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."
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.
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.