Who Am I Now: Life After Stillbirth

September 7, 2017

By Sanda Rathamone
September 7, 2017


"It takes a strong woman to be a mother, but it takes an even stronger woman to be a grieving mother."
I define grief as the process of mourning a loss(es) and loss as a death of a loved one. I also define pregnancy and child loss as a loss of a child through miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, or SIDS.

Grief and loss, so far, goes at the top of my list of the most challenging experiences I have ever had.

Surprisingly, I am coming to realize more and more that losing a child to stillbirth is one of the most unique, undervalued, and less talked about experiences - not everyone acknowledges it nor does everyone know how to address it. What words can you say about a child you have "never met?" What can you offer in memory of a child that "never lived." I honestly have to admit that those words "never met" and "never lived" are very insensitive, they hurt more than name calling.

Because those words are words that describe someone who either refuses, fails, or does not know how to acknowledge that all babies are significant, all babies are blessings. It especially hurts even more when it is friends and family that uses those cruel words.

You know what you can say? My child's name! You know what you can offer? A hug! If all words fail, then just be kind. 

Pregnancy and child loss is not just about being miserable, confused, lonely, or misunderstood. I have learned that from stillbirth, there is a deep change that comes from it. I am not just learning how to change my perspective of expecting a child to no longer expecting, but also changing my perspective of my entire life and who I am. We never expect to lose anyone we love, even though we all know that no one lives on forever. But when we lose a baby from our wombs - from our lives - we often wonder what we have done to deserve this kind of loss and question what kind of world does this to mothers and babies?

No mother should have to be separated from her child, moreover, no mother should have to see her child die. 

We go through grief, trying to change our lives to feel better, to do better, to understand better, to be better, because loss feels much like your whole world fell apart and you're left with dust and crumbles, trying to piece together everything that once was. We then learn that no matter how hard or how much we try to "fix" it, it is never going to be the same, because something that was supposed to be there just disappeared. 

Can you imagine what it is like to be unpregnant (if that's even a word) after 5 months of pregnancy and then having to rewire your brain into realizing that you are no longer pregnant? And then having to repair your heart after such an unexpected loss? If you can, well then you would know that that was the biggest, most painful change I have had to overcome and accept, as did many mothers of a very similar experience. It's tough to let go because we have already become so attached the moment we knew we were expecting.

We never even had the chance to say hello or goodbye. How do we even say goodbye to someone who never had the chance to even look at us in the eyes?

"Having a baby DIE changes our lives forever." 

I know, what a very blunt way to say this, but it's true. Of course, anyone having a new baby in their life is a huge change. Parenthood is much more complex and requires more dedication, selflessness, and sacrifice than when it was "just the two of you."

However, when the two of you become three MINUS ONE, that is a whole different kind of change, a very deep traumatic and tragic one. It is a change that will effect the rest of our lives because the child that was supposed to change our lives ended up changing much more, that child changed our entire perception of life and death, of who we are, of what we deserve, of the world and how it works, of God, of everything!

This may be hard to understand if you're not a parent of loss, but I will say this anyway, just as I have said it before.

When a child dies, a part of us died with them, too. That part of us that died was all of the hopes and dreams of the family we were supposed to have - that will never be. That part of us was the piece of our soul that lived and savored the moments of pregnancy, birth, and even memories of their brief little life and our lives with them. 

So now, who am I after a stillbirth? A piece of myself is gone, forever! Am I still a mother? Possibly. Can I ever be myself again? Most likely not. Can things go back to the way it was? No.

I have gone through all of the questions after stillbirth that you can think of. Some of them are: What did I do to deserve this? Was I being punished for something? Did I not deserve to be a mother? Did I not deserve to keep my son? What's wrong with me? Why me? Why did this happen? How can this happen? What do I do now? Is it worth living life anymore? Am I still worthy of being a mother? Why do they get to have their babies and not me? What did I do? What did I not do? Is there a purpose to anything in life, in this? And this is just some of them, there's a lot more!

Moreover, I have questioned almost everything in my life, until I was exhausted and made me realize what needed to be accepted or changed. I have never been so aware of what death can do to a person...

And I have never been so lost in these kinds of questions, until I lost my son. I also never thought that these questions would change my life, my purpose, how I lived my life and treated myself and others, and my perception and judgments of myself. I lost much of my self-esteem questioning my own worth and the value of my life.

When you lose your self-esteem, you lose confidence. When you lose confidence, you lose faith. When you lose faith, you lose hope. And when you lose hope, well sadly, you lose yourself.

I lost myself and though I know very well that there is no time limit to grief, it has taken me over a year to rebuild myself and my self-esteem. Slowly, I have had to piece together everything I have lost or forgotten, but nothing is the same. Nothing is how I had imagined or expected it would be - in good and sucky ways. I am also still learning to let go of my paranoia that bad things might happen, again... because I just cannot handle anything else to come crumbling down after all of the hard work of rebuilding the new beginning of my new life.

My new life of living after loss.

But I feel different now. Maybe it is because I have been exposed to another side of life that I could never see or live life in the same way I have before. Maybe it is because birthing, seeing, and holding life and death in my arms knocked me out of my senses and gave me new ones. Whatever it is, all I know is that losing a baby changes and challenges everything and everyone you believed in and forces you become someone else. Someone who has to have the power to calm these inner demons, push through the unforgiving reminders, take the torture, and swallow a sea of endless tears.

Someone who had to be strong because I had no choice.

I now find myself back to square one, back to being a student, back to learning about life, but with a different pair of eyes, a stronger, but softer heart, and drive to change my life - this time voluntarily. Some days, there are setbacks and I grieve harder than I have before and makes me feel like the world is ending all over again, but I realized that who I am now - because of loss - will prepare me to do great and better things. Sometimes, grief is torture, but most of the time, it's motivation, because grief isn't just pain, it's also love - it's what drives me to do the things I do.

At first, I thought that I was at my lowest. Now, I realized that I am in a resting period. Learning to take life slowly, learning to flow, learning to take better care of my inner and outer world, learning to listen to what my heart is telling me to do. Learning these things are more powerful than you would think because in a world that is always in a rush, always going here and there to be entertained, always wanting things now, never truly being in the present moment, sacrificing health for wealth, eager to get a quick satisfaction, trying to be like everyone else and do what everyone else is doing... well it's a blessing to realize these things now.

It is because of loss that I now understand what it means to really, truly, and deeply love myself. Because that is what my journey of loss is all about, it is about the journey of learning how to love - not to survive - but to love. 

I am a Mother of an Angel and only the special ones are able to say that.

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