My husband and I lost our daughter, Olivia Jo, on May 12, 2018. She was my first pregnancy and our first child. After receiving her fatal diagnosis at 20 week’s gestation, we were forced to choose when she would pass away – either by scheduled induction or letting my body begin to labor when it was ready.
Regardless of what we chose, she would be stillborn.
Most parents find the thought of stillbirth so painful they choose not to let their mind wander to the possibility of it. According to the March of Dimes, stillbirth affects about 1 in 160 pregnancies each year in the United States. Although there are notable risk factors, we don’t always know why stillbirth affects certain families more than others. Our family fell under the “unknown” category with Olivia’s diagnosis, and it was the inability to point a finger at a specific reason that made it particularly difficult to comprehend and accept.
Grieving the Loss of A Child
In the death of our daughter, I learned grieving is a deeply personal experience, and although I’d lost loved ones before, grieving an unborn baby felt fundamentally different. Instead of reminiscing on memories we shared, I grieved the memories we should have made. All the dance recitals and family vacations. Combing her freshly out-of-the-tub hair before bed. The pitter patter of feet running down the hallway and late-night cuddles after a bad dream. I also grieved the loss of my life as a new mother. Celebrating Olivia with a baby shower, the birthing and breastfeeding classes I’d already enrolled in, taking maternity leave, and afternoon walks with her snoozing in the stroller. I even grieved the birth I hoped to experience, leaving the hospital with birth trauma instead. The deafening silence in our hospital room immediately following her delivery is a sound I will never un-hear.
Other parts of grieving were familiar, although it did not make them any easier to manage. The gigantic tidal waves of sadness hit me hard in the beginning months, while other intense emotions like denial, fear, anger, shame, guilt, and embarrassment followed closely behind. Some emotions stuck around longer than others, and I found some harder to manage than others, too. If I’m honest, it was all so painful, I had difficulty believing it was actually happening to us.
Ways to Help Yourself Grieve
I certainly don’t have all the answers when it comes to grieving the loss of a child. I do, however, have a few suggestions that may take the edge off, even if ever so slightly. Please keep in mind they may not be for everyone, as each loss and grieving experience is unique.
Fill up free time with things that bring comfort and peace. For me, it was hot baths, making (or ordering) favorite foods, long walks with my husband, and journaling.
Purchase or make something special in honor of your child. My husband and I named Olivia after the street we lived on, Olivia Drive. After her death, we commissioned a painting of our home in her memory. Looking at it every day brings us comfort, but of course, art is only one idea. Some will plant a new bush or tree in their garden, while others purchase birthstone jewelry. It can be anything, as long as it is special to you and resonates with the child you’re grieving.
Speak your baby’s name as much or as little as you please, and don’t apologize for it. If it feels good to talk about your child, tell a close friend to purposely ask you about them regularly. If it’s just too painful, gift yourself the understanding and grace to be ok with that, as well. Your child knows you love and miss them whether you say their name out loud or not.
Designate a safe space where you can talk to your child and grieve freely. Visiting where your child is buried is the most obvious choice, but for those who don’t have a formal gravesite, consider choosing your favorite bench at the park by your house, or under a giant tree at a nature center you love. It could even be on your closet floor with a picture of your baby or piece of clothing you bought them, which is where I occasionally find myself. What matters is that it’s a place where you can think of them and grieve for as long as necessary.
It’s now been five years since I said hello and goodbye to Olivia. As time has passed, it’s as if the open wound of my loss slowly closed up, leaving a deep scar in its place. Although my emotional pain has lessened significantly, the scar of her death will remain a part of my story forever. Of course, we all have emotional scars we cannot see, no matter the size or severity. Grieving (like a mother) has reminded me the importance of treating each other with patience, compassion, and understanding. No one escapes the harsh sting of losing someone they love, so let’s be extra gentle with each other, just in case.
If you are a grieving parent in Wichita, be sure to check out the Wave of Light event on October 15th
sponsored by Bridget’s Cradles.
Rebecca Walenz is a stay-at-home mama with her Doctor of Music in Trumpet Performance. When she’s not playing Hot Wheels with her son Jonah (4), you’ll find her teaching trumpet lessons in her private studio, DIY remodeling her home with her husband, Sam, or baking her famous sugar cookies in the kitchen.