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10th October 2022

There is hope after baby loss

Bereavement counsellor Chris Booth shares what he learnt following his experience with baby loss. 

This was a sentence I hoped I would never have to write, but it is a sentence many of you have said in your own hearts.

I am writing this blog to encourage you to acknowledge that there was a loss and that life existed, despite this being a challenging topic to talk about. Whether it was an early miscarriage, a late miscarriage, a stillbirth or even a neonatal death, your experience is not a statistic nor is it second to celebrities who have a national platform to talk about their experience. What you have experienced is precious, life-changing, and maybe traumatic. You are probably still living with the emotional and relational difficulties which are invisible to everyone else but you and your partner. We need to talk about death and dying because it is an unavoidable part of human life. But why is it easier and less taboo to talk about death the older they die? Do the more experiences of life they had weigh against the heaviness of their death, making it more palatable to consume? Or is it because with the death of a baby, there are no platitudes to cover over the morbid and demoralizing blow of death? I don’t pretend to have the answers. But I certainly found talkinglistening, and writing about it helps.  Here are some things that I have learnt, which you may be able to relate to, but more importantly it will hopefully give support and encourage discussion around the topic of baby loss. 

As a father

The Quiet Room was the one room that you never want to use, but there was always a curious part of you that wanted to peek inside

The Quiet Room was the room we were put in whilse the nurses were trying to find someone more senior to explain their abnormal findings during the 20 week scan. It was in these sorts of rooms where we would start to recognise our own grief. Or we would try to stomach the heady blend of hopeanticipation and powerlessness as the numerous consultants gave us their predictions on the future.  Not everyone goes through anticipatory grief, especially if the loss is sudden and unexplained. But parents whose babies are diagnosed with a syndrome, a disability or whose babies are described as “incompatible with life outside the womb” (a phrase a doctor used with us) will experience some form of this grief. Anticipatory grieving is different from grief after the death of a lost one, in a couple of ways; the first being we experience the rehearsal of the death, we imagine the grief to come and allow that to continue over and over in our minds. Secondly, we’re imagining the consequences and the effects it will have on us and our family unit and in some cases starting to even feel it. 

What can help in this situation:   

  • Realise that anticipatory grief is normal, and it hurts as much as physical pain. 
  • Remember the things and the times where you have felt strengthened in your past and use that knowledge to help your present. 
  • Talk to someone, seek out human companionship, and don’t be alone with your grief.

As a man

"If you can keep your head when all around them are losing theirs…you will be a man" - If, Rudyard Kipling

Blokes, fellow fathers – have you ever found it hard to bond with your unborn child? Maybe it’s your first child and you’re not sure what to do; can the baby hear me? Will it respond to me when my partner is the one carrying them? How do I bond with them? It can be scary and frustrating – it can be frustrating because if you’re already feeling like a spare wheel, something that should be fun and exciting can turn daunting. But as a father going through this pregnancy, things were different. Being a scholar at heart, there were a few lines which for me described the situation perfectly. It was the poem If by Rudyard Kipling. The first line wastes no time in setting the tone, "If you can keep your head when all around them are losing theirs…you will be a man" It was on these lines that I pondered, how might someone meet this challenge of that final verse to ‘be a man’ (singleton, husband or father)especially during these hard times?  

However, it was a line later on which struck me,  "(If you can…) watch the things you gave life to, broken, and stoop and build ‘em up with worn out tools:" the child we gave life to was broken, my wife was emotionally broken, and I was brokenbut as a man, I was going to do my best with the tools I had to comfort, care and protect my wife; I would speak up for her when talked over by doctors, spend time helping the children get to know Eleanor, and finally help process her death and the hole it left in our family.  

As a counsellor

"We find a place for what we lose. Although we know that after such a loss the acute stage of mourning will subside, we also know that we shall remain inconsolable and shall never find a substitute. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else." – Sigmund Freud 

One of the mysteries in grief is that you will never be able to pinpoint that time when you moved from grieving to reliving your lives; did we ever move from that point? Or did we just wake up one day and think, ‘Yep, that’s my grieving over!’ Or is there a vale of fog that covers the passage from grieving to growing? Something which can help you during your grieving is Julia Samuels’ Pillars of Strength. She saw these pillars as "the key structures that support us and enable us to rebuild our lives. It requires work to build these pillars, and none of these pillars can function without the others. It requires our time and attention, but the result of such hard work is that the strength they provide will be increased many times over." These Pillars are:  

1. The relationship with the person who has died  this can be one of the biggest indicators of how much pain we are in, is the quality of the relationship we had with the person who has died and how much we loved that person (the contradiction here is if we had a difficult relationship with this person because there are no further opportunities to further that relationship. We learn to externalise this relationship through forming a connection with their memory E.g. wearing an item of their clothing or jewellery. 

2. Our relationship with ourselves – we need to show ourselves self-compassions, listen to our own needs, avoid self-criticism, and recognise that feelings aren’t facts; just because we feel bad, doesn’t make us a bad person. 

3. Know how to express our grief  we all need to know how to express our grief and it doesn’t matter what that way is – the key is to find a way of connecting to the feelings we have inside us, naming them and then expressing them. 

4. Take time  Grieving takes longer than we expect, we cannot fight it, we can only find ways to support ourselves through it. 

5. Look after our mind and body  every thought we have has a physiological component that is felt in our body, meaning the whole experience is held in our body and unconsciously influences our thoughts and actions. By establishing a healthy living regime (including exercise/meditation) we will help regulate our body which will help support us emotionally. 

6. Know our limits  When we recognize the power to say ‘no’, we find ourselves honestly assessing situations, knowing if it is not right for us. Paradoxically, by learning to say ‘no’ we enhance our confidence in saying ‘yes’. 

7. Create a Structure for your life  In the chaos of grief, we can feel as if our world has tilted off its axis having routine and structure in our lives can help us cope with our loss (even if this is as simple as getting up and going to be at regular times). 

8.Focussing (or ‘Recognising’)  this is the technique of being open to the feelings of grief in your body. People often talk about feeling as though they have a ‘knot’ in their stomach or throat – often when there are no words for these bodily sensations, using visualizations can help. This particular procedure used by Samuels is:- 

  • Close your eyes. 
  • Breathe deeply and slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth, three times. 
  • Direct your attention internally. 
  • Move your attention around your body until you find the place where there is the most sensation. 
  • Breath into that place. 
  • Find a word that describes that place – does it have a shape, a colour? Is it hard, soft? 
  • If the image could speak, what would it say? 
  • Then follow where the image takes you. 

(This is taken from Julia Samuels ‘Grief Works; Stories of Life, Death and Surviving’) 

 

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