Dealing with the loss of a child
Dealing with the loss of a child is a journey that happens to so many couples. It is a subject that no one talks about enough, and the journey to recovery is arduous. When Alison Renecke fell pregnant with her little girl in 2016, she was over-the-moon planning for her arrival. At 26 weeks, when she started experiencing quite severe cramping and pains in her lower back, the first- time mom was not sure whether she should be worried or not.
“I thought this may be the Braxton-Hicks phenomenon I had read about, but after around 4 days when I started bleeding, I contacted my gynae. At the hospital, I learned that I was experiencing preterm labour contractions and had developed some common infections and after a few days, the doctor told me that I should make peace with staying in bed, at the hospital, until I reached 40 weeks.
Unfortunately, when my cervix started dilating, there was nothing more the hospital team could do to stop the impending delivery, and after an emergency C-Section, my daughter Alexis was born at 28 weeks. She was very tiny and was admitted to ICU straight away where, for a while, she was doing well and growing stronger on my expressed milk. We visited her every day in the ICU, but, at some stage, she developed a virus that her tiny body was unable to fight off. After 2 months, when she started deteriorating and was no longer responding to meds, the hospital called us in to say goodbye before she passed. It was tremendously hard to be there in her last moments, but I am so grateful for the time I got to bond with her at our daily visits and that I was there to comfort her right to the end.
It was an emotional rollercoaster that took us from shock and numbness to disbelief and then anger. I had gone to the hospital with my baby inside of me; we had already developed a strong connection; I had felt her kicking and had dreamed about what it would be like once she arrived. Now I had to face life without her, and that seemed impossible. I wanted to go back to the ICU, hoping to find her still there.
My world had fallen apart. I could not get out of bed or eat or brush my teeth. Then the guilt started, ‘What if I had gone to the hospital sooner? Did I work too much? Did I cause the infections?’ Eventually, I had to learn to forgive myself and accept that I had done everything I possibly could for her.
We went through the grieving process, my husband and I, with different coping mechanisms. Men don’t always want to share their emotions or appear vulnerable, and he kept his feelings inside. We went to counselling together, but he left when he felt it wasn’t working for him. We had to understand that we were experiencing our mourning differently and had to learn to be patient with one another, support one another and live every day as honestly and as openly as we could.
You have to work at healing as a couple because the experience can so easily break you. Throughout the pregnancy, the focus had been on the baby, and now, after her passing, the focus was still on the baby as we struggled with our grief. I was battling with feelings of uselessness and worthlessness while he, our erstwhile protector, grappled with the fact that he could not fix the situation this time.
We managed to get through that first loss somehow, and since then, I have been blessed with a son, Christopher, who is the light of our lives. But the loss of a child doesn’t go away when you have another baby. After I had my son, I was too scared to sleep and would wake up to make sure that he was breathing. It terrified me to go back to work because then I wouldn’t be able to protect him from unforeseen mishaps. Finally, after a year, I was utterly exhausted and realised that I had to let Christopher live his own life. I have managed to relax the anxiety, but at the same time, I never take things for granted. I make a conscious effort to absorb every moment with him fully.
Last year we decided to give Christopher a sibling and right from the positive pregnancy test, I was excitedly connecting with my baby. I was heartbroken when, at my nine-week appointment, the gynae could not pick up a heartbeat and after a few days of spotting and some pain, I suffered a spontaneous miscarriage. It was devastating! The pain and sorrow of a miscarriage is simply not acknowledged enough. Whether at 9 weeks or at 2 months, the pain of the loss of your child is equally debilitating. I was traumatised for days and again we went through the phases of grief. Once again, I had to learn to accept my emotions and allow myself and my husband the time we needed to grieve. We have learned to live our new normal and a part of that is celebrating my daughter every year on her birthday. I know and accept that I will feel her absence every day of my life.”
Some advice that might help if you are experiencing the loss of a child:
- Get counselling. Talking to someone neutral helps you put things into perspective and realise that what you are going through is real and normal. It can also prepare you for future pregnancies.
- Don’t dismiss your feelings; acknowledge them, accept them and ask for help when you need to navigate the hard times.
- Create your own special rituals to help you celebrate and acknowledge your missing child. He or she will always be a part of your life. If you want to talk about your loss, then do so.
- Be kind to yourself. Let yourself grieve. When you burst into tears at work or at a function, don’t feel the need to apologise for how you feel. This is part of your healing process, and it takes time.
- Join a Support Group if you are feeling lonely in this process. It may help to speak with other parents who can relate to what you are going through.
- It isn’t easy, but don’t give up if you want to be a parent. Not every pregnancy is the same. Push through the fear, because there is always hope, and the reward is enormous.
- For the well-meaning advisors, be sensitive to the mom who may not be ready to hear what you want to share or accept your advice. Don’t jump to the conclusion that all went well with the birth, be patient and allow the mom to share at her own pace.