Coping With Loss

Life After Loss: Colleen

Colleen recently shared the story of her recurrent pregnancy loss journey. The following is a follow-up of what her life has been like since losing her babies Quinn, Peyton, Riley and Bryn.

When Brittany reached out to ask if I would be interested in writing a follow up post about life after pregnancy loss, my first thought was that I’m not living life after pregnancy loss, but living life in the thick of it.  After losing four babies in less than a year, without a healthy pregnancy or another baby yet, loss is very much still a part of my life. In the past year, I have made it through three due dates, with our final due date coming up in a few days.  This last due date is for our baby that made it to the second trimester, the one that gave us hope we were finally out of the nightmare. We won’t be bringing home our baby to watch her grow, but instead have a teddy bear with her ashes that will always be a reminder of what could have been.

Life during/after pregnancy loss is constantly being reminded of what you’ve experienced and lost along the way. It begins with going into each new week knowing what week of your pregnancy you should be in, as you slip further and further away from your baby. You slowly begin to lose track of the specific week, but your due date is still etched into your mind. A swift punch to the gut comes with every pregnancy or birth announcement and seeing families like the one you envisioned makes the hole in your heart grow. The sweet messages and check-ins from most friends and family drift away quickly, leaving you feeling like you shouldn’t still be grieving. A friend of mine recently described wanting to have a baby (through loss and infertility) as feeling like you’re watching a revolving door that you can’t get into – everything is moving around you while you’re stuck in place.

With all of that being said,  I am still hopeful we will one day add the second baby we are dreaming of.  This road has been an extremely difficult one and I look forward to having this phase of life behind us.  I recently had surgery to remove my uterine septum, that was misdiagnosed for nearly a year after my second loss. This surgery has been the only thing for me to hold on to as we begin trying to conceive for the sixth time.  I hope and pray we found our answer, but the experiences of the past year have left me jaded and skeptical.  Pregnancy loss changes you, and I will never be the same person I was a year and a half ago.  We will be forever grateful if we are able to have another baby AND will always long for the four babies I held close to my heart but never in my arms. 

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Coping With Loss

Cheers to One Year

As I look at this list of babies gone too soon, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with how far this account has come in just one year.

I started this blog in honor of our son, Anthony, that we lost at 10 weeks and 5 days in January of 2020. Once our healing journey began after our miscarriage, my husband and I were out to lunch. I shared with him that I started writing down every detail of our experience so I wouldn’t forget it. He replied “that’s awesome. You’re great at writing and I bet it felt good to get it out on paper.” I thanked him, agreed that it was cathartic and then paused before I said:

“I don’t know why, but I have a feeling I’m going to need this someday. I have this feeling this experience, his life, our story, needs to be shared beyond just our loved ones.”

I think this was it.

It has been such an honor to share the stories of your babies for the past year. Whether they were on this earth for weeks, months, or even made it earth-side but were born sleeping; your babies matter. They matter to you, and they matter to me. The strength, courage, kindness and support you have shown inspires me everyday. It is truly a privilege to be in this community alongside each and every one of you.


I asked some of my followers to share their baby’s names to be honored on the blog. Names put directly next to each other are siblings.

We remember…

Arthur

Vanity

Hazel

Alexandra “Lexi” Grace

Everett

Yonatan

Leif

Emily

Finley and Collins

Bear

Peanut

Abigail Rose

Stella Lee

Bryce Connor

Luca & Shiloh

Josie Mae

Harvey Thomas Comfort

Carter James

Madeline Faith

Liam Rodriguez

Claire Rebekah Rose

Ríonnach

Eli King

Avery Hope Ward

Dawn and Beau

Theodore Joseph

Palmer Knox

Parker Lane

Lennox Jace

Baby S

Riley

Josie Rae

Bri + Briar

Dakota + Posie Doering

Emma

Martina

Maverick

Hoja

Jedah Rhodes

Elizabeth Ann Killion

Bear Rozance

Ione and Elara

Ava and August

Parker

Colin

Magnolia Bea, Holland Blair, Hannah Brooke

Evelyn Barbara

Michelina Mary

Rory

Beauford

Nugget

Quinn, Peyton, Riley and Bryn

Blueberry

Isaiah

Asher Frank

Rafael

Faith Davita Rose Renner

Blueberry Flores Ramirez

Brooks & Bryce

Luca Harlow Rain and Shiloh Eden Rain

Luciana

Milo Anthony

Kofi

Milo James Coe

Joie Grace

Sarvin Bhalru

Micah

Anthony.

“I carried you for every second of your life, and I will love you for every second of mine.”

~Unknown

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Coping With Loss

Life After Pregnancy Loss: Nicole

Nicole recently shared the story of her loss at 10 weeks of her baby Blueberry. This is another piece written by her of a more introspective look into her loss.

Sometimes I smash bugs, most times I try to save them. I killed a bug that was on the ceiling the other day. It was a huge, gray bug with 100 legs as long as my fingers. No idea where it came from… suddenly it was just running across the ceiling at lightning speed. I had a choice I guess, but that time I was no savior. 

Immediately after knocking it off the ceiling with a Swiffer and smacking it with my shoe, I had an intrusive thought… that bug was another bug’s baby. A mental picture, as big as a movie theater screen, of my dead, tiny 10 week baby, Blueberry, cupped in my bloody hands, froze in my brain. That bug was some bug’s baby. 

There are so many things no one ever tells you about miscarriage and pregnancy loss. Sitting in the doctor’s office on the day I found out my Blueberry no longer had a heartbeat, I thought they were giving me all the information they had as it related to miscarriage and it’s process. But no… They gave me lumps. They lumped physical pain and bleeding together as what to generally expect. They lumped together emotional pain and trauma as feeling grief. They lumped together the available methods of birthing my dead baby into 3 options. They handed me a pen, pointed to paper, said sign here, and after I did they sent me home. This is not to say I didn’t have a great medical team, because I did, but in that moment it was just their jobbut it was my reality.

My friend Sarah, a mama who lost her beautiful baby, Indie, at 17 weeks, recently had the opportunity to see a rainbow mom motivational speaker. Sarah said this speaker equated how she felt after pregnancy loss to size 72 font, colored bright red, bold, and underlined. It’s a great example because everything in my head IS size 72 font, bright red, bold, and underlined. There’s also a million exclamation points, and it’s also invisible ink. The huge red block letters that I feel like are projected over my head aren’t seen by anyone else. Some days maybe other mamas who have experienced pregnancy loss can see what’s written in this imaginary text box, but even then, miscarriage is a very isolated experience. Everyone experiences it differently, and like snowflakes, no two losses are exactly the same. 

I wanted to touch on 3 major key points that no one ever told me, but have tremendously impacted me and the slow (turtle speed slow) process of healing. There’s certainly more than only these 3, but these have been weighing heavily on me lately. I broke it into 3 parts labeled with headers. Putting accessible information out there about miscarriage and pregnancy loss is important to me… so it’s there for you to read it all, or just the parts that will quell some curiosity. Here we go. 

Smell

This part may be a little graphic for some readers, but it’s raw and it’s real. It’s apparently a normal occurrence, and something I wish I had known. So here’s the warning… feel free to skip the next 4 paragraphs if you may be a bit faint of heart (which is okay! Respect yourself and your own boundaries)! And if you find the below is happening to you after pregnancy loss, always notify your doctor so they can ensure there are no other underlying causes. 

I was bleeding ridiculously heavy and had been since I had Blueberry; changing huge pads that could have passed for diapers every hour because they were soaked through with blood and clots several inches long. And then one time when I went back into the bathroom and pulled my pants down, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I smelled like a dead, decomposing body.

I didn’t notice the smell immediately. I don’t remember noticing it the actual day that I miscarried… I think maybe the following day, or maybe even two days after, is when it became prominent. But when I say I smelled like roadkill had climbed up my vagina and laid dead there, I’m not exaggerating. One evening after I had already discovered the putrid smell emitting from myself, I was sitting next to my mama, a critical care nurse, watching a movie. She gently put her hand on my back and said “Colie, I need to tell you this, and I don’t want to upset you, but you smell like…. Dead…. Blood. Like some of my patients.” I asked Heath later if he smelled it too, and he simply nodded. The smell radiated out of every pore, and clung to my pants, shirts, and even my socks. If you went into a bathroom 15 minutes after I had left it, the pungent odor would sting your eyes.

I’m sure at least one person is wondering “wow, how bad did this dead baby look if she smelled so bad?” Blueberry didn’t look decomposed at all. Blueberry actually had a nice healthy, glossy look when my mama initially rescued him/her from the toilet. But my body had began processing Blueberry’s death 2 weeks and 4 days before I actually had Blueberry, and it seeped through all of the layers of the uterus that I would later shed heavily for nearly 2 weeks afterward.

Having previously interned in a homicide unit, and now working as a police officer, I’ve smelled more rotting human flesh in hot, sealed houses and on autopsy tables than I’d like to count. It’s a smell that’s unmistakable… it lingers in the nose, in the hair, and on clothing. It’s not something that can be described to someone who has never smelled it, and it’s a scent that stays with you forever, long after you’ve washed it out of your nose, hair, and clothes. But the fringe benefit to smelling decomposition in a professional environment is that it’s (typically) an adult stranger’s odor, and it’s NOT your own dead baby’s odor that has creeped it’s way into every orifice of your body. 

Resentment Towards Heath 

Heath is Blueberry’s dad, and my boyfriend. He’s 10 years older than me, but can run a mile and a half in 10 minutes (I can’t). He’s a former combat marine, active national guard, and a police officer in the same police department as me. He has 3 teenagers from a previous marriage, and they are with him full time. They never see their mom. All of this makes him who he is, and impacts the lense through which he sees the world. 

I always admired Heath’s dedication to his kids. I knew walking into the relationship his kids came first, and that’s the way it should be. I come from a rocky home where my father is not a good role model, and Heath’s focus on his kids was one of the (many) things that drew me to him. Although Blueberry wasn’t planned, as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I was ecstatic, and had no concerns about bringing a child into the world with him. 

When we learned Blueberry no longer had a heartbeat, Heath was more logistical than he was emotional. He wanted to know why, he wanted an in depth explanation, he wanted statistics and concrete, irrefutable evidence that this was surely happening. I, on the other hand, heard “I don’t see a heartbeat,” and I stopped listening and started sobbing. Everyone grieves in individual ways, and I know that. But immediately the difference in Heath’s and my coping mechanisms were off putting for me. Why was I crying puddles, and he had hardly shed a tear? He told me he was devastated and sad, but I couldn’t SEE his devastation and sad, so instead, I started seeing red. What I believed was his lack of emotion was infuriating me. 

I’ll expand on this more in the next section, but I temporarily left the state a week after we found out Blueberry had no heartbeat, and 4 days after I birthed Blueberry. Heath was leaving for annual training for the military during that time frame, and I didn’t want to be alone in the apartment where I had just given birth to my dead child. Understandable. 

Once in New Jersey, I had texted and called Heath about our Blueberry, and he would respond and try to be as comforting as possible. One night I was specifically speaking to him about burying Blueberry and all of the emotional pain that would come with it, and shortly after responding about burying Blueberry, he told me (for the second time that day) it was his son’s birthday. I snapped. My fingers worked just as fast as my brain as I spit back “I know. Good thing you have a living kid to have a birthday for.. my only one is dead.” It came out like venom. And while I was on a roll, f*** their mother too, who was blessed with 3 babies that she didn’t even want and never cared for. I was given 1 that I wanted in the worst way, and it was taken from me. 

It was wrong. What I said was wrong, cold, and cruel, and that’s also what the world around me felt like. Of course I wanted Heath to enjoy his son’s birthday, and I wanted his son to enjoy his birthday as well. Heath had just lost his baby too… as much as I was supposed to be Blueberry’s mama, Heath was supposed to be Blueberry’s dad. And his son lost a sibling. But no matter how far down I reached to find some feeling of guilt for what I had said, and no matter how hard I tried to be sorry, I wasn’t. At the end of the day it was Heath: 3.5, Nicole: 0.5. Just like when we’d run the mile and a half, Heath was in the lead again, with his 3 healthy kids, making a birthday cake, and finding a reason to smile. And me? I was in tears over burying my half baby, my dead baby, my only baby, in a shallow hole in my backyard. 

My anger towards Heath was displaced. Heath didn’t hurt Blueberry, Heath didn’t abandon me before, during, or after Blueberry was born, Heath didn’t harbor any anger, blame me, or yell at me for the death of his 4th child. He actually had done the opposite of all of that. Before that fateful day, he would come in from work and kiss my belly, he held my hands, wiped my tears, and rubbed my back during the agonizing 21 hours of labor I endured to birth our baby that we already knew was dead, he empathized with my grief, and assured me it was NOT my body that failed Blueberry. 

We’re okay. We’re working through our grief one day at a time, sometimes even one minute at a time. His kids are great kids. I’m looking forward to being around them again when I get back into the swing of things, but I also know it’s okay if there are days I need to stay home and let him go spend time with them on his own. Heath and I are compatible, we just handled this crisis in different ways. Our pain is shared; it’s not processed individually, it’s just processed uniquely. 

Heath, if you’re reading this, I love you baby. 

Separation Anxiety 

I’m originally from New Jersey and am now a transplant in Louisiana. My mama had coincidentally been visiting me in Louisiana, and was there when we found all of this out, was there when I actively miscarried, and there a few days after. I was going to be out of work for awhile to heal, so I decided to fly back to New Jersey with her for a change of scenery and to spend some time around my family and friends. My mama was going to be home for a few days after returning to New Jersey, and then was going to visit my sister who lives in Rhode Island for a few days. I opted not to go because too much scenery change was overstimulating. 

The night before she left for Rhode Island, I realized it was the first time in over 2 weeks I would be away from her again. And it would be the first time I’d be away from her after having Blueberry. I felt a dread filled tingle make its way down my spine and my eyes filled with tears. I found my mama in her bedroom packing her suitcase, and told her I thought I was on the brink of a separation anxiety spell because she was leaving. She hugged me and told me I probably was, and if I needed her while she was gone, I could take the train and meet them in Rhode Island. 

The morning she left for Rhode Island I woke up at 5 am to pack her suitcases into the car, and I repeated over and over in my head that I’d been living alone for over 2 years, 1,350 miles away from her in Louisiana, and had done just fine. That kind of self pep talk is usually a good indicator that I am not fine, and I was not. 

Trauma bonding is a real thing. My mama held my hand through a series of the most traumatic days of my life. She and Heath are the only two people on the Earth that will have ever seen me covered in tears, snot, and blood, as I birthed and held my dead baby. As close as I’ve always been with my mama, our relationship will forever be different now. 

There were so many things I thought I knew about miscarriage, and the reality was I knew damn near nothing. The ones plaguing me recently are the ones I discussed here; physical changes, and relationship changes, even how I felt about killing a bug. Then there’s all of the things I haven’t touched… like physical pain, clotting, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, life as a first responder after the loss of a child, guilt, fear, bitterness, and dodging the baby aisles, just to name a few. From the moment I walked out of the doctor’s office the day we found out Blueberry’s heart stopped beating, the way I saw the entire world changed. And I hate saying it that way because it’s so generalized and vague, but just in the way there is no way to describe the smell of death, there is truly no way to articulate the way in which my universe shifted after losing Blueberry. 

The biggest “lump” takeaway is grief is not linear. There are ups, there are downs, there are seconds I can laugh, minutes I’m neutral, and hours I can only cry. Losing my baby was different than losing anyone else I’ve ever loved. The grief is different, the pain is different, the ache is different. Different, different, different. I just f****** want my baby back. 

I could write forever if I really wanted to get into the nitty gritty of all of the things I’ve learned from this experience. I’m also open to questions and suggestions. The only way others will learn about the things no one tells you is if the people who have lived it start talking about it. I’ll end this with a quick note to my Blueberry:

Mama loves you Blueberry. Even if it ended the same, I’d do it all again if it meant I could hold you again, cupped in my hands just like you were, and tell you how much I love you and how much I would miss you.

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Coping With Loss

Cemetery Visit

CW: mention/image of living children, images of grave sites

Two and a half years after Anthony’s remains were buried, we finally made it to the cemetery.

Weird, right? Normally when you lose someone close to you, you’re there for their funeral.

That unfortunately wasn’t the case for us (read about this nightmare here).

When Anthony was buried, we weren’t invited. He had been buried for a month, and no one told us. We went to the cemetery shortly after we found out, and the grave wasn’t marked.

Not being able to find him in a cemetery felt oddly similar to not being able to find him on an ultrasound…

Shortly after our miscarriage and the torrential downpour of crap that followed, we moved across the state. I was newly pregnant again and while I was so grateful, I was terrified as it was. I couldn’t put myself through the pain of going there again and searching and searching for him, his only mark of existence on this earth.

So, I never went.

Until Saturday.

We made plans to visit some friends back where we used to live, where we had our miscarriage. As we set the schedule for the weekend, I just so happened to be condensing our story for another blog post and was reminded of the cemetery plot. After a quick search, I realized the cemetery was only 10 minutes away from our friend’s house. I dove deep back into my inbox to find the afterthought of an email from the cemetery with shoddy directions for the plot, complete with a half-hearted, too-little-too-late apology. I swallowed my pride and saved it, and decided it was time to go.

The day of, the reality hit me.

What if I couldn’t find the stone again?

What if they lied to placate me?

What if this sent me into a grief spiral?

Was I really going to do this to myself again? To my husband? Risk diving back into the pain and frustration of that horrific day, for what?

As quickly as those thoughts came forward, they were replaced with answers.

“to get closure”

“to see what you accomplished”

“to hold your earth-side daughter and honor your son”

“to see how far you’ve come.”

I needed to do this.

We pulled up to section 42, the “infant section.” I referred to my “map” and began to look.

We split up and walked up and down, looking at each name just like we did two years ago.

I became very aware of how small the spaces were in between the grave stones. “Smaller bodies,” I thought. I wanted to puke.

My steps quickened as I realized I wasn’t finding what I was looking for.

Again.

Just like we did (or didn’t) two years ago.

“God, I can’t do this again. Please find it for me. Buddy, please show me where you are. Please.”

Over and over.

I can’t do this again.

I can’t do this again.

Not again.

“Britt!”

I looked up to see Preston, holding our daughter, staring at the ground. I followed his gaze, and off to the side of a tree (very opposite from this stupid “map,” mind you), were four new grave stones, and one temporary one.

We found him.

I looked at the date of the first one, all the way to the left. His. January 27, 2020. Almost a month after he was taken from me. A week after I stopped calling the hospital and cemetery to see when his remains would be transferred and buried. A month shy of when I finally called again to check, and found he had been buried without notice. Without us there.

I looked at the others: July 1, 2020. January 7, 2021. July 8, 2021. And the temporary one, marked “KHN Infants” 2021-2021.

This cemetery plot was reinstated right around the time of my D & C. It was so new, it wasn’t even a check box on our paperwork, hence the miscommunication between the hospital and the cemetery. When I called in June of 2020 to check on the grave site and heard that it still wasn’t marked, I had enough. The real kicker? When I called, I found out that 15 other families were on that list. That’s 15 other families that had no idea their babies were buried. 15 other families that were promised a “ceremony” that was cancelled without notice. 15 other families without clear instructions of where the plot was located in this massive cemetery to even go to properly grieve their loss and pay their respects.

In June of 2020, I filed a complaint with the hospital network, wrote a letter and with the help of a few (read: probably around 50) friends, was able to raise enough awareness on the lack of communication and sensitivity to the matter that a team was created within the network to better bridge the gap for loss parents. They created set instructions for how loss parents could visit the site, promised to improve communication and ensured invitations for bi-annual burial ceremonies would be sent if families chose this option. These babies deserved to be acknowledged and honored. I was done with being shown otherwise.

These five grave stones were proof that Anthony’s life made a difference. His life helped others to be recognized. Without that grave stone all the way to the left, there wouldn’t be more. He made a change.

Wow, bud. Look what you did.

As I stared at those five plaques and thought of my son, I couldn’t help but feel the extra weight of the privilege in front of me; my earth-side daughter running around in the grass. Could I have ever dreamed on that awful day searching for his grave two years ago that I would find such beauty in this place?

My first baby, at peace. Acknowledged.

Other pregnancy loss babies, at peace. Acknowledged.

My second baby, here. Close to her brother always.

What a gift.

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Coping With Loss, Miscarriage

Dear Pre-Miscarriage Me,

Hey! How’s it goin’? Been a minute…almost two years to the date since we’ve been together.

I’ve been meaning to write you to see how you’ve been, but it’s been a little hectic. These two years have gone by so slowly but simultaneously have passed in the blink of an eye. “The days are long but the years are short,” they say. But we’re not really into clichés, so I’ll just cut to the chase.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I know what you’re wondering, the only thing you’ve cared about since May of this year…do we have a baby yet?

The answer is yes.

Just not the one you’re pregnant with.

I know, this is so hard to hear. I am so sincerely sorry.

I want to tell you that there wasn’t anything you could’ve done to prevent this, even though deep down, I think you already know that. Still, in the moments in the upcoming weeks when it’s easy to think “maybe if I didn’t exercise” or “maybe if I drank more water” or “maybe if I ate less gummy worms and pancakes,” the answer to “could I have changed this outcome” is, and always will be, a resounding “NO.”

I want you to know that your intuition was right; something wasn’t right. You knew all along. And that is because you have been a great mom since you saw that positive test a few weeks ago.

You’re going to go through a lot within the next two weeks. There will be a lot of miscommunication, pain, and brief moments of hope. In these brief moments, really take a second to look around you and appreciate how you have immediate access to everyone you need: Preston. Mom and Dad. Your family. Stella. You were in the right place. This isn’t a coincidence.

Some of the interactions you have within these two weeks will define the trajectory of your life for the next few years. I know, heavy stuff. We don’t need to focus on that just yet, things are heavy enough these days…(speaking of, just a heads up…might want to stock up on disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and face masks. Oh, and toilet paper. Don’t ask questions, just do it. 2020 gets weird.)

What I want to focus on is the woman you’re about to become.

I want to tell you how you started those two weeks as a woman carrying a baby but ended them as a true MOTHER. Someone who did everything she could in her power to do right by her baby. Someone who fought for answers and worried and prayed for her baby’s well-being. Someone he would be proud of. (You always thought it was a he, didn’t you? Spoiler, we stick with this and name him Anthony. Yes, like Grandpa. Cute, huh?)

I want to tell you how your strength came through. For your husband, for your family. For the baby that slowly exited your body, not wanting to let go just yet.

You didn’t want to let go either, mama. I know. I still can’t let him go even now. I’m not sure we ever will.

You’ve taken this pregnancy in stride. Your pregnancy journal, weekly bump pictures, and contact with medical professionals was all the right thing. You’ve always done the right thing.

I see the dreams you have for him slipping away as your nausea decreases. Deciding on which room to transform into a nursery. Thinking of the shelves Preston will make for his books, the onesie he’ll wear when you take him home from the hospital. The years we’ll spend celebrating his birthday at the beach because it will fall during our family beach week.

In a few days, you’re going to tell your high school friends that you’re pregnant. You’re going to give them homemade ornaments that say “the best friends get promoted to aunt” and they’ll scream and flood you with hugs. This will be the last sure announcement you give for your pregnancy. (Those friends will still hang that ornament on their trees in years to come. Not that this will surprise you, they always show up for you. I can’t wait for you to see how other people show up for you, too.)

You’ll stop feeling sick abruptly. You’ll bleed. You’ll cry. You’ll go to the ER. Doctors will make you wait and lack compassion. You’ll cry some more. And then, you’ll wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Until a week goes by.

And the waiting ends.

And so does your journey in this pregnancy.

But in this, something is born.

What begins is the mother you’ve become,

With the strength and fierce love for both of your babies;

One in your heart,

and one in your arms.

I am so, so proud of you, Britt.

So is he. And so is she.

We all love you,

Britt, December 2021

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Coping With Loss

Pregnancy Loss: A Holiday Survival Guide

Funny story.

I started to write this post in my head weeks ago. Not only had I recently experienced a holiday season after pregnancy loss, but I had actually had a miscarriage during the holidays. Who better to write about surviving the holidays after loss than someone like me?

Well, if you ask my imposter syndrome, it’ll say “not me.”

I started to doubt myself. How are you supposed to write about surviving the holidays after loss when the only way to do that is to fight tooth and nail through every moment, every event, every memory to not think about the person (or people) that you just want here?

Christmas is literally centered around children. The hope, the wonder, the anticipation. The true meaning of Christmas is centered around a baby. Christmas is essentially a holiday for children, made possible by mothers. To not think of the baby you lost is near impossible.

This is why this is a survival guide.

Sometimes you don’t cherish every moment during the holidays. You don’t lean in to being “merry and bright.” You don’t watch every movie, or receive every present on your list. Sometimes you just are present. And that’s okay.

Sometimes surviving the holidays after pregnancy loss is just that; surviving.

So if that was enough, no need to go on, dear reader. But if you could use a few more suggestions for your back pocket, this survival guide is my gift to you.

____

When your family doesn’t acknowledge your loss:

Sigh.

If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it 5,000 times:

You cannot, and will not, remind a bereaved parent of their loss.

They’re well aware. Avoiding bringing up the baby’s name, absence or sheer existence deepens the misconception that pregnancy loss should be kept silent. But I don’t need to tell you that, do I?

  • talk to your family in advance: I’m a big boundary-setting girl. Send a text ahead of time; “hey, I know everyone might feel uncomfortable talking about Jack, but I’m having a hard time without him and it helps me to talk about him. Please feel free to check in at dinner tomorrow.” They might need your lead on this one.
  • set the stage: speaking of, you might have to be the one to spearhead this conversation. Being open and truthful when people ask you how you are can give them the signal that they need to step in or even be more present.
  • give them grace: I know, not what you want to hear. If you’re close, remind yourself that they’re most likely grieving too. They might be too involved in that or simply don’t know what to say to you. I have another post on that here (maybe send it in the text in advance??).

When you see “happy families” on social media:

The quotes are there for a reason.

What you see on social is a highlight reel.

What you don’t see in McKayleigh’s “perfect” family photo is the bribery, screaming and wardrobe malfunctions between her 3 cherubic-looking children and a handful of “tiffs” (because they don’t fight, reader! They’re just so solid! He is her rock!!! I digress) with her husband in the middle of it all. Somewhere in this mass chaos, the photographer got everyone to look in the same general direction, and boom – you have a Christmas card. (Also, photoshop helps.)

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Recently, a co-worker I just met told me she was pregnant with baby number 3. Since she was so lax about sharing her 4 week old pregnancy with a borderline stranger, I quickly assumed she had the luxury of going through both of her prior pregnancies without worry.

“It’s so unfair,” I said to a friend later as I scrolled my co-worker’s Facebook, “some people just get to get pregnant and know they’ll get a baby out of it. I seriously wonder what that feels like.”

I came to find out that this co-worker indeed was not only worried about this pregnancy (honestly shameful I ever assumed otherwise – everyone worries about their pregnancies), but also had suffered a miscarriage at 7 weeks with her first. I found all of this out because she started spotting at work and confided in me.

Excuse me while I eat my words.

All this to say, if you think you know what someone is going through, you don’t. These families you see online have stories behind them you would never expect.

So when you see that Christmas card with the 3 babies and that rock-solid hubby, who knows? They might be trying for another baby, going through IVF, or reeling from a loss…just like you.

When you feel guilty celebrating the holiday without them:

I want you to think about the sweet baby you’re missing. Maybe there’s one. Maybe there’s few all hanging out together.

Now, think of these babies and how they only knew your body as their home on earth. How they were comforted by your voice and your touch because that’s all they ever knew.

Think of how much they love you just because of what I said above. (Because it’s true, mama! They’re your babies!)

Now, imagine your baby watching you refuse to enjoy these moments of happiness, especially during this time of year. You are allowed to miss them, this is 100% true.

But to stifle your own joy because you think you “shouldn’t” feel happy is an unnecessary expectation to put on yourself. Your babies love you. They want you to find joy again.

Remember them AND put up the decorations.

Remember them AND go to the holiday party.

Remember them AND get together with family. Odds are they’ll want to be remembering them too.

When you just want them here:

Cry, scream, punch pillows, throw the eggnog (jk, be careful), whatever you need. Then take a breath and find a way to make it feel like they’re here:

  • hang an ornament or a stocking in their honor: This is a great way for families to include angel babies in their traditions. I have an ornament with Anthony’s ultrasound picture and a wooden ornament with his name on it close to each other on the tree. Sometimes I’ll hold my daughter and show her the picture as we pass the tree and say hi to her brother.
  • do some good: donate to a charity in their name, do random acts of kindness, go out of your way to compliment someone; whatever it may be, spreading kindness when you feel hurt can turn your day around and hopefully turn someone else’s day around too.
  • talk to them: sounds creepy, but I promise it’s worth a shot. I talk to Anthony when I’m in the car sometimes. I fill him in on what’s going on and how much I miss him. It hurts and I usually end up crying, but I realize in the end it’s because I needed it somehow. A moment of connection with your baby and the opportunity for a little peace.

So whether you’re facing your first holiday season without your baby or your 30th, be sure to take care of yourself and give yourself space to grieve. Step out if you need to during events and know that some days will be harder than others. And if all you’re doing is surviving the last week of December, trust me when I say you are not alone.

Merry Christmas, mama.

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Coping With Loss

Trying to Conceive: A Holiday Survival Guide

You’re sitting at your family’s Christmas Eve dinner. Your red sweater covers your flat belly as you sip on a festive cocktail. Your nieces and nephews run past in their little tights and dress pants, laughing and fighting over one of their newest toys. You smile at their joy.

Enter your nosy aunt.

“So when are you going to have one of those? You’re not getting any younger, you know!”

Your stomach drops.

It’s inevitable. It’s well-meaning. But it hurts nonetheless.

What your aunt doesn’t know is that you would love for your red sweater to be sporting a baby bump, but you took a test this morning and it was negative. Again.

What your aunt doesn’t know is that even though cocktails and the holidays go together like…well…cocktails and the holidays, you would give anything for the cocktail to be a ginger ale to pair with morning sickness.

What your aunt doesn’t know is that you smiled at your nieces and nephews because you can’t wait for your own baby to join the cousin crew and share the holidays with them.

The holiday season brings so much to those trying to conceive (TTC)*. When you’re waiting for a baby, your feelings may not match the “joy” the commercials, TV specials and light displays are trying to promote.

And that’s okay.

How to survive the holidays when you’re TTC:

When people ask when you’re having a baby/having more kids:

  • if you’re feeling honest: “we’re actually trying and could use your support. Here’s how you can help…”
  • if you want to give minimal information: “great question! We’ll have to see. This is hard for me to talk about and I’m not sure I feel comfortable sharing more at this time. I’ll let you know if/when I do.”
  • if you’re feeling sassy and never want them to ask again: “thanks for asking, Karen. I just took a negative test this morning and this will make the 5th one I’ve taken so who the f*%& knows!”
    NOTE: this one isn’t recommended, but will definitely add some dramatic flair to your yuletide evening.

When you’re exhausted from the parties, gift-buying, gift-wrapping, social interactions, school parties for living children and you somehow still need to find time to do the whole “trying to conceive” part:

  • talk to your partner: set boundaries for yourself if you feel it’s all too much.
  • share the load: give your partner a list of holiday chores to take on so that you have more time to focus on your time together. Maybe he is in charge of gifts for his family or maybe he preps the Christmas cookie dough this year. Being specific can go a long way.
  • go on a date: “what?! Who has time for dates, lady?! You literally just listed everything going on and then some!”
    Right. Sounds like you deserve a date more than anyone, no?
    Drive around with hot chocolate and look at lights. Get the good movie theater popcorn and watch a movie. Go out to dinner if possible. Hold hands. Whatever! Scheduling time together and prioritizing time together makes it easier to think about baby dancing together.
  • take this month off: let me explain.
    If it makes you more anxious to temporarily take time off of TTC or treatments, don’t do it. Doing what makes you feel the most comfortable is what will work best for you, your relationship and your family, period.
    This is simply for anyone who hasn’t been told that it’s okay to take a break if it’s too much:
    It’s okay to take a break if it’s too much!

When you thought you’d be pregnant by now:

I know. It hurts.

For some reason, Christmas and the holidays carry so much. Nostalgia, hope, and as I grow older, even prior to my miscarriage, I noticed another guest that showed up:

Grief.

The holidays of your childhood get further and further away every year. People come and go and traditions change. This is heartbreaking and difficult and can show up in many different ways. Maybe you’re grieving the family dynamic you wish you had or the fact that you have to go to four Christmases because of step-families. Maybe the holidays haven’t felt the same since your grandmother got sick a few years ago, or maybe it hasn’t felt the same since you were 12.

Whatever it may be, grief already has a seat at Christmas dinner. However, you control how much or how little they get to speak up.

If you are sad because all you want is a baby for Christmas, that’s okay.

If you are hopeful because a new year is starting and it’s a clean slate, that’s okay.

If you are mourning the fact that you thought this would be “your year” for a baby, that’s okay.

Acknowledge all your feelings and hold space for them.

Make a plan to step out if something triggers you. Tell your partner in advance that you might need to take 5 minutes on the porch to breathe or skip the work party all-together.

Then, picture that bump in your red sweater, the ginger ale in hand or the sight of your little baby chasing after their cousins in years to come. And remind yourself that you are already a fantastic parent, even if you are still “in waiting.”

You can also picture yourself telling your nosy aunt to take a hike, if that makes you feel better.

May the holidays land gently for you as you wait for that “big, fat positive” under the tree.

*While TTC itself isn’t necessarily directly affiliated with pregnancy loss, I like to keep in mind the grief and waiting associated with TTC and infertility treatments. I will be sharing another post soon on navigating the holidays after loss.

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Coping With Loss

What to do (and what not to do) when someone you know loses a pregnancy

“What do I do if someone I know is having a miscarriage?”

“What do I say to my friend who just had a stillbirth?”

“My sister-in-law just lost her baby and she won’t answer my texts…what should I do?”

Every year, I answer anonymous questions on my Instagram that people have about pregnancy loss. I do this in honor of my son Anthony on his due date, July 25. For every question asked, I donate $2 to the Adalyn Rose Foundation, a non-profit that support families going through pregnancy loss.

The number one question I receive: “how can I support someone experiencing pregnancy loss?”

This is quite beautiful to me. Instead of the opportunity to be nosy about my personal experience (nothing is off limits. What can I say? I’m an open book), people choose to look inward and say “how can I do better by my friends and family?”

Speaking from experience and from what I have seen from others in this community (the community no one asked to be a part of), I’ll do my best to illustrate your options of what to do – and what not to do – if someone you know loses a pregnancy.

DO: text them

PLEASE, oh, for the love of all things, please SAY SOMETHING.

You are not reminding them of their loss. They are quite aware, and the loss hurts. And you know what else hurts? When your friends or family act like you didn’t just lose your child.

If you’re unsure where to start, try these:

  • “Hey, I heard about what you’re going through. I will never pretend to understand how you feel in this moment, but please know that I’m here for you when you’re ready to talk.”
  • “Know that I’m thinking of you and your baby. If you ever want to share more about them or your experience, I would love to listen.”
  • “I am so sorry for your loss.”
  • “Sending you love. I’d like to stop by this week if that’s okay?”

If and when they respond, you can go from there. Maybe they will want to divulge more information. Maybe they will ask to speak to you another time. Maybe they will say “thank you” and nothing else. What I can promise you is that they will not forget that you reached out.

DO NOT: stay silent

I understand that wanting to give someone space during a loss is tempting. You don’t want to overwhelm them with yet another reminder, and yes maybe they are overwhelmed. However, this loss is already so silent and isolating. It happens in 1 in 4 pregnancies, yet it still is a taboo subject, meaning birthing parents often suffer in silence. These families didn’t just lose a baby, they lost the dreams and plans that immediately spring to mind when you see those two pink lines. Just because their baby didn’t make it earth-side, doesn’t mean it’s forgotten that easily.

DO: be of service

I wanted to say “DO: send gifts” but I felt like that was missing the point.

Don’t get me wrong; many people sent us gifts after our miscarriage and they were some of the most beautiful gestures of kindness. A close friend sent me a necklace with the July birthstone on it – the month Anthony was due. Another crocheted a baby blanket (a gesture of hope) and shared a note saying she prayed for us and Anthony as she made it. My best high school girls sent me records of our favorite artists and gift cards for take out. These things meant so much and lightened the load of grief ever so slightly, and most of all, reminded me that people cared about and loved Anthony even though they had never met him.

But what I truly mean by “be of service” is showing up in person or in any way you can.

Meals

Make something and drop it off or send a gift card. Or, tell them to pick a night and restaurant and get it delivered to their house. This is my favorite because the parents can pick what they have a taste for and limit interaction, especially if they’re not ready to be with people yet.

Clean

Grief can be paralyzing. Staring at a messy house can add to stress and when you just can’t muster the energy to do something about it, it’s even more defeating. Offer to stop over and do some laundry or dishes. Please note that if you do this, don’t expect them to either a. say yes or b. open up about what happened. While this could be a good opportunity for the grieving parent(s) to share, they may not be ready. You offering to help is huge in itself and will be appreciated, no matter how big or small the contribution.

Be Present

If they have older living children, offer to babysit while the grieving parents nap or go out. If they sound like they need a friend, give them a call and offer to come over. Sometimes it takes a “I’m free Saturday at 1. Would you like some company?” or even a “I’m coming over tomorrow at 5 with dinner. Text me if you’re not available.”

Simply being present for a friend or family member going through pregnancy loss is the best gift you can give them, because your presence in their time of need says exactly what they need to hear: their baby matters.

DO NOT: overstay your welcome

If you do reach out and drop off a meal or offer a service, read the room. Do they seem like they want you to stay or do they want to be alone? Are they ready to talk about what happened or do they want a distraction? Do they have a greater need than you thought or do they actually seem to be managing (as well as one can in these circumstances)?

DO: listen and offer support

A few weeks after my miscarriage, two of my friends close by arranged a girls day for the three of us. I knew the timing was not a coincidence, but took solace in the fact that they would respect whatever boundary I set about sharing about my experience. If I kept silent, they wouldn’t push. If I wanted to talk, they would listen. I decided to take stock of my feelings once I got to my friend’s house the day of and go from there.

We sat down in her living room and something got brought up, closely related to how I was feeling postpartum. Here it was, my moment to decide. I said “guys, I feel like I just need to go through it all and tell you everything that happened.” They said “okay,” and I did.

These two amazing women – one a mother of two, one a newlywed – sat and listened to my whole story. They were silent for the most part and interjected when they knew appropriate, asking questions or calling people out that misguided us in our experience. They cried for me. They cried with me. They cried for the baby they didn’t get to meet.

This experience was so cathartic and I am grateful to them and their friendship in that moment when I needed them most.

On that note, a brief PSA:

It is not mandatory to share about your loss.

I want to be very clear: even though I fully support birthing parents and families sharing their stories in order to lessen the stigma of pregnancy loss, it’s okay to not feel comfortable talking about it, or not to talk about it ever! If someone you know who has experienced pregnancy loss feels this way, please respect that boundary but still find a way to be present for them that’s more appropriate to their situation.

DO NOT: give cookie-cutter advice that negates their feelings

Ah, well-meaning advice.

The biggest culprit of why people don’t say anything at all is because they don’t know what to say. This is fair. Grief is tough, and to be honest, kind of intimidating to talk about. Saying the wrong thing feels like adding salt to the wound which is never our intention. However, there are a lot of things that sound like good advice or the “right thing to say” when in reality, they can be twisting the knife.

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Do you really want someone who just lost a child to think that there was a reason for this to happen? Let alone a good one? Not gonna blow over well.

“It was just God’s plan.”

As someone who would consider themselves religious, I have a hard time thinking that God excites in taking children away from their parents.

Do I believe Anthony is with Jesus in heaven? Yes.

Do I now believe that there was a “reason” for the loss experience we had? I suppose, because some good is coming from it.

Would I rather have Anthony here than all of this? Abso-freakin’-lutely.

Telling a grieving parent that it was” God’s plan” to lose their child not only makes God out to be malicious (in my experience, He’s a pretty forgiving and loving guy) but also is a statement that retracts hope from future pregnancies, insinuating one child had to “sacrifice” themselves for another.

“Do you think it’s something you ate/did?”

Say it with me:

THEIR

LOSS

WAS

NOT

THEIR

FAULT.

Do I need to say it again?

Okay, I will for my loss moms:

YOUR LOSS WAS NOT YOUR FAULT.

You did not hurt your baby.

You did everything right during your pregnancy.

Nothing you could’ve done could’ve saved your baby – because if there was something, you would’ve done it. You’re a mom.

End of discussion. Next.

“At least” statements like “at least you were only ____ far along,” or “at least you can drink again!”

“At least” means nothing. We would give anything to feel sick again, to not be able to drink or eat lunchmeat, to have our bellies growing and expanding over missing our babies.

It is gut-wrenching no matter if they were 4 weeks along or 40 weeks, and no loss is “worse” or “easier” than any other (more on that in a later post). A loss is a loss.

DO: remember their baby

Remember anniversaries/birth/due dates as if it were an earth-side baby

My friends and family call and text me on Anthony’s due date. While he’s not here physically, it feels like he had a greater impact with a tangible day to celebrate him and all that he means to me.

Say their baby’s name (if they named them)

If they decided to name their baby, use it. It’s not a bad word. Saying their name also says “your baby was here, they were real.”

Another brief PSA: it is not a requirement to name your baby. Ask the parents what they call their baby, if anything. Again, follow their lead.

Acknowledge their pregnancy

If they have living children as well as a loss (or multiple losses), ask about all of their pregnancies. Pregnancies that end in loss still can be perfectly “normal” and have the typical symptoms that birthing parents love to compare (“were you sick? Oh, I was MISERABLE with my first…my second not so much” etc.) While both of my pregnancies felt similar to start, my cravings were different in both. I always like to share that when discussing my pregnancies, but never know how much is too much for someone else to handle. Acknowledging each of their pregnancies includes their angel babies in the conversation, creating a safe space for sharing.

Check in

Grief doesn’t end after a few weeks.

Check in a few weeks after. And a few months. And a few years. And maybe a few weeks after a few years. Get where I’m going with this? Grief is ever-evolving and shows itself in the strangest (and sometimes terrifyingly unexpected) ways, especially after the shock starts to fade and reality sets in. Bereaved parents may need you long after the dark days of their loss.

The bereaved parent you know may have been great yesterday but saw something on TV that made them think of their baby today.

They may be pregnant after loss months later, yet are still afraid to use the restroom in fear they’ll see blood again.

Their angel baby should be 22 this year but they had a dream about them and imagined what they would have become.

Dropping in with a text, phone call or even a letter or a card every once in awhile could be just what they need to continue to cope on a daily basis.

Read the room; follow their lead on how much they want to share

Everyone grieves differently. This advice is not one-size-fits-all. Some people choose not speak of their loss at all. Some are open books. Some need time. Wherever your loved one is, meet them there. Come from a place of love and support and you can’t go wrong. Above all, say something. The “wrong thing” can be forgotten, but the thing that hurts the most is when nothing is said at all.

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