Am I Going Crazy?
There are definitely points during the grief process when you will feel as if you are losing your mind. If you don't have friends or family who have been through a similar experience, expressing those fears may be difficult, as others may not understand they are real. They might even try to brush them aside by saying, “Oh, you're being silly. Of course you are not going crazy!” Included in this section are some of the things I have heard women admit to feeling.
“I still feel the baby move.”
A friend of mine was talking to me a month or so after losing her twins at 21 weeks and hesitantly said, “This is going to sound crazy, but I still feel them moving.” That doesn't sound crazy at all, I told her. I had the same experience after Nicholas died. It's awful. She sounded so relieved to know someone else had experienced this same thing. Rather like an amputee who says a lost leg itches, feeling a lost baby moving is a cruel trick the mind or nature plays. Muscles twitching, air bubbles, who knows what is really happening biologically. Whatever the cause, it is most unfair. And it is a very common complaint among women who have lost a baby after movement was felt—if they are in an environment where they are comfortable admitting they experience it. Most often when it comes up in a group discussion, there is obvious relief in knowing “I'm not going crazy.”
“I cry at TV commercials/songs on the radio.”
After Nicholas died, it seemed to me that every time I turned on the radio, Amy Grant's “Baby, Baby” was playing. I would immediately turn off the radio. I love Amy Grant's music, but that song would stab my heart each time I heard it. Why? This song is all about the joys of motherhood and being “here for you always and forever.” Except that my baby wasn't here.
Whether we are going through a good experience or a bad one, there will always be things on TV or the radio that remind you of what you are experiencing. If it is a happy thing, then each reminder only adds to that happiness. But when it is something difficult or sad, each reminder adds to the pain. Further along in “Baby, Baby” is the line “Ever since the day you put my heart in motion, baby I realize that there's no getting over you.” That's the truth, I would think—I don't think I'll ever get over this.
You can either avoid such things by turning off the radio or TV when you react to something you are hearing, or you can let the emotions come on as strong as they need to and indulge in a good cry. Protection of your emotions or purging of them; there are advantages to both tactics. Depending on where you are in the grieving process, you might choose differently on different occasions. But reacting to things like songs does not mean anything except that you are in tune with your emotional state, and it is in a fragile place.
“I get depressed each time I get my period.”
Biologically, the hormone shifts associated with a loss and then returning to regularity can cause the first cycle or two to be unusually heavy, bringing the experience of the loss vividly back to the surface again. The first cycle after the loss of a baby can be almost as bad as the experience itself. It is a fresh reminder of what is no longer there. It is also a signal that your body has gone on and is “back to normal,” ready to do the whole thing all over again. That often coincides with emotionally beginning to really try to process what happened, and it can feel like a betrayal to have your body saying “I'm ready.” How can my body forget so quickly what it used to be doing?
As the months go by, the return of each month's cycle can be either a source of frustration, if you are trying to conceive again, or a beginning of a looking forward as you think about the possibilities. Some women who want to get pregnant again and then have trouble conceiving become depressed each month that they don't have the baby they so long to hold. Like those who struggle with infertility, that monthly reminder can make the longing worse. Others who want to give themselves more time might start to look at each month and think ahead to what might be.
“Every woman in the world seems pregnant.”
It probably seems that suddenly every woman you meet is pregnant—I certainly felt that way after both Victoria and Nicholas. Close friends seemed to be announcing pregnancies every other day. Chances are you are simply much more aware of pregnant women than you used to be. It is kind of like when a child trying to wheedle her mom into buying something tells her that “everyone else has one.” Chances are she is not the only one in the world without said item, but she could only focus on the ones around her who were part of the special group she longed to join. Your senses are more “tuned in” to protruding bellies because you are so aware of your own body and desires.
“Why are other people's prayers answered and not mine?”
This is a question for which there are no answers. Sometimes it does feel, even to people of strong faith, that God is singling them out only to ignore their pleas. Particularly if many of your friends are having babies, it may seem that everyone else's prayers are being answered but yours. How you work through this challenge is purely an individual thing. Everyone's spiritual lives are their own journeys.
Many people find their faith shaken by the death of a baby—mine certainly was following Nicholas' death. These kind of life experiences can either drive someone away from her faith, or strengthen it. Clergy and other pastoral counselors can aid in that journey, but this is one area where it is really between you and God to work out the answer.
“No one seems to understand—they all think I'm “dwelling” too much.”
Unless someone has been through a miscarriage herself, there is no way to fully understand what you are feeling. Just as I have no way of fully understanding what life is like for my friend who has a handicapped child, so only those who have experienced this same kind of loss can truly understand what you are going through. There will be friends who are incredibly supportive without having experienced this kind of a loss themselves, and there will be friends who will tell you to just get pregnant again and get over it already. Hopefully, there will be more of the former than the latter, but not always.
Many women tell me that they have one special friend who will listen to them talk over and over again while their own mother or sister gets fed up with hearing about the loss. Support can come from unexpected places. If you have no one around you who has had a similar experience, search in your area for a support group for infant loss. Many hospitals offer support services. There are also dozens of pregnancy loss websites, many of which have chat rooms or online support groups. You will be amazed to find how many people out there do understand.
“Holidays are so hard.”
Many women find holidays to be particularly difficult after the death of a baby. Gatherings of friends and family, often with lots of children running around, can make even the 4th of July hard on someone grieving a loss. However, some holidays are more difficult than others.
Mother's Day: The second Sunday in May is set aside for honoring our mothers and giving them special attention and treatment. We buy corsages and take our mothers out to brunch. Kids take great pride in making secret projects to bestow upon Mom in bed Sunday morning.
I think this is one of the hardest holidays for women who have lost a child, especially if they have no other living children. Most churches offer a special blessing for mothers on Mother's Day—but what of the woman who has no living children? Most will say it is hard for them to watch this blessing and not be included, but they also feel it is too hard to stand up with other mothers when their children are no longer there. One of my friends won't even go to church on Mother's Day, she finds it so hard that her four non living children don't count towards her being recognized as a mother.
Christmas/Thanksgiving: Many people find these two holidays to be particularly difficult because of large family gatherings that take place during this time of year. Many parents feel the hole in the gathering where their child should be, and yet the rest of the family does not seem to recognize or mention the missing child. It can be extra difficult for those who have no living children to be surrounded by nieces and nephews. Christmas, in particular, is difficult, for the excitement of the children and the attention they get from the rest of the family only add to the bereaved parents' feelings of loss.
“I don't think I'll ever get over the fear of this happening again!”
So many times women have asked me, “How do you get over the fear?” The reality is, you don't get over it, not fully anyway. In addition to robbing you of your baby, miscarriage robs you of ever having a carefree pregnancy in the future. Most women who experience a miscarriage go on to have another healthy, full-term pregnancy, but there is still anxiety involved for most of them. Even when you feel really ready to have another baby, there will probably still be days when you struggle with fear, especially until you pass the time of the previous loss.
How do you handle those days of anxiety? Particularly in the first trimester, there is little you can do or see to help reduce that fear. You can try prayer, meditation, yoga—whatever works to help you relax. And sometimes, you just have to ride it out. If you need to have ten minutes of panic, give yourself the ten minutes. But try not to let the ten minutes turn into all day, for that kind of anxiety isn't good for you (or the baby). The important thing is not to let the fear keep you from going ahead with what you want to do.
“When am I going to get over this?”
How long it takes to get “back to normal” or “get over” a pregnancy loss is a personal thing. Some women may “get over” it quickly and move on with life. Others will tell you that they will never fully get over the loss of a child, and this experience will always be a part of who they are. The reality is that you are a different person from who you were before this loss, and your life is different now, in a small way or a large one.
People move through this grief process at their own pace, and no one around them should tell them how quickly it should be happening. It may be weeks, it may be a year or more, but eventually, you should find yourself feeling better, enjoying life's activities, and finding your world looking cheerful rather than dark. However, if it seems to you, or to those around you, that this is not happening in a reasonable amount of time, it is time to seek some professional guidance and support.
“When will the anniversaries get easier?”
The first time we approached Nicholas' due date and birthday were definitely the most difficult. The emotional pain of those dates was almost as strong as the weeks following his death. In the years since, it has gotten easier. I no longer feel those emotions as strongly, and yet, I am very aware of the the significance of the day. I have a little pin of tiny footprints that I wear on the anniversaries (and on Mother's Day), to remember Nicholas. If people ask, I tell them why I am wearing it. If they don't, he is still closer to my heart throughout the day. Those days can also feel very lonely, if no one else remembers what day it is.
You may also find yourself struck by the milestones in years to come. I remember being very aware of the day that Nicholas would have started kindergarten. Was it a day of tears and sorrow? No. But I was aware of the milestone that he was missing.
The anniversaries are hard, no question about it. However, they should get easier over time. Mark those days in a special way: wear a special piece of jewelry, attend a religious service, light a candle, have a birthday cake—whatever helps you to feel connected to your baby.
“What do I say when people ask how many children I have?”
This is a tough one for many women, particularly if the baby died later in the pregnancy. I always feel bad if I don't “count” my four non-living children, as if they aren't worthy of mentioning. But do I really need to go into all this each time someone asks me this question? Most of the time, I just say “three” and add the others silently in my head. Sometimes, though, I reply that I have three living children, if the situation is one where I don't mind going into more details. But it can be a conversation stopper, as well, so it's a fine line to walk.
If you have no living children, the question of “do you have kids?” is a painful one. Yes, I have them, but they are not here. Most women just say no, though it pains them to do so—but does this person you've just met really need to hear your life story? The answer to any of these questions has to be based upon what you feel comfortable sharing. Remember that you are not being disloyal to your baby if you choose not to go into it each time the question comes up!
Remember this: you are not going crazy. You are going through a very difficult experience. Life has handed you one of the worst experiences you could imagine ever happening, and it takes time to work through it. But you are not losing your mind. Grief is a very individual thing, and while we share common feelings, everyone deals with them differently. Reacting to a difficult experience by avoiding things that add to the pain or hearing things that seem to make it worse are normal parts of protecting your fragile emotional state while you focus on healing.
There will be days when you feel as if you have it all together and are past the worst of the pain, and the next day you might feel your heart is raw and bleeding all over again. If you are having a bad day, allow yourself to have it. Being where you are in the process and giving yourself permission to let emotions ebb and flow as they need to do will ease the journey in the long run. However, if you don't see a change in how you react to certain songs or other pregnant women over time, or if you don't see the pain beginning to lessen in reaction, then you might need to think about seeking help to work through your grief. Needing help doesn't mean that you are not strong enough to handle things on your own. But you need to be able to resume your life, whatever new sense of normal you find for it.
© 2009 Kathleen Olowin All rights reserved.