29 Dec Understanding Loss Why it Happens & How to Overcome it
Understanding loss. As someone who has endured loss, actually many losses, it seems pretty straightforward in my head. I was pregnant, my baby died, and now I am not pregnant, that is what loss is. What I fail to remember is this: loss is different for everyone, it doesn’t always mean your baby died. Loss for women battling infertility and experiencing a miscarriage or stillbirth is different on a case by case basis. For me, I have experienced loss in all 3 of these categories. I will start with miscarriage, which is a seemingly taboo topic. Does miscarriage count as a loss, absolutely. A miscarriage is defined as a “product of conception” ie: the embryo, fetus, and then baby that is created when a sperm meets an egg, fertilizes, and then implants into the expectant mothers’ uterus and begins to grow and develop, fails to survive. “Fails to survive” keywords. Fails to survive is equivalent to loss. Whether that loss happens days, weeks, or months after conception, it is a loss. Stillbirth, the most recent loss that has sent our family into a spiral of grief. While this loss is not more profound than miscarriage, it is different. I delivered our little girl, River, stillborn at 27 weeks. This hit different than my previous losses. Whether it seemed more real to me because I felt her wiggling around in my belly for 10 weeks, whether it was because I was in labor for hours, or because when I delivered, River never cried. Stillbirth has been my hardest loss to navigate, but they have all been profound. Infertility. While this isn’t always considered “loss”- in my humble, unprofessional opinion, it should be. Infertility can be encompassed by the inability to conceive, and or remain pregnant, for explained or unexplained reasons, a medical diagnosis that prohibits a mother to safely carry a baby whether that reason is her health or the babies’ health, and many other long-winded definitions. When you look at the root of all of these three things, infertility, miscarriage, and stillbirth, they all involve loss – the loss of an opportunity to bring a living baby home, the loss of an opportunity to watch a baby grow into a toddler, a child, an adolescent, and then an adult. Loss is different for everyone, and a single definition of loss doesn’t encompass the complexities that it entails.
Why loss happens. “Why?” honestly is undoubtedly the question I have asked the most through our journey to becoming parents. I am a researcher; I make my decisions by data-driven information. I am not afraid to ask questions, I am not afraid to advocate for myself, and I am certainly not afraid to question a healthcare professional when I personally feel like I know and understand my body in a way they aren’t clearly seeing. I believe this to be a blessing and a curse. These qualities, if you can call them that, have given me a lot of answers as to why certain things have happened in my pregnancies, my fertility or infertility journey, and my quest to being a mother. Regardless of these answers, I still truly can’t say that I have the answer to “Why did this happen?” Often times, in both miscarriage and stillbirth, there are no answers. Early miscarriages frequently happen unexpectedly and even unknowingly, and there is nothing a mother can do to get answers, not enough genetic material to send to the lab for testing, and simply no explanation in why our body chose to not let the pregnancy survive. In stillbirth, an autopsy of the baby can often result in the same outcome, nothing appears to have been wrong with your perfect baby that died. In my early miscarriages, we got no answers, my late first-trimester miscarriage was attributed to a genetic abnormality, and our stillbirth had a few things that “could have attributed to the death of our child”. Scientifically or medically speaking, you may get an answer, and you may not. Understanding the “why?” isn’t any easier when you have a medical diagnosis of why your pregnancy failed. It may give you a course of action to try to prevent it from happening in subsequent pregnancies, but it doesn’t fully answer the question. I question the reason behind our suffering, I question the necessity of learning the lessons of grief repeatedly, and I often wonder why this happened to me. These thoughts seem to be common for mothers experiencing loss – and the truth is, the “why?” is a question I truly believe God knows the answer to, and how and if he chooses to reveal it to us is ultimately His decision. That statement is not meant to make God seem like a selfish being, that he would withhold that information from us, but that is not the case. Our God is sovereign and loving, and He is near to us through our struggles, as we walk through the valleys of grief, and as we rejoice in the happy moments. While I have yet to understand our “why?” I am confident in God’s word that he does not bring suffering without joy. He promises us that in Isaiah 6:99.
Overcoming Loss. Well here is the cold hard truth, you will never overcome loss. You will never get over it. What you will do is get through it. Through my losses, I have learned that once you experience loss, you will never forget it, you will never get over it and you will forever feel the effects that it has had on your friendships, family, and marriage. I have days that I probably seem fine, back to my old self, and not upset about the fact that I buried my perfect child, and that is normal. There are also days that the weight of loss sits on my chest like an elephant and I can hardly breathe. Both of these types of days are normal and should be expected. However, our culture teaches us different expectations for grief. There are many books, articles, and blogs about the stages of grief, and how you get through one stage, head to another, and never look back at the stage you just exited. Society teaches us that there is a strict timeline in which we are expected and allowed to grieve, and then places a stereotype on you when you have surpassed that 6-month timeline and are still “visibly upset”. What society forgets, or probably a better way to speak it is “fails to realize” is that there will be certain things that trigger your memory of your unborn child, and put you right back in the trenches of grieving your loss. This was our first Christmas without River, the first of many. Hanging stockings on our mantle knowing there was “supposed” to be one more was extremely hard for me, it set me right in the middle of grief’s floodgate. We have a family friend that “should” have sent her son that was stillborn to kindergarten this fall. Seeing her friends that had babies close to the time she delivered her son experiencing these milestones that she is missing out on, put her right in grief’s floodgate with me. These moments are inevitable, these seemingly little milestones are so easy for an outsider to say “Its been X amount of time, why is she still so upset?” or “is she ever going to get over this, she has other children?” but the truth is, another child doesn’t replace the fact that you have endured loss, whether your home is filled with the noises of a new baby, or it remains silent. The loss you endure creates a hole in your heart, and this hole is never filled with another child, personal healing doesn’t close the hole, and traveling through your grief journey doesn’t erase the hole completely. The comfort of the Holy Spirit can, and will, ease the burden of the hole in your heart. Walking through the valleys of grief, alongside the Lord will shallow their depth, and provide you strength and resources to travel through them. Overcoming loss shouldn’t be an expectation that an individual that has experienced loss should ever focus on, it will consistently lead to disappointment.