Going through a miscarriage, the loss of a pregnancy (or infant) or getting the news you won't be able to have a child naturally can turn your life upside down. And if you're anything like me, the grief and every other feeling that comes with this devastating news/experience can hit you intensely in the beginning, then take a backseat where it remains there quietly, but to no less magnitude. For me it was as if the pain started to seep deeper inside my mind/heart/soul, little by little and unnoticed at first (or maybe I chose to ignore it), until it reared its head and felt like it had consumed me. It can do this whether you try to work through it or not I've found from my own experience! I remember sometime after our loss when I started seeing a therapist thinking and even saying to the therapist, "I'm ready to tackle this head first, just tell me what to do and how to get better and I'll do it." I figured if I followed a few pieces of her advice I'd be happy and 'normal' again. Little did I know that there is no formula, no shortcuts and no step-by-step instructions to get through loss. I found the only way to get through is just that, to live through it and do the best you can to find your way through each day, while trying to hold onto the positive pieces in your life that still exist.
I want to stress that I'm not a mental health professional or any sort of proclaimed expert. I'm not trained in grief or loss, but I do speak from the experiences I've been through personally and what I've also learned from others along the way. Looking back on where I was a year ago, here are a a few things that I learned and that I wish I'd figured out sooner:
- Take care of yourself. Translation: slow down and listen to what your body is telling you it needs. Sounds simple but for some reason this is one of the most overlooked tasks for all of us, but by far the most important in my opinion. We often get so caught up in our routines, taking care of others or all other aspects of our lives (i.e. work, bills, social functions) that we put ourselves last. This is completely backward! I've always had the habit of convincing myself, I'm fine, I can do it/I can take on more and just power through...neglecting to really stop and process if that's true and instead usually finding myself overwhelmed. But it's OKAY to NOT BE OKAY and okay to admit if you've got more on your plate than you can handle. I'm sure you've heard the saying, "You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others." When is the last time you set time aside for yourself? I bet its been too long. hat's required to take care of ones' self may be different for each of us. It could be reading a book, writing a journal entry (a.k.a. venting), taking a bath, crying your eyes out, going on a long walk, or indulging with a mani/pedi, massage, etc. Whatever it is your mind and body are longing for, make a habit of setting aside time to tend to it. Treat yourself to something that feels good; because you deserve it! And I'd recommend taking some time to be in a quiet, peaceful environment, where you can open your mind, and listen to what your heart tells you. There are no wrong answers, thoughts or feelings here.
- Confront your feelings, then try to process them or find a way to express them. Also a difficult thing to do, since acknowledging your feelings will most likely lead to actually feeling them. But I believe that that's the only way to start healing the wound and working your way through this dark cloud you may feel like you're in. If you're comfortable, talk to someone who's a good listener...emphasis on the listening part. Find a counselor, therapist or perhaps a support group of women who have been through similar situations to what you have. To me there’s nothing better than finding someone who understands first hand what you’re going through that you can connect with in ways others just haven’t been able to help or relate to you. And again from experience, I found that many of the people I'm closest to in my life, including my husband, usually couldn't relate to what I was feeling and either had no idea what to say or said things they thought would help that felt more like they were trying to "fix" me or make the pain go away--which they aren't capable of doing. Or, if sharing your feelings is totally out of your comfort zone, find another way to release all the pent up stress and/or sadness you’re carrying around. Maybe exercise or writing down everything going through your head would help. Just don’t keep all your feelings to yourself, where they can get bottled up.
- De-stress and de-clutter . Get rid of the negative (people, things, thoughts) and make room to let in more positive ones. Take this as an opportunity to look at what may be working in your life and what really isn't. Have a friend or family member who is more of a hindrance than a help? Take a step back from your relationship and give it some room to breath, a break or if it's really not a healthy one, consider moving on without it. Been miserable at your job for months/years? Why not find a new one? Or better yet, take a brief hiatus from work, either a few days/ a week of vacation or a more permanent step, like putting in your official notice, to give yourself time to rest, recharge and reevaluate what should be next for you. Maybe it's time for you to reinvent your life in ways you can control and find something for work or a hobby that your more passionate about. I realize this can be risky, scary, unfeasible (in some cases) or all of the above, but there has to be something you can change in your life that will alleviate some stress and allow you to focus on improving your quality of life. Life is too short to not keep your health and happiness at the forefront.
- Keep living your life and doing things you enjoy. I made the mistake of trapping myself into thinking I couldn’t plan a trip (especially anywhere Zika could be) or find a new job because “by then I may be pregnant” or something along those lines. This tendency to stay in the same routine and not go after something better or take that trip I'd been wanting (needing) potentially held me back from making progress. Have you had something on your to do list for months but been putting it off? Make a plan to put that task in action. Try something new or dig deeper into one of your hobbies or passions. Whether photography, yoga/fitness, writing, traveling, etc. As difficult as it is to be at peace with not having your lifelong plans and dreams actualized, there may not be anything you can do to change what's happened or happening--or maybe you've already done everything you can do to try. The circumstances are most likely out of your control, whether you think about it constantly (obsessively in my case) or not. I'm not in any way trying to say "just relax" or "stop thinking about it", because that didn't work for me and I know that's just not how it works. But I do think if you try to redirect some of that energy into something else that's constructive, it can give you some relief...and maybe even some moments of peace, even if it's purely from distraction. Try to take the focus off of what you don’t have (a baby or pregnancy, YET) And concentrate on what you do have and what you can do to enjoy your life right this moment. For me that meant making a career change and starting a holistic health and wellness regimen that, although challenging, was the best thing I ever did. It wasn't easy and I faced some plenty of weird looks and awkward convo's with people when I told them I was leaving my job without another one lined up, but it was worth every bit of that to feel the healthiest and strongest I've ever felt. **Remember though, it's okay to have bad days and times when you're not up for doing things you used to. Don't push yourself to do something that doesn't feel right or to take on more than you can handle. If you're hesitant to say yes to something, ask yourself what you think is giving you pause, and decide what's the best decision for you.**
- Try to accept what's happened and make peace with your circumstances. This is probably by far the hardest thing to do. No doubt it is easier said than done, and also not something that will happen for most until after a significant of time has passed, and the wounds have begun to heal. It doesn't mean you have to be okay with what happened or give up on your lifelong dream of having a baby, starting a family. But it does mean to try to accept that you can't change what has happened, you can't go back and undo or redo anything to change the outcome of your situation. And you should try to let go of any feelings it was your fault. I was so fixated on getting pregnant, I pretty much convinced myself that was the only way I'd ever be happy again. I would stress about whether or not I could even get pregnant again and torture myself over why it wasn’t happening for me while it (seemed it) was for everyone else. For months it was on my mind much of the day, every day. Again, I would never tell anyone to just relax and stop thinking about it, since that's the last thing that will help. But I would say that trying out some of the things I've mentioned, like reflecting on your circumstances and come up with a new plan of action or taking something else off your plate that could be weighing you down, can alleviate a small part of your unhappiness and potentially allow you to feel lighter or fill that space with something else that makes you feel a little more hopeful and life feel more manageable. One thing we did to help make peace with our loss was finding ways to acknowledge Elle Jay and keep her memory alive, such as talking about her and to her in prayers, acknowledging and celebrating times she would be heavy on our mind (like her due date and the day she was born) and looking into planting a tree in her memory.
- And lastly, know that things are going to get better...eventually. It can be hard to see your way out of a dark and lonely place while you're in the middle of it. But knowing you are not alone and there is help out there if you need it can bring a lot of comfort and hope to your situation. And while "someday" may seem so far away, every day that passes -makes you a little bit stronger (hey- you survived another day!) and brings you one day closer to feeling like the happier version of yourself you once knew.
I hope you've found at least one thing in this post to be helpful to you. And as I've mentioned before, feel free to reach out if you're interested in finding support through a group or share this with someone who you feel may find it helpful. Wishing you all a holiday season filled with love, light and laughter and hoping we can all go into a this new year with a positive mindset!