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Afterwards

Once Emily had died, my father-in-law said to my husband, "You've just done the hardest thing you'll ever do." My husband replied, "I think it's only just starting."

The Hospital

Personally, I couldn't get out of the hospital fast enough. I delivered Emily a little after 11pm on Wednesday, and I signed out a little after one in the afternoon on Thursday. The hospital acted very understanding and assured me that because I was leaving so early, I was entitled to one free nurse visit at home to make sure I wasn't bleeding to death. After I signed the release papers, the nurse returned and said, "By the way, you can't have a nurse visit." I'm not the only one they've done this to, so I recommend getting any extras in writing before signing yourself out of the hospital. It stinks to have to be your own advocate hours after your baby's death, but the world is full of predatory and stupid individuals.

Sleep

The real reason I wanted to leave the hospital was that in a hospital, everyone expects you to be in bed, so visitors feel free to march into your room, plop down in a chair, and start entertaining you. It didn't matter if I was eating lunch, if I had the lights off, if I was under the blankets... They'd come in and start chatting. I didn't feel like entertaining or being entertained. I wanted to cry, and I badly needed a nap. At home, if I was in bed with the lights out, visitors stayed in the kitchen and entertained each other.

It's difficult to sleep in those early days after a loss, but do try. I've been told that Tylenol PM is the best sleep medication after a death. It's not a narcotic, it's an over-the-counter, and frequently a half-dose will relax you just enough to get to sleep. Ask your doctor if this would be appropriate for you in your circumstances after the death. (I am not a doctor; my recommendation doesn't count, so don't say I told you to take it. I only said to ask your doctor if you should take it.)

Flashbacks

I relived the birth a number of times, usually at night while not sleeping. Sometimes I'd find myself starting to push at the right point in the scenario, or sitting up in bed and turning around when the nurse would have entered the room. It was scary at first, but eventually it faded.

Milk

Your milk will probably come in if you've gone into the third trimester. Every professional you ask may act surprised, if not stunned, if the stress hasn't suppressed your milk production. Don't believe it. I got engorged with about two gallons of milk, to the unbridled delight of my nursing toddler who'd persevered through the last six dry months of the pregnancy. (He looked up after his customary ten-second nurse on the second morning after the birth, got a confused and delighted expression, and said, "Momma, good milk again," then tucked back in and wouldn't even breathe for about fifteen minutes.)

I did milk-banking, meaning I pumped out as much as I could, on a schedule, and stuck it into my freezer. Banked milk is vital to the survival of some desperately premature babies, some of whose mothers are unable to produce milk for medical reasons. The early milk, from the first three to five days after the birth, is especially valuable. While banking Emily's milk didn't "make sense" of her death, it felt like a good thing to do. At least it went into a needy baby's tummy rather than just soaking all my shirts and sheets.

Not Being Post-Partum

There will be a tendency to act as if you aren't post-partum. After all, a mother who has just given birth should have a baby in her arms. With no baby in yours, you may completely forget that you should be resting, not lifting objects heavier than ten pounds, etc. Three weeks after the delivery, I found myself exhausted and was wondering, "What have I done today?" and outlined an entire day where I'd barely sat down going from place to place. Normal for a healthy woman, too much too soon postpartum. If I'd had a baby, no one would have expected me to do all those things. Without a baby in arms, I felt obliged to get up and run errands as if nothing had happened.

Post-Partum Depression

Unfair as this is, you may experience post-partum depression in addition to grieving. After all, the hormonal situation in your body is in wild flux. Your body will react like a bottle-feeding mother's even if you are pumping for a milk bank (there is no pump as effective as a hungry newborn) and statistically bottle-feeding mothers have more incidence of post-partum depression than nursing mothers. To complicate matters, depression is also a normal part of grief. If you feel you are having undue problems with depression, it will be up to you to decide whether the depression is a part of the grief and needs to be worked through, or whether the depression is hindering the grief and needs to be medicated.

I'd recommend taking it easy on yourself. The tricks you've used in the past to combat depression may help at this time. I didn't experience post-partum depression after Emily's death even though I had after my son's birth, and I believe that was due to actually having something worth feeling sad over. I had more incentive to act sad if I felt sad. I went with my instincts: if I felt like visiting the cemetery, I did. If I felt like crying, I did. If I felt like hiding, I did, or if I felt like running away, I ran errands. Most of the early months are blurred, but I think it helped because I never fought my own natural inclinations.

Return of Fertility

Even if you are pumping, you should expect your fertility to return quickly. I ovulated at seventeen days post-partum. (When I asked if that was possible, the reply I got was, "It would be a statistical rarity." I replied, should I then take risks and name the resulting child Statistical Rarity?) If you're using Natural Family Planing, the recommendation is to begin taking your waking temperatures at two weeks post-partum.

Feeling Pregnant

This is truly weird, but other mothers said they experienced the same thing I did: pregnancy symptoms even three months after the baby's birth and death. I found I had an aversion to coffee and alcohol, and nausea after breakfast, but only prior to ovulation (the first 17 days or so of my cycle). Because I was charting, I could prove I wasn't pregnant. The symptoms were very disconcerting, and I wondered if my body itself wasn't longing for my baby.

March of Dimes

The March of Dimes offers a bereavement package to anyone whose baby has died. The kit contains a brief book about dealing with loss, a memory package, and if you give information about your child's cause of death, they can send you a fact sheet. You'll probably know more than the fact sheet, but it's worth taking a look. They may also send you pre-conception guidelines that supposedly maximize your chances of having a healthy baby. Call 1-888-MO-DIMES or visit their website.

Physical Exam

In addition to your postpartum checkups (which should be at two weeks and six weeks after the loss of a baby) most perinatal loss experts recommend a complete physical four months after the death. They say this because the stress of losing your child may compromise your immune system, and opportunistic infections or other previously undetected problems may begin to go uncontrolled.

 

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