Today I would be 20 weeks pregnant. We lost our baby at exactly 10 weeks. I have now been "unpregnant" longer than I was pregnant, and almost double the time that I knew I was pregnant. But grieving is not a number's game. I wish there were a formula:
2x = y, where x is the amount of time you were pregnant and y is the amount of time it takes to heal
But it's not so tidy. And while time certainly will help the healing process, the amount of time doesn't necessarily relate to anything. Not the age of your baby at death. Not the time you knew about him/her. There is no general timeline, although there seems to be a basic pattern. It takes some people longer than others to go through each stage. And, from what I hear, it's more of a spiral pattern, in which you've felt like you've already passed through a stage and find yourself back in the same place, only each time it's (hopefully) a little shorter, a little less painful than it was before.
If you know someone who is suffering a loss, and not even specifically a pregnancy loss, I found these words from Kathleen Olowin, in her book Angels in My Heart, to be especially helpful in understanding the needs of the grieving:
The first stage of grief...is one of disbelief and follows the initial learning of the loss. Most often it is felt as emotional numbness or "shock". This is nature's way of making us go on autopilot for the first few days or weeks after a loss...This is usually the phase in which we receive the most support. People call, offer to bring meals, ask how we are doing. It is assumed that the person is in an active phase of grieving and needs support. In reality, however, the person is feeling numb, unable to really begin to process the emotional factors that are yet to come. When asked, they will answer that they can't think of anything someone else can do to help...This stage, unfortunately, often wears off at the point at which society expects people to begin to adjust and move on. (Olowin 2009, 133-134.)
Last week, I shared my "Grief To-Do List", a list of things that friends and family could refer to if they wanted to help during this time which continues to be difficult. In part, I wrote this list to let people know that two months after my miscarriage, I would still greatly benefit from the support of others. And that if these things would help me, most likely the women they know (or will someday know) who have experienced a loss have similar needs. If you know someone who had a loss a few months, or even years, ago, maybe it's time to check up on her and see if there is anything you can do.
On that post, one commenter wrote:
I never had any expectations of the people around me when I miscarried, especially the third time around. I knew that I would hear comments that were insensitive and that most people could not and would not understand the pain of such a loss (I already had 4 children). I guess that is why I put up a wall around myself. We have no family here in town, so I knew that I had the other kids and all of my motherly duties to attend to. I, for the longest time, forced myself to do what I had to do for the kids and my husband. With time, my duties got easier and I could feel joy. At some point, I knew that I had to decide for myself that I could not mourn forever (I am not saying that you should not mourn)...
Oh, how my heart broke at that comment. But it makes an important point. However much the support of others may help, it is ultimately up to the mourner to find a place of healing. At first, I was very hurt when friends and family said hurtful things or, perhaps even worse, said nothing at all. Not just hurt, but angry, very angry. Why didn't they see my hurt? Why didn't they want to help? Why were they so callous and cold? But with a little more time, I've realized that they simply didn't know what to do or say. Did I know what to do or say before my miscarriage? I honestly don't know, because (to my knowledge) I haven't had a close friend or family member experience a miscarriage during my adult years.
But I did have many family and friends that were supportive. We did receive meals and packages in the mail and kind words and innumerable prayers, many of them from blog readers or online friends who I've never met. What a blessing! What a comfort! But as the comment above addresses, it's really up to me to find healing - to give myself the space and ability to grieve, to find ways to bring myself comfort. Even if family and friends said and did all the right things, I would still have much "interior work" to do. And if I had absolutely no support, not a single person who showed me love and compassion, I would still be able to heal. It would certainly be more difficult to go it alone, but we have inside us the ability to heal, to move along the continuum of grieve and find a place where were "could feel joy". Much of this more personal grieving I have been able to do together with my husband, but there are some pieces that are just between me and God.
Sometime soon, I'll be sharing what helped me find some peace and move along the grieving process. If you have experienced a pregnancy loss yourself, I would like to include the things that you have done that have brought you peace. If you would like to contribute, leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you leave a comment below, I will use the name (and blog link if your commenting account is linked to one) to attribute your quote, but if you would like to me to attribute it otherwise or leave it anonymous, do let me know.