Loss in general is a really sensitive subject, but losing a baby in a pregnancy is particularly raw because you not only lose a child, but lose the hope of a future you never knew. You are mourning the life you daydreamed about and the images you had floating in your head dissipate like smoke. There was such joy and happiness, and then the bottom falls out.
This post is about what happened, and what I did, when my best friend lost her baby during her pregnancy. In the past, when a friend was hurting, I dropped the ball. I didn’t follow my gut and I know better now.
The purpose of this post is to tell you what I did now, when a friend lost her baby during a pregnancy, with the hope this helps others who find themselves in a similar situation: when a friend is experiencing immense pain and you don’t know what to do.
So much of life is just showing up. I have learned the hard way, being present for my friends and leaning in is infinitely better compared to the tendency to run away, avoid, and go radio silent. In my life, when there is discomfort of any kind, I try to remember to lean in. (I’m telling you, Sheryl Sandberg’s book (COO of Facebook) “Lean In” has weaved into all parts of my life!) There is no value in shrinking away and becoming completely absent. No one benefits from this.
What happened: There’s a positive pregnancy test!
My friend’s positive pregnancy test was years in the making. She received the good news from her doctor’s office after a lot of heartache, hopes, prayers, wishes, and plenty of medical intervention to treat infertility. Hearing the good news was like celebrating New Year’s and Fourth of July all at once, I felt like fireworks were going off! She FINALLY has the happy ending!
Then, the baby slipped away.
Before we knew it, doubt and fear set in because the ultrasound showed a smaller baby, but numbers from bloodwork kept rising. Shortly thereafter, they started dropping and then the doctors could not find a heartbeat. The dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure was scheduled and we were left with sadness, heartache and shock.
My best friend told me this is a really lonely experience. I have heard others share the same feeling of loneliness after losing a pregnancy. I can understand it because you are the only one carrying this baby, you are the only one who has to experience physically losing the baby (it’s pretty traumatic physically) and no one is doing this with you, no one can tell you exactly what to expect, and no one can do it for you.
When another bestie was diagnosed with cancer, she also expressed loneliness even though she was surrounded by people. She was the only one going through the treatments, feeling every symptom and side-effect. It’s not a community event.
Moreover, losing a baby has a negative stigma attached to it. People can more easily wrap their brain around illness and willingly flock to help friends and family who are in the hospital. There are fundraisers and walks for diseases, but no one is advertising losing a pregnancy. The loneliness must be palpable. My friend talked about how no one else in the world loved her baby like she and her husband did, so there was no memorial, shared stories or reminiscing with others about the impact their life had made. She just waited for the physical pain to pass and rode the waves of the emotional pain of losing a pregnancy.
So much of life is just showing up. Be there.
This is as simple as just showing up to exercise when you feel like doing anything but, or being there when sh*t really hits the fan. I am always practicing my skill to “show up” especially when others tend to fade into the background. Love and finding the human connection is what keeps me going in life. Feeling needed, wanted, and connected to another person is powerful. Sometimes you don’t even know why you feel a certain way, but this is where following my gut comes into play.
As soon as I learned there wasn’t a heartbeat, my heart sank into my stomach and I could feel my chest crumble in on itself like it was brittle and made of ash. My shoulders slumped with the weight of sadness and because my heart sank, I couldn’t sit up straight. I was depleted of strength and felt overwhelmed with emotion. It was like I entered a void and there was just loss and sadness. I know this is NOTHING compared to the heart-wrenching pain my friend felt in the moment. Still, I was having such a visceral reaction to the news, so I knew her reaction was going to be infinitely more intense and sad. I could not imagine going through that experience and I needed to do something.
What’s your love language?
My love language is not sending stuff (like a care package). It’s just not who I am. My love languages are words of affirmation, acts of service and quality time. So I send myself, try to get lots of talking time in (it’s very therapeutic), and do whatever I can to help out (like help out with their kids and cook/bake while I’m there)! I really like doing this and it helps me feel better, so I hope it helps my friends feel better too (in some small way).
As soon as the idea of going to see my friend popped into my head, I knew it was exactly what I needed to do. I could feel it in my gut, soul, heart and mind. Every part of me was in agreement, GO SEE HER. Every atom of my being was nodding and saying, GO SEE HER.
I immediately contacted my hubby with the request and started talking logistics because he would need to take off from work to be home with the girls and he ran out of time off for the year. We needed to get creative with his work schedule and ask our nanny to come in on her usual day off. A scheduling conflict was not going to stop me.
I should note my best friends live on the east coast and I moved to the Midwest about 8 years ago. To get to my best friends and home again, I need to travel 900 miles (or ~14 hours). We are all really good about making time for one another (we also have amazing husbands who help us make it happen). Driving long distances on my own (or with one of my kids) is not a big deal to me because I like driving and I have my routine down with a pit stop to get gas, bathroom and coffee. Also, this is a great time to listen to books on CD too (yes, I’m old).
As soon as I decided I was going, my heart felt happy again.
I felt lighter, the weight on my shoulders was lifted and I could sit upright and see sunshine again. The world wasn’t gray anymore. I wanted to get everything in order on my end before calling my bestie with the news to get your air mattress ready, I’m coming! Her procedure was scheduled the next day, so I was looking forward to sharing this news before entering one of the darkest days of her life. I had NO IDEA she had the procedure just the day before in an emergency situation and was convalescing at home. My phone calls were waking her from much-needed slumber (oops).
When she picked up the phone (after my nonstop calling like a super stalker), I heard her voice lift a bit with surprise and disbelief when she said, “Wait, you’re coming? You’re coming here?!” This was all the confirmation I needed to know I was definitely doing the right thing. I was so happy I could bring a little bit of happiness on such a gloomy time. Lose a baby, gain a visit with homemade baked treats to boot! It’s nowhere equal, but I’m a classic Jewish mama (balabusta in Yiddish) and I show my love with food.
From the outside, my reason for going to see her was not obvious because it looked like I was responding to an emergency like a firefighter. I was rushing in to respond to her falling apart. This is not so. I knew she would be OK if I didn’t go see her, but I knew I would not be OK if I did not go see her.
During my visit
I began my long drive after I got home from work and had some quality time with little ones. I arrived late at night, and the following morning I woke up to the sounds of my bestie talking to her toddler. My bestie wanted to get some early morning fresh air and take their dog for a walk. Her son did not want her to go (and if you have been around strong-willed toddlers, you know how defeating this can feel). While rubbing the sleep from my eyes in the other room, I could sense the tone of the environment was frustrating. So I delicately suggested, “Why don’t you tell him there’s a surprise for him out here and I’ll hang out with him so you can take your walk?” (Thankfully this kid loves his Auntie Chelle.)
Her son was thrilled to find a new playmate by the Christmas tree (look, Santa brought you a Jew as a belated Christmas gift!). My bestie left the house with a calm and happy toddler showing his Auntie Chelle his new big boy bed and toys he got a week prior for Christmas. My bestie returned feeling refreshed and able to find clarity in her solitude. I didn’t say anything to make her feel better. I wasn’t even physically with her for these several hours. But, by taking care of her little guy, she felt she could take care of herself for a bit.
During my visit, my bestie expressed how she feels she is at her absolute weakest right now. Years of infertility and finally getting everything she hoped for, then having it ripped away was too much to process all at once. This reminded me of how when I admit to feeling weak and vulnerable, I am actually doing something only very strong people can do. During our weakest moments, others lift you up when you cannot do it yourself and that’s where she is right now. If you know you cannot do it yourself and you are strong enough and self-aware enough to know you need to ask for help… THAT IS HUGE.
Only the strongest can express weakness.
Every time I have showed my soft underbelly on any subject, people come to my aid. This is counterintuitive to how society often wants us to feel. We often get the message of not to trust, stay in control and be strong enough to go it alone. Never asking for help is not a badge of honor (something I fear moms experiencing postpartum depression think they must do, but realizing something is wrong and asking for help makes you a hero in my mind). Refraining from expressing weakness is a sign of fear, mistrust and real fragility. We are not islands. Making a human connection is natural and asking for help does not make someone weak, it makes them human.
Whether you are the one experiencing the terrible hurt or see a loved one going through something terrible. I implore you, don’t run away. Lean in and let them know you are there.
[This has been published with the permission of my bestie, she’s amaze-balls and one of my soul sisters.]