2016 will always be the year that we lost our third child. We have two healthy little girls, and had never experienced any type of fertility problems before. There was always a little bit of pride in me that I had regular fertility patterns and could have a baby whenever I wanted. And then the inevitable happened. The one thing that I had heard about and had seen my friends go through but never thought would happen to me. I lost a baby.
I had an ectopic pregnancy. A rare, life-threatening occurrence that was the last thing on my mind when I saw that positive plus sign on Mother’s Day. Even the doctors didn’t think it was anything to worry about at first, but the cramping kept getting worse and when I went to the ER for testing I was already internally bleeding. They did not let me leave after the ultrasound confirmed the worst. I was rushed right into surgery, my first surgery ever, while my husband was at home with the kids, trying to stay calm and find a babysitter so he could come be with me. I didn’t get to see him before the surgery; there wasn’t time, but I did see a priest who gave me the anointing of the sick and the scariest night of my life was suddenly filled with God’s peace. After the surgery, my husband met me in my hospital room and I was fine. I was going to recover one hundred percent over the next few weeks and was able to leave early the next morning to return home and resume my life as a wife and mom.
But my baby was gone. My baby IS gone.
The finality of those words still slices me like a knife and the daze of recovering and sorting through the emotions continues to be life-changing. My life will never be the same after the most terrible experience I ever had. I live with a hollow womb that should have been expanding with a growing life, but instead holds half of a reproductive system and lasting surgery scars. I take care of my two living children, knowing that the third will always be missing and wondering who he or she might have been. I don’t think the grief is ever going to completely go away. Yet, I’ve encountered a profound peace and acceptance through it all, beginning with the comforting words of the priest who anointed me in that emergency room. God has showed me His love in this cross through the people and resources around me and for that I am so grateful.
Whether you have had a miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or an infant death, it is a terrible cross for a parent to experience. Here are some ways that have helped me cope with the loss of my baby that I would like to share with you:
The first and foremost way to cope with the loss of a baby is to pray. Pray for acceptance, pray for grace, pray for comfort. God is with you and He will NOT abandon you in your pain, even though it may seem that way. Talking to a priest or a spiritual director about all the emotional turmoil you are experiencing can be a huge blessing as well, since God speaks to us through His instruments and priests often just KNOW exactly what to say to comfort someone in grief. I reached out through email to our closest priests friends after my experience and their words were so consoling and uplifting. I found this amazing Miscarriage Prayer by Mother Angelica that brought me so much comfort in the immediate weeks following the loss of my child and I saved it to pray and reflect on from time to time.
2. Share Your Grief
As soon as I knew we were losing the baby and that I had to have emergency surgery to save my life, I started texting our close circle of friends to ask for their prayers while my husband called and told our immediate families. From there, the word spread and suddenly we had not just a few people praying for us but dozens! As I recovered, I also sent out emails to inform my extended relatives, my moms’ group and my playgroup because I felt I needed community support. The offers of meals, babysitting, prayers and sympathy that came pouring in was truly astounding to me. It seemed helpful to send out the hard information electronically so that the next time I saw people they already knew what had happened and they could offer comfort without me awkwardly trying to explain what I was going through. Sharing the most traumatic event of my life and being able to talk about it with sympathetic friends really benefited my grief recovery. It also seemed to benefit others as it gave them a chance to share that they too had lost a child and knew what I was experiencing. Miscarriage is a much more common occurrence that I had realized and there is consolation in realizing that we can be united with others in our grief.
3. Name Your Child
We came up with a name within 24 hours of losing our baby and I am so glad we did. It is heartwarming to hear people calling your lost baby by name and to acknowledge that there is a little soul praying for you in Heaven. We named our baby Austin Mercy and now whenever I think of the name, I associate it with God’s ocean of mercy in this Jubilee Year of Mercy! My husband picked out Austin as a first name since it could be a girl or a boy, and it was only later that I realized the name Austin is derived from Augustine! So on August 28th, we will be celebrating our baby’s feast day: the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo. Now we not only have a little intercessor in Heaven, but we have another great saint to add to our family’s personal patrons!
4. Write Out Your Sorrow
Maybe it’s just because I blog and I’m used to writing about what is happening in my life, but writing down the sorrow after losing my baby has been very comforting, freeing and therapeutic. About a week after it all had happened and I had a little quiet time to sort through the terrible event, I wrote a letter to my baby. I poured out all my emotions and thoughts about the whole experience and I cried. I cried through the entire letter and when it was finished, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders because all the scattered, blurry feelings in my heart were now recorded on the page and somehow I could take a deep breath again. You can find the letter here.
5. Remember Your Baby
I think it is so important in the grieving process to keep talking about your baby, praying to your baby and honoring his or her life. That baby is part of your family and if you have other children, they can grow up being aware that they have a sibling in Heaven and can pray to that sibling as an intercessor. I bought a customized name plaque from a Catholic mom on Etsy: Sweet Little Ones Shop to honor our baby in our home. We include “Austin Mercy, pray for us” in night prayers with our children or in our litany of saints at the end of our family rosary. I am also planning to put together a scrapbook of the few short weeks of Austin’s life on earth, with comforting quotes, prayers cards and all the sympathy notes we received after the loss. If you don’t have a gravesite for your baby or even if you do, there is a Shrine of the Holy Innocents that keeps a book of names to remember babies who have died. They offer Mass at the shrine once a month for all the babies and their families. All you do is fill out a little form on their website and you have an automatic Mass being lifted up for you monthly!
6. Be Grateful
God has a plan in the midst of pain and He is loving your through your suffering. For me at least, I realized how many blessings He was pouring down on me during the most traumatic time of my life and that realization has made me so in awe of His goodness. For one thing, He allowed me to live and continue to be here for my husband and young daughters, as I could have easily died from the ectopic pregnancy if we had caught it too late. The grieving experience has made me depend more on Him and on others and has opened my eyes to how much I am loved. I am taking my children for granted less and focusing more on loving them while they are here with me, because just like that, one of them is gone. I am now able to be empathetic in the grief of others who have lost a child or who struggle with infertility. I am more thankful for my own fertility and less prideful about the ability to have babies whenever I want, because as I found out this year, that is simply not true. Nothing is guaranteed except God’s unending love, so whatever cross you are bearing right now, lean on His love, appreciate your blessings and He will carry you through! Know that if you are going through something similar to my story, you have my prayers and if you ever want to share about your grief, I am here. You may visit my blog at Lovely Little Lives.
What are some strategies that have helped you cope with grief in your life?
Copyright 2016 Hannah Christensen