Monday, June 17, 2013

What Does Grief Look Like (Part 3)

Answer me speedily, O LORD;
My spirit fails!
Do not hide your face from me, …
Psalm 143:7

“Ellen was in the ninth week of her first pregnancy when she awoke in the middle of the night, bleeding profusely. As her husband searched the early-morning streets for a taxi to take her to the hospital, she waited alone in the lobby of their apartment building:
            ‘At this point I was just astounded by what was happening. Even the ride to
            the hospital, with cabdriver rushing through red lights, seemed surreal. It
            wasn’t until the next morning, after the miscarriage was over, that I fully
            realized we were not going to be parents.’"

Ellen was in shock, (a phase I’ve addressed previously but which warrants this additional discussion), where you feel numb and possibly detached from the unfolding reality. It’s most likely a “self-protective response” that helps you deal with the disaster, allowing you to avoid experiencing an immediate emotional and physical breakdown. Shock may extend hours, days or come in waves over weeks.

You think you might awaken from your nightmare; you go through the motions. While you might be able to relay every detail surrounding the immediate event, it’s possible you won’t remember conversations or events that occurred during this time. No matter what stage of your pregnancy when your baby died, you may experience this stunning, slap-in-the-face, numbing feeling.

You might also develop unusual, “disturbing” feelings, imagining that you hear the wails of your hungry baby, or feel phantom baby kicks. (For those who have been with me since the beginning, remember the phantom baby kicks I talked about?) You may feel as though you’re becoming psychologically unbalanced.

“Dr. Kenneth Kellner, an obstetrician who has researched the needs of bereaved parents, found that mothers who heard phantom crying or imagined the baby kicking usually stopped having these sensations when they were allowed to see, hold, and say good-bye to their babies…or when she can at least see her baby’s photograph.”

Being able to grieve your loss openly helps to alleviate the symptoms of shock and denial.

Anticipatory grief is yet another type of grief parents may experience, especially if they learn their baby has died in the womb. Part of you begins to mourn while the other part of your brain holds out hope, thinking it really isn’t over yet. Maybe there’s a chance. Not until the baby has been delivered from your womb do you confront the reality in all of its finality.

This grief can also be true for women who have elected to have an abortion after learning that their baby has a genetic disease or abnormality incompatible with life. When the pregnancy finally ends, you may then experience some measure of relief that the questions clouding your mind are finally answered, but sadness becomes a reality. Doubt about having had an abortion can also creep in and delay, hamper or arrest the complete healing process. While you might be able to fully mourn your loss, you may never recover from the negative effects of your decision. ‘What ifs’ and nagging guilt may plague you for decades.

When the profound horror of your loss slams into you with full, unrelenting force, knocking the emotional and physical wind out of you, you are experiencing acute grief. Your pain consumes every part of you. Nightmares and uncontrollable crying may leave you frightened and exhausted. Insomnia, extreme fatigue, digestive problems, panic attacks, throat tightness, low stress level, and difficult breathing are common complaints and occurrences.

Concentrating on even the simplest tasks may seem impossible. Energy—for doing anything, including getting out of bed—will be in short supply. You may accuse yourself of being a complete failure, particularly if you’ve experienced more than one pregnancy ending in the death of your baby, wondering why you can’t have children like other women.  

Wanting to die to escape your pain and join your baby in heaven can sneak into your mind in this stage too. That seems so much simpler and more appealing than staying here and dying emotionally. Share your thoughts with friends; join a grief group. Get counseling. It helps just to talk and let someone else know how you’re feeling. Keeping your painful thoughts buried can hamper the healing process and exacerbate these feelings.

This is also the stage where you find yourself becoming more protective of your family and other children, disallowing their participation in activities you feel are unsafe. You have become acutely aware of life’s fragility and entered an overprotective state. You may become increasingly anxious about being away from your other children or letting them do ‘normal’ activities without you. You may need to battle this tendency for years, or the rest of your life. Your heart knows how paralyzing, debilitating and gut-wrenching death and loss can be, and you are terrified of going there again. In fact, you’ll do everything possible to make sure you don’t have to walk that dark path another time.

When I learned that my cousin was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer several years ago, I sat down and wept, both for her and for my aunt. But, honestly, I think I wept more for my aunt since she’d probably be walking the same dark, painful path of losing a child—one more time. Her oldest son died in a tragic car accident almost thirty years earlier, while in college. It was devastating for the entire family. My aunt had a difficult time grieving and healing. How would she handle another loss? Miraculously, both she and my cousin came to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ during that time. While my aunt’s pain after my cousin’s death was deep and somewhat debilitating, her new faith—and a godly neighbor—sustained her and continue to sustain her.

At this point you need to remember Who is in control, of your life and everyone else’s. You need to pray without ceasing for extra measures of faith. You need to remind yourself of your ultimate, eternal hope, that this life is not the end of the road, and that, if you are a believer in Christ, the best is yet to come.

There are still times when I hold the urn containing Victoria’s remains and allow not only my heart and mind, but also my entire body to be transported back to that horrible day and time of grief. I cry and relive the agony, guilt, and blame again. To wrestle myself from that, I remind myself that God loved Victoria, and loves my husband and children, more than I ever could; and that I will one day be reunited with my precious girl. I look forward to and rejoice over that future time: when I will spend eternity with her in a place void of tears, fears or pain. It quiets my heart and mind and brings renewed joy to my soul. And while it may seem like a very long time before that happens for me, it really isn’t. Knowing and reminding myself of that puts this present life and age in perspective. I’ll get to spend eternity getting to know Victoria! And eternity is an awfully long time.


There are several other unique stages to pregnancy loss that I want to expound upon or cover: guilt and blame, searching and yearning for your baby, and jealousy. We’ll look at those next week.

Until then, thanks for joining me!  



(Reference: A Silent Sorrow: Pregnancy Loss, by Ingrid Kohn, MSW and Perry-Lynn Moffitt, with Isabelle A. Wilkins, MD; 1992.)