This has been a tough blog to write. Part of me still can't believe I even have the experience to write something like this....but here we are. Last year, at 23-weeks pregnant we lost our baby girl Ava - and life was never going to be the same again. Many blessings have come from that, including a much deeper appreciation for life and what we have. Also, my spiritual journey has deepened beyond belief. And of course, this beautiful business grew from the muddy darkness of that time and is now the blooming lotus that I share with the world. However, at the time of it all unfolding it truly was the WORST. It absolutely took over my life. So my hope is that in sharing this information I can either help others that are experiencing pregnancy loss or I can give guidance to those that have friends and/or family that have experienced it.
When it happens, it is such a difficult and delicate time and many of us simply don't know what to do or say. This can cripple some people in to silence. And that's ok too - but if you are looking for some guidance on how to cope or what your beloved may be experiencing and how you can support them, then read on.
Defining pregnancy loss
Before we go on, remember I am not a nurse or doctor. My understanding of the intricacies of this is limited to my own experience and some online research to get some of the terms correct.
So, what actually happens when someone miscarries or loses a baby? It depends on where they are in their pregnancy - If the pregnancy loss happens any time before 20-weeks it is considered a miscarriage and the baby is surgically removed. If it is after 20-weeks it is considered a stillbirth or neonatal death (death of an infant within 28 days of birth). In these instances the baby is either birthed by natural, premature labour. Or, if the baby has passed while still in utero the mother is medically induced for birth. At 23-weeks, I was medically induced and birthed our daughter. Because this was my experience, it is from this perspective that I will be writing.
The labour progressed very much like a normal labour and lasted for around 8 hrs. Since my baby had already passed, morphine was an option, which I asked for after about 5 hours. This was my second birth and the pain was close to what you experience in the 2nd stage of full term labour. Depending on the hospital, a mother may have all the options available to her as a full term birth. For example, I was able to birth our daughter in water. And oh, how healing this was. I intended on having a water birth with our first child and for a number of reasons that didn't happen in the end. So being able to birth in water this time was truly beautiful. Early in the labour I didn't want to ask for the pool, but I thank god and all my angels for the amazing midwives I had attending me who insisted that if it was something I wanted, I could have it!
Thankfully, nowadays families are encouraged to see and hold their baby after a stillbirth. Photos can be taken and families spend as much time as possible with their child. Ava is a member of our family and spending time with her after birth was so difficult, but necessary in my healing. Some people choose not to see or hold their baby. Some father's even choose not to be there during the birth. It is important that everyone do what they feel is right for them. But if I can provide a word of advice; in order to truly receive closure, stand in solidarity as a family and honour the life that existed, I would strongly recommend that both mother and father be present and spend time with their little being. The hospital was an amazing support. These doctors and midwives see this more often than I would like to imagine. We were never rushed, and even had professional photographers take Ava's photo. They were delivered to us a couple of weeks later and it took me almost a year to look at those photos. The hospital also gifted us a box full of beautiful mementos of our daughter. Many steps were taken to ensure we were cared for in the best way possible, given the circumstances.
And here's the real kicker....you then have to leave the hospital without your baby, after carrying them for however long, being a part of you, seeing and hearing them in ultrasounds and feeling them kick (which often starts as early as 16 weeks). It is the most surreal and life altering experience I have personally been through. The world looks different the first time you come out of those doors. People don't look the same - the fact that people can even be born and survive to become fully functioning human beings boggles the mind. Our fragility and how precious life is becomes so hauntingly apparent. It's quite difficult to deal with at first and just getting home to safety, comfort and bed was frankly the only option fathomable.
One of the greatest risks with a stillbirth is retaining placenta. Because you have birthed before you were meant to, the uterus is not ripe and so part of the placenta can remain within the womb. This can cause big health problems for the woman later on, and knowing whether you have retained placenta may not be completely clear until weeks after birth. Having this hanging over your head is awful, and keeping a close eye on your post-birth bleeding is very important.
And then there's that...the post-birth recovery. You continue to bleed, sometimes for weeks after the birth. A constant reminder. And even worse, you have all the same natural hormones raging that every new mother would. You produce milk and it has nowhere to go. I know some absolutely courageous women that have pumped their milk and donated it to a milk bank. Um, can we get a Noble Prize in Humanities over there please! Every cell within your body is telling you to protect and care for your baby. But your baby isn't there. Just a big empty space in your body and your heart where the grief now resides. Medication can also be taken to suppress the hormones of post-birth, and again, it is a personal choice whether they are right for you.
The post-birth recovery is different for everyone. Some women may take months to get their pre-pregnancy body back, not to mention the emotional pain they are carrying. It's impossible to express the depths of emotional pain I felt in those first few weeks after Ava's birth. Some days, the only thing that could bring relief was valium. This may be controversial. Some of you may smoke a joint instead. Whatever works! The pain is so dark. But it’s temporary, and so is the need for pain relief. I rarely even take panadol for a headache. But there were a couple of days that I just couldn’t face. Even the tears didn’t help on those days and all I needed was a break from the grief. All I needed was sleep. Valium allowed me that. So if this is outside your usual practice, its ok to allow yourself that relief. I haven't touched valium since and I don't miss it.
Beyond 20-weeks a birth and death certificate must be processed, and a funeral performed. While a ceremony is not required, a decision must be made to either bury or cremate your baby. There may be other children to care for and jobs to return to. You may have clothes hanging in the wardrobe you had purchased for your new arrival or even have set up the nursery. All these are reminders of a dream and a life plan lost. You can begin to understand just how difficult it can be for a family to carry on following this truly tragic and often sudden event.
How can you support your loved one that's lost a baby?
What can you say?
Saying "I'm so sorry for your loss" is perfectly appropriate and appreciated. This family has lost a family member, and even though no one met that baby it was as real a life as any other member of that family. Ask the mother about the baby, speak the baby's name and ask them about their experience. Being able to share Ava’s story and the short time I shared with her means a lot to me, and I love it when people ask me about her. But sadly it doesn't happen very often. So be that person who can really stand by your friend and ask the questions that no one asks. Let them simply cry on your shoulder, be angry at the world and even completely fall apart. They will put themselves back together one day - it's just not today!
Remind her she is amazing and a warrior and everything she is doing is perfect. Because she already feels enough of a failure. Advice is not warranted at this time unless she’s asking for it. And say the baby’s name or talk about the pregnancy. If it was a girl, then they had a little girl and the mother will always remember that baby as her daughter. I’ll explain from my own experience...I have 3 sisters and no brothers. Now the sisters all have boys. It’s a running joke that us girls can't have daughters...Now, I gently correct people when they make that joke. I say “I had a daughter”. Because I did! She will not be forgotten. Even though she doesn’t walk this earth, she was born my daughter and will always be a part of this family.
What can you do?
Gifts that are gentle and full of love really help! One of the most precious gifts I received when we lost Ava was a packet of Pukka Love tea. It’s still my favourite tea...by a long long way. Because it reminds me of her, and I like that. Some other beautiful gifts I received were a rose quartz crystal and chocolate coated goji berries. Two dear friends came together and named a star after Ava. Oh how special that was to look up in the night sky and find her star - which I did!!! Another friend dropped off a care package of food as soon as she found out. She didn't call. She just left it at the front door and sent my hubby a message once she had left. She didn't want to bother us in those early and tender days but she wanted to show she cared, and that meant so so much! Cooked or prepared food goes a long way - the simple acts of living become very difficult when you are that deep in grief. Send a cleaner around! Turn up and do the laundry. Babysit the kids. Do the school run. All these simple acts can really help.
Of course, I had my malas. They were one of the most crucial parts of my healing. Having my mala to clutch to during that time was a life saver, and while there wasn’t much mantra meditation taking place, she still came with me everywhere. She was my companion when I simply couldn’t face the world. I was also creating a lot of malas at that time and thought about the kind of mala and gemstones that could support a mother through this very difficult time. So finally, in the new ‘Jaipur’ collection I have created the Gentle Warrior mala specifically for mother’s in grief.
Some other things that can help are gentle healing techniques like spiritual guidance or mediums, meditation, essential oils and flower essences. There are also pregnancy loss councillors and in Australia medicare covers a large portion of their fees under the mental health plan, so it's worth getting a referral from your doctor and speaking to someone that can support you in this time, if that's something you believe can be of help.
I am achingly aware that this blog may be very depressing and hard to read. But pregnancy loss is experienced by 1 in 4 women that fall pregnant. Some women have multiple miscarriages while other women have a number of perfectly healthy babies to then lose a child at full term, with no explanation. The cost of giving life can sometimes be huge. But if we can simply support our mothers and fathers through these events, then we can all be better at dealing with and carrying on after pregnancy and infant loss.