Things That a Mother Who Has Lost Her Baby Would Like You to Know
Exactly one year ago, I held my newborn baby as he took his last breath. There has not been one day that I haven’t thought about my son. For the first 6 months, I spent every single day crying, and in the last 6 months, I cried whenever the sadness built up, and I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I woke up everyday this past year thinking about what I was doing just one year ago. Whether it was going to work as usual, going on vacation, finding out I was pregnant, having extreme morning sickness, contemplating what to eat because I was eating for two, seeing my stomach get bigger, feeling kicks, or blissfully thinking about my life after the baby was born. Whatever I was thinking one year ago, I did so as my old self—the optimistic self that was unaware of what tragedy lay ahead of her.
After hearing the thoughts of others who have experienced what I have, it is clear that we are all often misunderstood. People around us don't often say it, but we can sense that they think we should be back to our old selves after some time has passed. Here are some reasons why I will most likely never be my same self again.
1. Everything Is a Reminder
One year ago, I was happily planning a future as a family. My husband and I started with the basic questions. What kind of stroller would be practical for us? (In Japan there are many stairs and not always an elevator.) Should the baby bed be one that attaches to the master bed or should it be a stand-alone? When should I stop working? Then there were the light conversations about raising our child in the far future: Who was going to be the strict parent? What sports did we want him to do? What kind of school would he go to?
I had my own visions of reading books to him, lying by his side and singing lullabies, speaking to him in English so he would grow up bilingual, watching the popular Japanese children’s TV shows with him, and so on. Every expecting parent, especially those well into their pregnancy, dreams of the future with their baby and of taking care of their child as they grow. Now all I can think about is what should have been: how I should be singing my boy to sleep; how I should be like all those mothers carrying their babies in the grocery stores; or how my house should not be this quiet. There are reminders everywhere that he is not here with me. Even when supposedly having a good time with friends and family, I wanted to be able to talk about my non-stop crying baby. I wanted to be able to show pictures of my cute little one and talk about all those things mothers normally talk about. Instead, I'm am surrounded by people trying to avoid the subject of my son. They talk to me as if it was all a thing of the past or as if it never happened.
One year ago, I was ecstatically happy, and now, I can be happy, but the tears and feeling of loneliness will always be there.
2. I Must Now Prepare for Year Two
I survived the first year after losing my baby. I survived the first Christmas, New Years, expected birth day (he was born prematurely), Mother’s Day, Children’s Day (celebrated here in Japan), and his first birthday. It was difficult getting through each of those days and it was a matter of trudging through them, as hard as it was. I’ve joined an online group to put me in touch with other mothers who have lost their babies (as I personally don’t know any around me), and they all seem to say that the first year is the hardest, the second year can get easier but can be just as bad sometimes. So now I am preparing for year two and thinking about how to survive it.
3. There Are Times When I Don't Know What to Say
Now that I am going out a bit more and being slightly more social, I am getting questions about whether I have children, or whether I want children. Before, it used to be a simple “no, I don’t have kids but I'd like one someday”. Now, I don’t know how to answer either of these two seemingly harmless questions. I really want to say that I am a mother of one, but then I have to go into the fact that he is no longer here with me, which might trigger tears in my eyes, and will probably make the person asking regret that they had asked. It would put most people in an awkward position, not knowing what to say in return. To be honest, I don’t even know what I would want them to say. All I know is that I am not consoled by stories of miscarriages. I know they are trying to be sympathetic, but I’ve learned that this answer makes me frustrated because they are putting me into a different, more common group than I am in. I don’t feel like I need to be ‘fixed’ or uplifted because I know my feelings won't change with comments like "everything happens for a reason", or "you can try again". Perhaps I’d rather hear “I am here to listen”, “tell me about your baby” or something to that effect. Even an honest, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say” is better than trying to ‘cheer me up’.
4. There Is More Pressure on Me to Get Pregnant Again
Before I was pregnant, my husband and I had the view that if I got pregnant it was great, but if I couldn’t, that was ok too. Now that I know that my baby should be by my side, it makes me long for a baby even more. Because the doctor who performed my cesarean told me to wait one year before starting to try again, this past year there was no pressure; I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to be pregnant. That year is up, and I am not getting any younger, so the pressure is slowly building. What if I can’t get pregnant again, I lost the one chance I had of having a baby.
5. It's Difficult to Handle All the Expectations and Opportunites
I had decided that I would not go back to my old job. It was an easy decision for me made in the hospital shortly after giving birth. A few times in the past year I’ve thought about going out to look for a job, but could never get myself to do it. I’ve spent the past year mostly in my home, trying to calm my nerves, avoiding all situations that would cause me to tear up. I’m lucky that my husband is completely ok that I haven’t gone back to work. In Japan, it is normal for a woman to quit her job after marriage. Family and friends back in Canada are always asking me when I will go back to work, or they often make suggestions of where I can find work. One job that a lot of people keep suggesting for me is teaching English to children. I do not yet feel comfortable being surrounded by little ones who remind me of what I am supposed to have. I guess for Canadians now, being just a housewife is not enough and perhaps there is a stigma to being only that. I however, am comfortable with just being a housewife now (we are not rich and I do have to be frugal at times). Yes, I spend many more hours than I used to in front of the computer or TV, but I believe there is no such thing as wasted time. If this lifestyle is what is keeping my anxiety at bay, if I am comfortable and not bored, why do I need to put pressure on myself to be out in the working world? I have also considered that when I become pregnant again I will probably not want to work like I did the last time. It may just be an excuse but I don’t want to burden a company by quitting shortly after being hired.
6. Even Just Listening to Music Is Hard
I used to love to listen to music, especially those upbeat tunes that make you want to sing and dance along, but now those songs that I used to love, seem to bring my spirits down. I think it’s because those old tunes remind me of the past when I didn’t know the sadness of losing my baby, and of a time when I had no idea my life would be at this point. Music is just one example of this kind of reminder. Christmas is also another reminder of how I will never feel the same holiday spirit as I did before. I used to like the Christmas décor and lights that brought about a bit of childhood excitement even as an adult. But now, those sights remind me that there is someone missing, someone I am supposed to be sharing the occasion with. I cried as I put the Christmas tree up.
Photos are another thing that trigger this type of emotion. When I see myself smiling so happily in old photos, I am again envious of that smile which doesn’t know the pain of losing a baby.
7. From Now on There Will Always Be One More Special Day in the Year
My baby’s birthday will always be remembered and celebrated by me and my husband. They won’t be like other baby birthdays though, when relatives and friends come over for food and cakes. I won’t see the excitement on my child’s face when he is at the centre of attention, receiving presents and blowing out the candles. Birthdays will consist of looking at the photos of my son before and after he passed away at the hospital, and reading my diary of all the details and feelings I felt while pregnant and during the days after giving birth. Just recently I re-read that diary and realized how glad I am that I wrote it. The details I included bring me back to the past; although the shock and sadness finds it way back to my heart as I read, the feelings worth remembering when giving birth, seeing him in the NICU, holding him and being with him, are reborn too.
8. I Am a Mother Now
I was suddenly thrown into the 'being a mother' category the minute the doctor took my baby out of me. Once in this category, there is no falling out of it. I feel like a mother, whose job is to care for and always worry about her child...except that I can't do it the normal way because my son is no longer with me. I will continually be looking for ways to be a mother, to remember my baby, and to make him a part of my life. Whether it's writing articles such as this, putting up a third stocking for Christmas, or placing candies, toys and books by his ashes, I will always be his mother. So when Mother's Day comes along, it would mean a lot to me if people would wish me a Happy Mother's Day too.
9. Not Everybody In My Life Knows the Whole Story
Everyone who is close to me and everyone whom I saw while I was pregnant knows about my loss, but there are still people who I see only once in a blue moon, or receive a message from every so often, that probably don't know what happened to me. Recently I had one of those old friends contact me to meet up. I didn't want to because I didn't want to face the question "what have you been up to this past year?". I may have seemed cold when I tried to avoid the meeting, but I just wasn't in the mood to explain my life-changing event. Later on, another old classmate posted a courageous message on her facebook about the daughter she had lost many years ago when she was first pregnant.
These two separate events made me realize that you never know; there may be someone around you who has experienced a baby loss. It takes a lot of courage to bring up the topic because we don't want to make people around us uncomfortable, sometimes leading them to avoid us. I wish I could talk about my son freely, but unfortunately in today's society, it just doesn't feel appropriate to do so.
This is who I am now, and how I feel at the one year mark. One year may seem like enough time to mourn and get back to life, but there will never be enough time. Life now is now going to be different. Even for those who go back to their old jobs, and go back to the same daily routines, life will be different. I think I can speak for other mothers in my position that we’d like those around us to understand this. We feel like a different person in the same body, and it can sometimes be difficult to be treated the same as before, like nothing ever happened. Even though our babies are not physically with us, they are always a part of us.
To find out more about me and my experience, please read the other articles I have written about losing my baby. Shortly after my loss, I poured out all my feelings and went into the details of my story; What it Was Like to Experience the Loss of My Baby in Japan. Six months after, I wrote about my changing views and how I was dealing with the loss at the time; Understanding Those Who Have Lost a Baby, and How to Reach out to Them (Including What to Say and What Not to Say).