In December 2005, I gave birth to a stillborn son. While in labor, I experienced a grief so transcendent, it almost lifted me up, after which waves of despair seemed to knock me to a kind of seabed. In those early weeks and months each day was a powerful struggle to move through — to find my breath and my center.
Baby loss can be extremely painful and isolating. Ironic, because pregnancy and infant loss is far more common than is widely believed — as many as 25 percent of confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage, and an additional 50,000 babies are stillborn or die in infancy in the United States annually.
The number of families affected, whether directly or indirectly, staggers. More staggering still is the unacknowledged grief that they may feel in a society which lacks agreed-upon mourning rituals for those experiencing this type of loss. The shock of loss is often met with silence. Fording this lonely stream presents a challenge for those trying to remember and grieve, while also moving forward.
In the months following the stillbirth of my son, I began a frantic search for meaning. The idea of meaning rising from suffering then, as now, lacked definition, but did offer something resembling redemption. By redemption I mean in the sense of “re-deeming” all that my life had been before, calling everything by a new name. Grieving was the acquisition of a whole new language.
That truth lives alongside many other truths, but the peace I still aim for has multiple parts. I know that my memory of my lost son honors him. A few things have helped me along the way, and I’d like to offer them up as possible pathways for others:
Yoga/Meditation: Establishing a yoga or meditation practice can be grounding and can be done by people at all practice levels from the novice to the advanced. Says yoga instructor Alex Auder: “Restorative yoga and meditation have been shown to be helpful in healing from trauma, including that which is associated with loss. This practice can help in resetting internal mechanisms like eating and sleeping.”
Writing: After trauma, many people feel both numb and struck dumb, and for this reason, writing or keeping a journal in helpful in the journey through and out, offering the chance to articulate emotion and response rather than denying them. Says award-winning novelist Edie Meidav: “After trauma, many people feel they lived a story unscripted by them. And since we walk around carrying great secret possibility — the ability to name elements of what we would otherwise call, merely, pain, shelving it away in the pain drawer — we all have a great power. Tell what you know (and also what you don’t know) about what you have suffered and both writer and reader find a sense of choice in what otherwise would seem to strip a person of that most basic dignity.” Those who have never written before are sometimes surprised by the benefit they find in the act of telling their own story.
Photography: Take a self-portrait. Or, work with your partner of close friend to create a portrait. Choose some objects to memorialize your loss and consider how best to use them within your self-portrait or your portrait.
Listen to Music: Listening to music can be immensely therapeutic. Music may allow you access to the emotions you may need to feel and share with others. Listening to music may enable you to cry, rage or relax. Make a playlist of songs that ease your soul and share it with those close to you.
Seek support from your partner: Communicate with your partner. Resist the urge to try to be strong for one another. Such indomitability may have unintended consequences and create misunderstandings in your relationship at a critical moment. Make space for complex conversation to occur; give permission that each may feel a sense of loss and each may be capable, at different times, of offering new kinds of support.
Finally, know that your path is as singular as your loss and giving yourself permission to mourn and feel it may offer significant benefit. Says Dr. Julie Bindeman: “Loss isn’t about moving on and forgetting but about integrating and finding meaning.”
Despite the seemingly overwhelming nature of this intention, much of human experience bears out a difficult truth about suffering, meaning and understanding the painful-and-still-beautiful lessons concerning the remnants of loss. As Camus wrote, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me lay invincible summer.”
This article originally appeared on BabyCenter.