On November 1 of this year, Mr. Pete and I will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the short life and death of our sixth child, Raphael. I can't believe how quickly the time has passed or how much things have changed since then.
Since that time, I have tried to reach out to other women going through similar situations. The church knows that if a baby has died they can call me and I'll be very willing to come to the funeral or the calling hours. I try to bring a copy of Mothers' Manual with me to give to the grieving mother so that she can have it, with the hopes that it will bring her comfort. There are some beautiful prayers in there specifically for the loss of a child and the resignation to accept that loss.
I bought five of them about two years ago, and have given every single one of them away. Yesterday I went to the brief calling hours and funeral for a little baby that just never breathed on his own. His parents were there, all sad and numb with grief. I gave her the little prayer book and I tried not to say anything stupid. I mainly just said that I was so sorry for her pain and that I wished that I could make it better. With the time constraints and a line of other people wishing to pay their respects there wasn't much else to say.
But to every mom who has suffered a stillbirth, here are 10 things I wish I could tell them.
1. It is okay to be sad. We don't "do" grief very well in this culture and I really think that's a shame. Nonetheless, losing a baby and all of the hopes and dreams that go with it can be a shattering experience, and there is nothing wrong with having those feelings of deep sadness and grief.
2. Time will make it better. The images and events fade into our memories and the intensity of the pain starts to lessen. It doesn't make you less of a mother to start to feel a little happiness in your life when you're ready for it. The grief will still come in waves, (I have been surprised at how much more I have thought about my own son now that the 10 year mark is coming up), but those waves will space out and when they do come, eventually you won't feel as if you are overwhelmed by them.
3. Don't feel obligated to pretend that you don't feel the way you feel. People want you to feel better so that they can feel better. The scripture says to "Mourn with those who mourn." Don't be afraid to remind them of that.
4. Take care of yourself. Eat, exercise, get dressed. These things really help.
5. The loss of my child will changed me permanently. It made me stronger and gave me a different perspective on everything. Nothing like finding the answer to "what's the worst that could happen?" to make everything else seem not so bad. I found a new appreciation for the other people in my life and life's little tragedies just didn't seem as tragic. In many ways, living through a stillbirth made me wiser.
6. It was difficult and even painful to be around other pregnant women or babies for a long time. Be prepared for that and guard your heart accordingly. It won't always be that way but it will be for a time.
7. You will always be your baby's mother. Death didn't change that. Don't be afraid to commemorate your child, perhaps with a picture or piece of jewelry or some other memorial. Or perhaps you'll develop a little ritual or tradition to remember the baby on his or her birthday. The baby had a life, albeit a short one. It is good to honor and remember that. I always remember my baby's birthday
8. If you look around and are observant, you'll see signs that some of the other women around you have had a loss. Maybe a little piece of jewelry or a tattoo or something will give it away. I've met some wonderful women and heard some amazing stories asking about a little angel pin or necklace.
9. No way around it, the next pregnancy will be scary, especially around the time of the first loss. I remember being terrified during my only ultrasound with the pregnancy after my stillbirth. I was so afraid that they would find something wrong. I think it's normal to be cautious and even scared. But I'd rather live with a little fear than to not try again and live with a lifetime of regret.
10. It may take some time, but eventually, if you're looking for it, you may just come to see your baby's part in God's plan. My son's little life had meaning and prepared me for so many other things in my life. And his siblings have a little intercessor waiting for them in heaven. Maybe he was there to meet my mother when she passed away too? I may not know the entire plan but I'm just sure that what ever happened, even though it was sad and painful, was part of God's goodness, even if I don't always understand it all completely.
Copyright 2012 Elena LaVictoire
About the Author
Elena LaVictoire is a graduate of Baker College and a retired medical transcriptionist. She is married and homeschooled six children. Elena is a public speaker on the topics of marriage, homeschooling, and confirmation preparation. She was also a contributing author to The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion. Elena practices and performs with her flute and records with the Peace Together Choir. She blogs at MyDomesticChurch.com.