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Monday, October 15, 2018

Comforting a Bereaved Parent After Stillbirth, Miscarriage, or Infant Loss

     Today is October 15. National Miscarriage, Stillbirth and infant loss awareness day. There is a part of my life that is not so sunny.  Those days I couldn't see the sun through the storm clouds. Although looking back, it is this season of my life that has had the biggest impact and shaped me into the person I am today.

       Growing up, I knew I wanted to have three boys. I started having a recurring dream when I was about 7 where I would teach my boys how to do things like fold towels and pull weeds from the garden. I would often wake up feeling as though it had been real; I just knew that when I grew up and got married, I would have three sons. It was no surprise when my husband and I had our first child that he was a boy. Our second child was a boy, as well. I started thinking maybe there was something to this childhood dream when I found out I was pregnant a third time, again with a boy!

 Andrew was my third baby. I loved him from the moment I knew he was growing in my womb. I loved feeling his fluttering kicks and his tiny hiccups. My pregnancy with Andrew was a breeze. I felt amazing, I never got sick, and I had tons of energy. It was the kind of pregnancy women dream of. Which was so nice because I had two small children who needed me. I enjoyed growing Andrew and looked forward to meeting him.

Then, one freezing Winter morning, I went to the doctor's office for a sonogram. The waiting room was crowded, but I didn't mind waiting. I always loved seeing my baby on the screen so it would be worth the wait. When it was finally my turn, I positioned myself on the table. The tech was very bubbly and super chatty as she busied herself getting things set up and ready for us to look at my Andrew. She squirted some warm blue gel on my belly and started scanning.

Right away I could tell something was wrong. The tech stopped talking and her smile faded from her face, her eyebrows knit together in concentration. A giant pit formed in my stomach and I became too nervous to look at the monitor and I started thinking of the worst case scenario. Every possibility ran through my mind in about three seconds.

Just then, she turned, removed the wand from my belly, switched off the screen and whispered the four words that no mother should ever hear: there is no heartbeat.


The words hit me like a fast-moving freight train. My head was spinning and I couldn't make sense of her words. There had to be some sort of mistake. She turned her monitor back on and explained what she had found. His precious little heart was motionless; His tiny body so still. There was no mistake. My baby had died.

Later the next day, after hours of hard, intense labor, I delivered my perfect sleeping boy who would never take a breath. He was a beautiful, tiny miniature of his brothers. My husband and I held him and kissed him, knowing our time was short. We gave him a name and allowed the hospital to take footprints for us to keep.


Then, we walked out of that hospital, my husband and I, hand in hand. Our arms empty and our heart shattered. Life would never be the same.

That was nearly eleven years ago. I still miss my son and think of him every day. I would give almost anything to have him back. However, I am grateful for the experience and perspective I have gained through grief and loss. Life was hard as we grieved the loss of our son. It was difficult to move forward and impossible to image a life without our boy. But our sorrow has lessened with time, replaced slowly with peace and comfort in the promise that families are forever.

Now having been through that experience, we have a deeper understanding and compassion for those who find themselves where we have been. Sadly, my story is more common than you might think. One in every 160 pregnancies ends in stillbirth, That is nothing compared to the 15-25% of pregnancies (where the woman knows she is pregnant) ending in miscarriage. The bereaved parents club is the worst club until you find yourself in it... then it becomes so incredibly helpful in the healing process to know people who have been where you are.

Chances are, you are reading this because you or someone you love has suffered a loss. My heart breaks for you. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help a bereaved parent.

1. Don't be afraid to reach out. 
It is sometimes hard to know what to say to someone who has just lost a baby. For me, simply knowing I had people who loved and cared about me really helped. A text or phone call checking in, a handwritten letter in the mail or a quick visit from a close friend were bits of sunshine in a very dark place. I will always be grateful for people who loved me through my grief.

2. Bring Food.
Nothing says I'm here for you and I love you quite like food, am I right? I remember not wanting to eat much after returning home from the hospital. I was so thankful for friends, family, and neighbors who brought food for my boys and husband to eat. It helped to know that their needs were being met.

3. See a need, fill a need.
I think often times it's easy to say, "Well, if there is anything I can do for you just let me know." It's almost a way of feeling like we are helping while knowing most people won't call and therefore we won't actually have to help. If you see a need (even if it's small) fill it. You can shovel snow from sidewalks,  mow their grass or help with yard work, make meals, offer to watch their children, run to the grocery store for them, return their library books, water plants, or help with dishes, just to name a few ideas. Those seemingly small and insignificant acts will mean the world to a bereaved parent.

4. Tokens of Remembrance
I have a necklace that a friend gave me. It has Andrew's birthstone and a heart charm with two little feet engraved on one side and his initials on the other. It is the most beautiful necklace and I wear it all the time. Tokens of remembrance don't have to be big or expensive. I keep a tiny crochet bear a friend made. It's one of my favorite things I keep in Andrew's memory box.

5. Use baby's name
I read a quote once that said a mother's job is to protect her child, a bereaved mother's job is to protect her child's memory. Nothing is sweeter to me than to hear Andrew's name. It warms my heart to know he is loved and remembered by others.

If you have suffered a loss, please don't be afraid to reach out. Join a support group. Speak with a grief counselor or a friend who has experienced a loss, make sure you are taking care of yourself. I know it sounds impossible right now, but I promise the pain lessens with time. Moments of sadness will become farther apart. Tears will dry. No one can take the place of your baby, and you will think of and miss him or her each day. However, I promise the anguish you are feeling will pass. Allow yourself to experience every stage of grief. Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings, rereading it from time to time. Practice self-care each day. Be kind to yourself. What happened is NOT your fault. Do not blame yourself. Give yourself time to heal. Things will get better.

Even though I still miss my boy, I know that I am a stronger, more loving and compassionate person because of what I went through. If you or someone you know suffered a loss, know you are not alone. There are so many parents like you and me who have lost children who rally around one another creating these wonderful networks of support and healing. Although others will try to understand what you are living, no one gets it quite like another bereaved parent. Facebook is an excellent resource for finding groups. Try HERE... HERE... and HERE. Or you can email me: Scattered.sunshine.blog@gmail.com

This is a token of remembrance my best friend gave me for Christmas.
It is a complete family picture and it means the world to me.
 You can find the artist at watercolorsbybree.com


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