To this day, the ultrasound technician’s words still haunt me: “There is something wrong with the baby’s heart.”
With those eight words, my own heart stopped beating. My husband and I were 10 minutes into our 20-week ultrasound. I vividly remember the cheerful chatter we shared on the drive to the office, the jokes about what we would have for lunch that day, and laughing about the size of the wand used for the ultrasound. Nothing could have prepared us for this moment.
A couple of weeks later, we would go on to lose our baby.
The day of our D and E (dilation and evacuation) is forever etched in my mind. During the procedure, I was under general anesthesia. The procedure involved dilating my cervix and using a vacuum-like tool to clear my uterus. The cold, sterile operating room, the kind nurse who promised me we would go on to have a healthy baby, the compassionate doctor who held my hand as I closed my eyes, the small footprints my husband arranged for—this was the most excruciating experience of my life.
It’s taken a long time and a lot of emotional processing to cope with this grief. Below are a few things that helped me while navigating the most difficult time of my life.
1. Take time off to heal
It’s important to take time to heal both physically and emotionally. Loss is detrimental to the body. Whether it’s a natural miscarriage, a procedure, or even giving birth, your body has endured the unimaginable.
I also didn’t want to leave the house, afraid of who I would run into who might, unknowingly, bring up my pregnancy. I found myself avoiding my nail salon (the technicians had all been so excited for me), writing awkward emails to coworkers, and feeling an emptiness inside me in the most literal sense.
Rest was important, as was letting others take care of me. Heating pads, a warm cup of tea, and binge-watching The Office from the beginning helped.
2. Deactivate social media
Social media was rough. I had to deactivate my accounts, as scrolling through my Instagram feed felt like the most painful reminder of what I had lost. Almost every day someone new was gleefully announcing a pregnancy or welcoming a healthy baby into the world. All of these felt like personal attacks.
One of the worst parts was feeling like I lost the ability to be happy for others. Not only had I experienced this immense loss, but I felt like a bad person on top of it. Deactivating my account (temporarily) helped with the constant comparison. It’s also important to remember that what we see on social media is only a small snippet of a person’s whole story.
3. Don’t push yourself
Our society doesn’t deal well with grief. People expect you to bounce back quickly and put on a happy face. Unfortunately, it isn’t nearly this easy.
While I didn’t want to become a hermit, I also didn’t want to force myself into situations that made me uncomfortable. Baby showers and baby-related events made me the most uneasy. As much as I wished I could suck it up, there were times when I really just couldn’t (cue the feeling like a terrible person). My true friends understood and welcomed me back when I was ready.
4. Seek out a supportive network
I sought out a therapist who dealt specifically with infant loss. She helped me manage my grief and supported me in every way possible.
Also, when I found out I was expecting again six months later, she helped me navigate my nerves and anxieties surrounding every appointment and aided me in labeling and moving away from negative thinking.
I also leaned on friends who I felt understood and really empathized with my grief. Whether it was because they, too, had experienced loss or I felt comforted by their words, certain friends just offered me a greater sense of ease.
5. Get out
As important as it was for me to not push myself, I also needed to get back out into the world (when I was ready). At first, it can feel like a huge milestone just leaving the house. I remember going to get my nails done with my sister (at a different salon from my usual), and though this had once been a small, everyday activity, for me, it was huge.
I also scheduled small one-on-one dinners with my aforementioned supportive friends, and I started taking barre classes. I’ve never been big into exercise, but taking some time to clear my mind and focus on breathing and challenging myself was key to healing.
Though the world and our ability to socialize with others has changed so much since then, remember to still safely leave the house when you can. Even if it’s just for a walk around the block—fresh air does us all good.
6. Be hopeful
During the darkest time of my life, remaining hopeful was the most difficult.
After experiencing loss, it was nearly impossible to imagine ever going on to have a healthy baby. It’s important to remember that grief, while all-encompassing at times, subsides. Although it never completely goes away, and it can come back and hit you at the most unexpected times, life does get better again.
Nearly three years and one beautiful 19-month-old baby girl later, I can attest to this.
This article was first published on November 6, 2019 and has been updated for timelines.