Grieving can feel like a chaotic mess. One minute I’m “fine”, or at least maybe treading water. The next, I am overwhelmed and sobbing. I plunge into deep black holes. Time becomes elastic. I scrap my way into coherence. I have conversations, I respond to emails. I do life. But inside grief seems to be in charge.
Developing strategies to make sense of grief is an important step in healing. It might seem impossible to make grief make sense. Grief demands to be expressed in order to be organized. It might feel risky to give voice to something that feels so out of control. But leaning in to grief gives it its voice. And if it can speak, it will tell you what you need to know in ways you cannot predict.
When an experience is trapped inside with nowhere to go, it wreaks havoc with our sense of order. If we can externalize the experience we can begin to turn in over in our hands and see how it’s made. We can understand it more fully. It can take on its own form for us to interact with.
This is especially important for women who have experienced pregnancy loss, and in particular if there is no physical baby to see. Sometimes the baby is reabsorbed by the body. Sometimes we miscarry and don’t have the opportunity to look at the fetus. Sometimes the products of conception are indistinguishable from everything else. There is a missing experience in the observation of your baby. This can be a key component in healing around miscarriage– collecting evidence that your baby existed in a concrete way affirms and organizes your relationship to that child.
Creating a Baby Book for your Child
In order to begin this process, collect all the “artifacts” from the pregnancy– all the items that serve of evidence of your baby’s life. Receipts from doctor’s visits, sonogram pictures, greeting cards/emails/texts received from loved ones about your pregnancy, poetry or journal entries you may have made regarding your pregnancy or the loss of it. Include any projects you started related to the baby. Did you start knitting a baby hat? Were you looking online at baby carriers? Print the models out that you were looking at. Collect anything and everything related to your pregnancy or your miscarriage. If you lost the baby early in the pregnancy, it’s important to cast a wide net to include everything related to him or her. If your child passed away later in the pregnancy, you may have pictures of him or her with you, your partner, or his/her siblings. You may have a passage from a book you read to him or her after their birth that is especially meaningful to you.
If your miscarriage was long ago and you not longer have access to some of those “artifacts,” you can still create a baby book. You can write poetry, journal, write letters, and even recreate those items that you would have liked to have had– you can even create your own sonogram by drawing it with charcoal, or collage together an image of where you are now with your loss.
Depending on how crafty you are, you can create your own book or purchase a baby book to begin to organize these items. It is this act of creating and organizing that is so powerful. Acknowledging what your experience is and ordering it in a way that makes sense to you creates a form to interact with regarding your loss. You can return to this book as many times as you need, and add to it as much as you like. It may be especially useful to look through the baby book around those anniversary times– the baby’s due date, the day of the baby’s birth through miscarriage, the date that you told your family and friends you were expecting a baby, or the day you learned something had gone awry with your pregnancy.
Social Support and Group Therapy
For some women, this act in and of itself is healing. It can give you a sense of the relationship you began to create with your little one, and honors that process. I created my baby book on my own and return to it every year. But we know that social support is the most protective element for women undergoing this kind of loss. It protects women from developing maternal mental health conditions and supports the grieving process in its fullness. Moms groups, close relationships with family or friends, faith communities, and even time in Nature are all protective against isolation, depression, or anxiety following a pregnancy loss.
Being surrounded by other women who know what it’s like to grieve the loss of a child in utero is a powerful thing. Meeting at a set time and place with a specific group for a specific purpose infuses intention to activities and conversations– and starts you on a path to creating a “New Normal.” Creating and sharing your Baby Book gives you the experience of introducing your child to others. In group therapy, a key component in healing is feeling your pain held in relationship– knowing you are not alone in your loss may not lessen it all, but it may make it a little easier to bear.
If you are grieving the loss of a child through miscarriage or stillbirth and would like support in your healing journey, therapy groups are forming now. You are not alone, you are not to blame, and with help, you can find hope again in the New Normal.