Two months ago, my husband and I lost our baby girl. I was 25 weeks pregnant. One day, she was kicking, squirming and dancing for us on ultrasounds, and the next, she was gone. Now, in these early days, I am left trying to navigate our devastating loss in a pandemic full of uncertainties. Worst of all, the holiday season is now upon us, and in a time that is supposed to be filled with joy, my days are filled with dread.
How do you get into the spirit when your spirit has been extinguished?
An Isolation Like No Other
An astounding one in four women experience a pregnancy loss, and that’s only considering miscarriage. Stillbirths (1 in 160 births in the U.S. alone) and termination for medical reasons (“TFMR” –arguably the most stigmatized type of pregnancy loss and sadly rarely recognized), are even less talked about.
Despite being a horrendous commonality that ties many women from all walks of life together, pregnancy loss is immersed in an unspoken, unacknowledged, stigmatized culture. As a result, women experiencing this loss tend to suffer in silence, bearing this tremendous weight alone. Even worse, losing a baby is often associated with feelings of failure, guilt and unworthiness, compounded by a monstrous loneliness—a loneliness augmented by this pandemic’s isolating landscape, and now, this holiday season.
Quite often, many women experiencing pregnancy loss find it helpful to get back to doing “normal”, simple activities, like meeting with friends and family, participating in extracurricular activities, going to work. During the holidays, very well the busiest time of year, there are typically plenty of distractions around. But COVID-19 and its restrictions have turned the “normal” upside down.
There are days when I yearn for that hug, that face to face time with a friend or family member, that distraction of a coffee shop date or movie. Support networks that help fill the emptiness left by the death of a baby, while so critical to the grieving and healing process, are no longer within reach for numerous women.
Not only does it feel like our babies have been robbed from us, but the pandemic, in several ways, has robbed us of the support and togetherness many of us need to grieve.
Finding the Pandemic Silver Lining
On the other hand, I’ve discovered a faint silver lining that the pandemic brings sometimes to women like me who are grieving a pregnancy loss. When losing your baby is still so new and raw, it is, admittedly, a strange relief to hide behind the pandemic’s facade during a sensitive holiday season.
I have given myself permission to use COVID as a reason to stay inside, avoiding all things to do with the holidays or whatever else I just don’t feel like showing up for. This has become easier with the restrictions and cancellation of gatherings and activities. Like a protective blanket, it wraps me inside my own bubble away from all the noise and stigma while the loss is so fresh.
This way, I don’t have to face the public in the small town I live in. I don’t need to endure the looks of pity, or get into situations that involve re-telling my baby loss story. I can disguise myself and my facial expressions with a mask, if I do go out. I don’t have to pass pregnant women on the street, and I don’t have to see “First Christmas” baby things in stores. I can avoid typical conversations that include retrospectively insensitive questions, like, “Do you have kids?”
At such a fragile time, I can save myself and my dignity from having a complete and utter emotional breakdown in public, then trying to explain it.
Staying inside and keeping to yourself while you grieve can certainly be viewed by those who haven’t experienced this highly personal loss as even more isolating and detrimental. After all, women who experience a pregnancy loss are at a higher risk of developing depression, anxiety and PTSD. As someone who has a history of depression, I’m mindful of this every day.
But it’s a balance. You can’t show up for everybody and everything, or you risk avoiding your feelings. You just have to show up for yourself and your grief. You don’t owe anything to anybody.
Anyone who has gone through any horrendous loss will tell you that grief is not a linear process. There will be a few steps forward mixed in with a step or two back. There is no right or wrong to this, and no special formula to cure it.
So, yes, the pandemic can be good for those days when you don’t feel like pretending you’re happy, or can’t be forced to grin and bear it. On those days when you just want to hide from the world and curl up into a ball on the couch instead of putting up the tree. On those days where grasping your empty belly and screaming into a pillow for your baby to come back feels more therapeutic than wrapping presents.
It’s perfectly okay to do all these things.
There is strength in facing the world when you feel the most vulnerable. There is also strength in saying “no”, choosing to be alone with your grief, knowing your boundaries.
Know You Are Not Alone This Season
The holiday season, for myself and all the women who have endured a loss of their baby, will still arrive, whether we want it to or not. In a unique time that is isolating under normal circumstances, for us, this joyful season in particular can dredge up an especially profound feeling of emptiness that we try to bury. The holidays are meant for feeling cheer, and celebrating happy times–a seemingly impossible feat for those who are either grieving a recent loss or have painful memories from one in the past.
It’s the fabric of the season, the festive atmosphere, the expectation to feel happiness, joy and peace that feels like the greatest betrayal in these early days. When your baby—that life you held within you—can’t be a part of it physically, it leaves an echoing void that you desperately want acknowledged.
If you are grieving right now as I am, know that I stand with you. Whatever you decide to do—whether you embrace the holidays and make new traditions to honor your baby’s life, or refrain from anything to do with it while holding your baby’s spirit close—know that you are not alone. There are sisters all over the world feeling your grief. Be gentle on yourself and allow yourself the grace to feel all your feelings, during this holiday season and beyond. Our babies, wherever they are, would want that.