share about losing their baby. More than once they have said, “My experience wasn’t as hard as yours… your pain is greater than mine…I was only (this many weeks) pregnant.” While our stories are different — how long we carried our babies, how our pregnancies ended, the details of it all—we have each lost an irreplaceable son or daughter. A precious life. And it doesn’t matter what the age. If you take anything away from this post, please know that your baby is as precious as any baby, and you don’t need to compare your pain with someone else’s.
What I learned about grieving
Days after I got home from the hospital, I began to search the internet for the right way to grieve. I was sad, I cried all day, I couldn’t talk or even think about what had happened without losing my breath. I wanted to know what “normal grieving” looked like because I was sure I was doing it all wrong. I couldn’t find anything other than a few articles about the stages of grieving which didn’t seem helpful.
I didn’t feel comfortable crying around anyone except my husband. When my family visited, I would hold all my tears in until I couldn’t take it anymore. I would excuse myself and go to the other room and break down. I was embarrassed and worried that I was doing something wrong, like I wasn’t being strong, like I wasn’t trusting God. Within a week, my mom saw what was happening and let me know that it was okay for me to cry in front of her. Of course her saying that made me cry, but I felt relieved to be able to release my emotions and let her help me work through them instead of holding them inside.
I found out it’s okay to be sad…really, really sad. The way I grieved was the exact right way for me. It is what empowered me to get to the place I am today. Early on, my mom gave me this advice, “If you don’t work your way through this, then you’ll be stuck. Months, even years later, you’ll be bitter and angry and stuck with these feelings. Recovery is hard work. To successfully make your way through life, you have to work through the difficult things.”
So I started to work through it. I cried myself to sleep for the first 6 months. In fact, I suffered from insomnia and finally got medication from my midwife. I searched through my Bible for answers. I talked and questioned and talked some more. And I’m glad I did the hard work. I count it a gift that I’m writing this post almost 2 years later, and I’m in a much better place. Would I change what happened if I could? The choice is not mine to make. Focusing on what I cannot change takes me to a place where I will be stuck. Instead, I choose to accept the past and live in the present. I can only trust that what happened can have purpose and meaning. In fact, I intentionally choose to let it have purpose and meaning.
What I Learned About Finding Purpose And Hope
The biggest key to my recovery was seeing God in all of it. I have gained a completely different understanding of the statements “God is good” and “being blessed.” God’s goodness isn’t dependent on things in my life going the way I want. God was good when my daughter, Evie, was born healthy— and He was good when my daughter, Olivia, died at 20 weeks. As a believer, even heartbroken, I had confidence that my pain and grief and loss wouldn’t be wasted. I wasn’t going to let it be wasted. I had hope. I learned that I could be sad and still know God is faithful and trustworthy. I drew my strength from him. The one thing I was sure of was that God could redeem what had happened and give it Kingdom value.
I found comfort reading One Thousands Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I gained new perspective, a renewed appreciation for God having purpose for everything in my life and how He is good even when he doesn’t give me what I want. The songs It Is Well by Bethel, Oceans by Hillsong United, and I Will Follow by Jon Guerra reminded me that I wasn’t walking through this difficult time alone and helped me praise God as I walked through the flood and the fire.
Olivia is a gift. Today, my memories of her are intertwined with the relationship I have with Jesus. She has given me a deeper understanding of God’s love and faithfulness. She will always be a part of our lives. And for that I am eternally grateful.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and we know that many of our readers have been through this unique and painful loss. Words can never express the loss you have suffered. We want you to know you are not alone and that we remember your sweet children along with you. We have started a Forever Loved Wall and would love to honor your baby by including them on it. If you’d like to add your child to this page in memory, please email us at info (at) quadcitymomsblog (dot) com with your child’s name and the date.