As I recall the immense physical pain my body withstood the night I went into premature labour, the rest that the Universe never allowed my body to have after giving birth, the milk that filled my breasts after my baby died and the emotional blur of saying goodbye, one thought stays pinned to the front of my conscious mind; my baby’s father is hurting too.
Any woman who has been through a stillbirth or a neonatal death will understand the immense physical, emotional and mental strain that this event has on the mind, body and soul in the hours, days and weeks following this tragedy. It’s hard to explain in words, but as I tried to talk through it with a friend today, I tried to describe how after birth, allowing your body to rest and recover was a vital aspect to post birth recovery. This allows you to have a more comfortable hold on the next stage of hormone levels dropping, which if not fully supported by your surrounding environment (friends, family, living situation, support groups etc), can have a detrimental effect on your health and wellbeing (this is my own personal, raving opinion and in no way medically tested).
Now, in reference to the women who have had a still birth or a neonatal death, the ‘rest’ stage never occurs and the emotional stage is heightened which means; 1) she is unlikely to grieve properly until she has healed physically from giving birth, 2) dealing with the grief of losing a child, mixed with processing the physical effect of labour and birth can only be likened to riding the ‘Lethal Weapon’ ride non stop at Movie World, Australia; A long, curving, wind blowing, neck cracking rush of every single bloody emotional feeling surfacing that you could possibly imagine – all while your feet dangle helplessly below. Please don’t tell a woman going through this how she might think or feel. Only she knows these things and it’s up to her to share them with you, not for you to tell her what you might think.
But, this is just what the women go through. What about the men? what about the Dads? They’ve lost a son or a daughter too. It could have been their first child, second child or their third child. They don’t go through the physical and emotional aspects of birth as women do, but have you ever watched someone you love go through so much physical pain as that of the labour process? Have you ever sat outside an operating theatre and just waited? Have you ever felt bottomlessly helpless ?
In Nicola Millen-Clender’s book, Life after baby loss, she writes “often when a baby dies, everyone asks how the mother is doing and forgets the father”. Two people are equally important in their own right, when the loss of a baby occurs and both will grieve differently (remember; men are from mars and women are from venus). Millen-Clender continues to say “not having the memories of kicks, hiccups and movements you may feel like you have fewer memories to keep you going. You may have seen him on a scan but you may have only met him at delivery whereas his mother has carried him and nurtured him and has these memories to help keep her going. What has been taken from you is a future with this child”. It’s important and natural for both parties to focus on their own personal healing (as individually, they are the only one who knows themselves so well) and connect together with their partner when time presents calm and peaceful moments. Only in the moments of peace and calmness will you be able to grieve properly over what you have both lost.
14 days after I gave birth, 12 days after I lost my son, my hips continue to nudge me with phantom pains as if to remind me of what I am slowly gaining, not what I have so suddenly lost.
- Miller-Clendon, N. (2003). Life after baby loss. Auckland, NZ: Tandem Press.