The First Four Weeks
A little bit of a flash back here but I thought it might be useful for anyone who is at the beginning of their baby loss journey.
I won’t sugar coat this, the first four weeks after your baby has died are sheer hell. There is no other way to describe it. Unless you’re extremely unfortunate, your baby dying is likely to be the worst thing that has ever happened to you and therefore, those first four weeks are literally the worst weeks of your whole life. Cheerful post eh.
I am writing about them because they were, in my experience anyway, the lowest point and things did get slightly better after the first 4-6 weeks. Here I found myself, catapulted into some parallel universe where the paradox of what should have been the happiest moments of my life quickly became my worst. I look back and don’t even know how I managed to breathe sometimes.
I always say to anyone who I speak to who has recently suffered the loss of their baby, in those early weeks take things an hour at a time, day by day is just far too much of a hurdle and you just need to focus on getting through each hour as it comes. Do whatever you need to do to survive. Cry, scream, shout, sit silently staring at the wall, immerse yourself in brain numbingly stupid trash TV (Real Housewives I’m talking about you), whatever it is, do it.
The first week is very surreal. I found myself in shock not really believing that Billy had died. Not helped by the fact that for the first week I would dream most nights that he was alive, it was all a bad dream and my son hadn’t really died. I had a recurring dream where my husband would be greeting me from my anaesthetic saying “Han, he’s ok, come see him” and it was utterly brutal waking up from that and being hit with the reality that, no, your baby really did die. Even now, if I dream that Billy is alive, I know I am going to have a really shit day the minute I wake up because the heartbreak of having to face up to it all over again when there was a glimmer of him being alive is just a cruel blow.
Then of course there are the heart-breaking tasks of registering your baby’s death and arranging a funeral for your child. Two things no parent should ever have to do. But somehow you just have to find the strength to do them. The registering of the death is a legal requirement for one thing and going to prison on top of losing my baby just didn’t really appeal to me. So fresh from my C section, I managed to hobble through Manchester City Centre to complete the unthinkable task of registering our son’s death. I think that was the hardest thing we have ever had to do in our lives, so much harder than the funeral, I don’t know why but it was just a real low point. Not helped by the fact that on the way home I saw two of the mothers from my yoga group pushing their newborns in their prams. Awesome timing. World, why must you mock me?!
Another cruelty of those early weeks is the physical trauma your body seems to put you through. I was plagued by phantom kicks and was constantly touching my empty stomach in the hope that he was still in there - well if he isn’t in my arms, he must still be in my stomach right? This faded over time, along with the waking up in the night thinking I could hear a baby crying or looking for his little crib. It was a very dark few weeks going through all of this, it really did feel like I was in a horror film at times.
In those early weeks, the minutes merge into hours, the days become weeks and time seems to stand still yet speed on by so quickly. It feels like the world is spinning around you and you are trapped in this little bubble of misery. Your phone never stops pinging and the love and support you receive from friends and family offers some comfort. I was never out of my husband’s arms in that first month, we were each other’s rock and I am so thankful that we pulled together and not apart as I know can be the case for so many couples. Grief and especially the grief of your baby dying is a complex thing and there is no right or wrong way to handle this.
We talked about how we felt constantly and very early on agreed that we wanted to do something so that his life would not be in vain. But for now, the social media accounts were switched off, we kept ourselves locked into a tight bubble where only immediate family were allowed in (with the exception of extensive WhatsApping with our dear besties, without whom we wouldn’t have got through those early weeks) but it was a strict digital only policy. We just couldn’t face seeing anyone and it remained that way for a good couple of months.
The first four weeks go by in a blur. You’re desperate to feel better but spend most of the day in floods of tears. It never ceased to amaze me just how much I could cry. I was never much of a crier before Billy, in fact a little bit of a cold heart! Not even a tear shed at the John Lewis Christmas advert and very much from the ‘stiff upper lip, remember you’re British’ school of thought. None of my best friends would ever have seen me cry before this, but now most of them have seen my mascara and snot stained face in all its glory and that’s ok. Bottling this up is certainly not going to help.
So what advice would I give to anyone facing those horrendous early weeks? Well for a start forget about liquid eye liner and mascara! You’ll probably struggle to even force yourself to get dressed or eat. All I can say is do what feels right and put yourself first. Now is the time to be selfish and think of yourself. That is the biggest lesson I have learned throughout all of this, is that you will begin to piece yourself back together but you will be fragile and little things can trigger the biggest of meltdowns.
I completely closed down all of my social media accounts, hid any parenting and baby adverts or groups and sorry not sorry, but I muted or unfollowed people I knew had young babies or were due to give birth soon. And I still haven’t re-followed most of them. It isn’t bitterness or resentment, it is simply heartbreak triggered by the site of a little baby when yours didn’t make it and you don’t get to share your photographs. I hope that one day seeing newborn or young babies doesn’t feel like a knife going through the heart but for now, there are only a few babies that have made it into my newsfeed and I am ok with that.
I found a lot of solace from speaking with other bona fide members of the club that no one wants to join, the baby loss mamas. Through the charity SANDS I have met some wonderful women (digitally of course but I am planning on meeting up with a couple of ladies soon). The only people that truly understand what this is like and who get it. Women I have shared my darkest thoughts with, ranted with, laughed at the stupid things people have said to us (you can’t just sit and wallow in self-pity – community midwife, day 14) and just felt like ah someone actually gets it. In those early weeks this was a huge help for me.
I am four months down the line now and I still look back to those first four weeks and shudder at the thought of how we felt. The anger, disbelief, the longing to have your baby back, the physical pain for me, the chest pains from crying so much not to mention the swollen red eyes and permanent snotty nose. All I can say to anyone newly affected by baby loss is that it doesn’t really get any easier (so far anyway) but it does become less raw and you do slowly start to feel a little bit like you again. But it takes time, a lot of time. The real healing begins when the support begins to dwindle as you receive less contact over time, that’s completely normal because people can’t just keep checking in every day for the rest of your life! But this is when you can start to feel very isolated and have a lot of soul searching to do. Lean on your partner and take all available support on offer, try anything once and see if it is for you whether that is support groups, counselling, therapy, hypnosis or simply speaking to other people affected by baby loss.
It is truly the hardest road you’ll ever have to walk but you can do it because you simply have to.
Love Hannah x