By Brittany Clay
On April 4, 2016, I had an experience that I didn’t even realize happened to people. After days of being in pain, I went to the hospital, only to have my water break. The nurse told me I was in labor. “But ma’am, you must be mistaken. I’m only halfway through my pregnancy.” With kindness in her eyes, she told me I was in preterm labor. She said we were going to lose our baby.
We already knew we were having a boy. We had a name. We had a life for him imagined in our minds. We were ill-prepared for the pain we would go through.
I’m still ill-prepared for the pain we go through.
When my water abruptly broke, I delivered my baby boy after 12 hours of labor. I honestly had no idea I would actually go through the pain of childbirth without the reward of new life. Trying to make sense of my situation, I asked the nurse if this was “normal.” I wanted to know if families go through this experience every day. She told me, “Unfortunately, we see this more than we would like to.”
The next day, I went home with empty arms, which just so happened to be the name of the book they gave me when I left the hospital. What the heck did I just experience? Was this real? Yes. It was real and it was only the beginning of a very long journey.
Next up is the hard part. I wish I could say it was some spiritual awakening, but it wasn’t. It was soul-crushing and painful, and I hid under blankets for weeks trying to wake up from a nightmare. I want to share my story so people have some idea of how to start surviving this type of experience. These are a few ways I have gotten to a place of normalcy in my life.
Grief support groups
I started attending a two hour grief support group two weeks after we lost our son. The center I attended offered several support group options, one of which was for child loss. At that time, I didn’t feel strong enough to attend that one, so I went to a general group. It was single-handedly the best decision I could have made for myself. I needed to be around people who understood the enormity of grief. I went every week for several months and would just cry for two hours. The tears were cleansing. The group allowed me to look my pain straight in the face.
I found the most serene yoga studio in town and purchased a Groupon membership. Then, I went 1-2 times a week. So much of yoga focuses on forgiving yourself and letting go of the heaviness of life. For me, shame and guilt were major burdens I carried through my journey. Yoga helped me tap into those feelings and give myself permission to let go.
When you’re in your deepest, darkest hour, it’s easiest to stay at home and hide away from reality. That’s how it was for me. Instinctively, I wanted to hide in my bed and pretend like life wasn’t really happening. I actually think that was a coping mechanism for me. To survive, I had to literally compartmentalize my pain. But as you know, this is not sustainable. So everyday, I made myself go walking outside. I listened to Harry Potter on audiobook as I walked for 1 hour every day. I needed mindless distractions.
Up until 2016, I hadn’t journaled since I was a preteen. But since I needed to get my thoughts out on paper, I picked up a notebook and started writing. Many times, I wrote to my son. I told him I was sorry. Sometimes I gave myself pep talks. Other times I listed how I was kind to myself that week. In general, I think it’s good to simply get out whatever emotions you’re feeling that day. I think talking and writing can be used as a form of detox from stress and misery.
Initially, I didn’t eat much. Then, when I started to eat, I started going crazy with foods that made me feel worse. Food is powerful. I was making myself sick with food, so I didn’t have to feel how sick I was with grief. Soon, I changed up my eating to be about 65% plant-based. I still ate some chocolate cake (probably more than I should have), but I made a conscious effort to remove alcohol and incorporate as many plants as possible.
Social media hiatus
For me, the news and pregnancy announcements were incredibly hard to consume when I was in the early stages of my grief journey. I put myself in a bubble. I muted people on all social media accounts with kids and pregnancies. I also muted all news-related social media pages. That left me with a lot of funny cat videos to see and I was fine with that. Protect yourself and your sanity at all costs. I politely declined baby shower invites and kid birthday parties until I had better control over my emotions. There’s nothing wrong with protecting yourself from triggering situations. And if the people in your life can’t understand this, then perhaps you need to mute them too.
One major part of overcoming my pain was finding answers and solutions. Most times, we can’t outright control the losses we experience in life. But by consulting experts and doing research, I found several preventative procedures moms can get to carry full-term. For me, I needed a cerclage, also known as a stitch, placed in my cervix at 12 weeks to help prevent preterm labor.
Two years later, I’m now a mother to an adorable baby girl that I carried full term (thanks to that cerclage) but the grief is still present. Albeit not as consuming, I imagine the grief will be a part of my being forever. I had to accept that there is no timeline on grief. Most times, the grief doesn’t disappear. But the sooner you look your grief in the eyes, the sooner you can start to honor the trauma of your experience and find ways to manage your new life. My grief approach isn’t foolproof. It didn’t save me from depression or anxiety, but I’m a fully-functioning, happy adult with a deeper understanding of life now. For that alone, I hope my experience and truth can give you some semblance of hope. May peace be with you.
Brittany Clay is a bereaved mom who recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She previously worked in food and beverage marketing, but now takes pride in her work at a social justice nonprofit. When she’s not working, she’s traveling with her husband and daughter and cherishing each moment with her loved ones.