Others said nothing at all and removed themselves from my life which was more hurtful than the comments. And some would not acknowledge my baby and did not view me as a mother. Looking back, I wish I were prepared for how to handle the negativity from family members, particularly, the negative and hurtful comments.
The first thing I will say is to be prepared for those comments. It is very likely that it will happen. Most people just do not know what to say to or how to act around someone who loses a baby. Some things that I have been told are:
“You’re young, you can have more children.”
I realize that some people just do not get that although yes, I may be able to have another baby, it doesn’t erase the fact that I wanted my daughter and that I will grieve her death forever. Further, pregnancy after loss isn’t an easy and blissful experience. It is excruciatingly difficult and stressful.
“It did not just happen to you; it happens to a lot of people.”
What happened to me is not common and even if it was, it does not take away the fact that my daughter is dead, I am upset about it and always will be.
“It was not meant to be.”
This is hurtful because it just dismisses my pain.
“God doesn’t make mistakes.”
Again, this just dismisses my grief
“It was God’s plan.”
Hearing this has never made me feel better at all, in fact it makes me feel worse and raises more questions like why us?
“Well, you should have known to go to the hospital earlier.”
This one really hurt me. This was my first pregnancy. I voiced my concerns to my midwife and was always told “it’s normal”. So, no I did not know.
“At least you know you can get pregnant.”
My end goal in getting pregnant was to have a baby and to bring that baby home….this, once again, just dismisses my pain.
What I have learned from this is people say stupid things and sometimes it is not to hurt us, they just do not know what to say so it is best to be prepared for it.
To help mitigate some of the negative comments, I decided to educate my family members by informing them about stillbirth and the statistics around it. I discussed my emotions and feelings to normalize it and explained how I wanted to be treated and what I wanted to be told. Most family members embraced what I was saying, while others were very persistent in telling me that I should be over it and move on. If educating did not work, I would move to ignoring the negative remarks and would sometimes avoid people who did not get it. Prior to my daughter’s death, I was a people pleaser. I would keep people around and help them even if they were toxic in my life. I did this because I did not want to hurt their feelings. After Zalayah’s death, I purged those toxic people from my life. I had enough going on and I realized for once in my life, I needed to put myself first. My mantra became if they did not care about Zalayah and my feelings then they were simply not worth having in my life, especially during such a difficult and fragile time. For me to heal, I needed people who were on my side, who listened to what I needed and allowed me to speak openly about my daughter.
As my inner circle began to shrink, I realized how important it was to find support from other people who understood my pain. Finding support within the loss community has helped me remarkably since they just get it. They are more aware of hurtful and negative comments and will support me no matter what. If you are feeling let down by your family, reach out to our community, chances are, you are not alone.
My assigned nurse from the birthing unit even hand crafted a few keepsakes for us to bring home, which included a beautiful poster with a lovely butterfly sticker, a blue monarch. On my way home, I could not stop looking at that sticker, which led me to research the meaning of the butterfly and found that it symbolizes rebirth, souls of departed loved ones, and the fragility of life because of its short life span.
As an artist, it felt natural for me to create art in order to process all my emotions. A few days after my return home, I sat down and painted the same blue monarch. While painting this butterfly, my mind was calm, and I somehow still felt close to my baby. This feeling inspired me to make it a daily practice. I set 100 days because the last week of my 100 days would also coincide with my baby's original due date. I called it The Ajisai Project, Ajisai being my artist name. The ajisai is a beautiful Japanese hydrangea that changes colour depending on its soil. I have some in my garden (planted recently) and it's also the name of one of my favourite inks (Pilot's iroshizuku brand).
I posted everyday on Instagram to see my progress over time, but I was also hoping that maybe someone somewhere might relate or understand the meaning behind my portraits. Time in my studio varied from 5 mins to 6 hours daily. It wasn't always easy to find the motivation to create, since some days I was quite overwhelmed and emotional. Although, I always felt so much better after doing so. In fact, I would say that my sketchbook is my diary, and that every sketch was an entry of sorts. I want to add that my husband encouraged and took care of me throughout my entire journey, and that I couldn't have completed this "challenge" without his support.
One thing that surprised me was that I wasn't inspired by the same thing anymore. All of a sudden, all I drew were portraits and butterflies, nothing else. I guess that makes sense though, since I don't think I'm the same person as I was before. My entire process was also really therapeutic, often starting as an overly saturated abstract ink wash (my favourite colours) and then becoming a more technical portrait drawing made with coloured pencils. These two levels of complexity kept me engaged. Through these portraits, my aim was to echo my emotions.
Art is helping me heal. I get to spend time thinking about my blue butterfly and I still feel like I'm still creating memories with him. I truly believe in art therapy, and I hope my experience can inspire other loss moms to take on a similar journey. You don't have to be an artist and you don't need expensive material. All you really have to do is set a time everyday or even every week (even just as little as 5 minutes), ideally somewhere without too many distractions and create something with media that appeals to you. This can range from collage work, painting, drawing, mixed media, playing an instrument, etc. In my case it was coloured pencils and ink on paper, while listening to music. The point isn't to have a collection of finished/frame-worthy pieces of art, but rather it's the process that counts. Noticing what feelings come up is key and letting yourself go through these emotions is important as well (all emotions are valid). At the beginning, it was a lot of pain and sadness for me, these days it's resilience.
Here are some of my favourite pieces.
I honestly thought a devastating loss would bring my husband, Nick, and I closer together. We already had a bond but our daughter’s death, the trauma of it all, would hold us together because we are her parents. We were the only ones we knew who had experienced such a loss. I thought that we could talk to each other openly about her and without judgment. We truly understood each other, and it was us against the world. He was my support system. As I have mentioned before, Nick took on the role of being my protector, making sure I was okay. To maintain that role, he put his own grief aside.
As time went on, I noticed that we grieved differently. I desperately wanted to talk about Zalayah as much as I could, but Nick hardly ever brought her up. I wanted to go to counselling together but after the first few sessions, I ended up attending alone. I started to feel like we drifted apart due to the different ways we grieved our loss. Not only that, but we were also different people after her death and would never be the same again. I felt like I had to get to know Nick all over again, this time the version of him that was grieving. I often wondered why Nick did not seem as devastated as I was, why he did not break down in tears as often as I did or talk about her everyday. It angered and saddened me, and I started to resent him. I felt like he had moved past it, and I was unable to. I stopped talking about her as much as I wanted to because I thought I would upset him.
Eventually I became so consumed by my own grief, just trying to get through the day, that I no longer focused on Nick. I guess I could say I became selfish by focusing solely on myself. I could also look at it as I only had enough energy to help me survive each day doing the absolute minimum. I just could not take on relationship issues as well. I started to shut down and started living in my head.
While speaking with counsellors, I became more aware of what was happening in my relationship. Our communication had completely broken down. I searched online for similar stories to see if what we were going through was normal and I was shocked to find out that couples who had a miscarriage were 22% more likely to break up as opposed to couples who had a healthy baby at term. For those who experienced a stillbirth, the number was higher at 40% more likely. I read that many couples go down the same path that Nick and I had travelled with some couples deciding to split up and I could understand why some couples decided to do so because I was in that situation. Nick and I grieved very differently, and our communication was non-existent, two issues that have led to many couples in situations similar to ours splitting up.
We decided to go to counselling as a couple. Talking about our feelings has helped us reconnect. I know he is still grieving even though he has a very different way of showing it. If you are experiencing issues within your relationship after a loss, I encourage you to talk about it and seek support. It is quite common and there are ways to help resolve the issues (see below links).
Why Couples Fight After a Miscarriage, and What to Do About It | InStyle
Ending the Silence: How Miscarriage Impacts Your Relationship (healthline.com)
How to Keep Your Marriage Intact After a Miscarriage | RELEVANT (relevantmagazine.com)
Tips for a Healthy Marriage After Loss – UnspokenGrief.com