Someone said to me, “I don’t know how you do it”.
I replied, “I wasn’t given a choice”.
Did you know that one percent of all pregnancies today end in stillbirth? The death of a baby is not as rare an event as you’d think. It can happen to anyone.
But never for one moment did I expect it to happen to us. You never do. But it did, and I’m now officially part of this horrendous statistic and club that no one wants to belong to.
Six months ago, my daughter Aya died. She had a rare undetected genetic condition called Chromosome 22 disorder, and she died at birth. On that day, my world literally changed forever. I always assumed that losing my parents would be the greatest loss I’d ever experience, but there is without a doubt nothing as personal and life-changing as losing a child.
It’s one of the worst traumas that a human can experience, and yet we so rarely talk about it. As a result, it’s hard for any of us to understand how to handle being in this situation or how to help someone who may be.
It’s still early days for me, and I’m not claiming to be an expert on the subject. I know I still have a long journey ahead (if it ever goes away, which I’m told it doesn’t), but I didn’t think I could get through one day, yet alone a week, a month, or six months. But here I am today. I’m still standing (granted a bit wobbly at times, but that’s allowed), so I wanted to share with you what I have learned so far. This is my best advice for surviving what really is the worst thing any human could go through.
Get professional help.
People are often reluctant to seek help, but it’s there for a reason – it really does help! My background is in psychology and I was already regularly seeing a therapist at LightHouse Arabia before this happened, so I was open to getting help and was well versed in the benefits of it.
I could say – without feeling bad about it – that I hated hearing my friends complaining about their kids because at least they were alive.
LightHouse Arabia has a specialized grief team that do both one-on-one sessions and group therapy, including sessions specifically for those who have lost children. For the first three months after Aya’s death, I attended weekly one-on-ones. Today, I go in twice a month, or as needed. One of the main reasons I found it beneficial was that I could say whatever was going through my mind, no matter how angry or bitter it sounded. I could say – without feeling bad about it – that I hated hearing my friends complaining about their kids because at least they were alive. I could say things I didn’t even think I could say to my husband without any judgement at all. And I could find comfort in knowing that everything I was doing, feeling, or experiencing is totally normal. Speaking to someone who was removed from the situation was invaluable to me and to my healing journey.
The one piece of advice I’d give here or to anyone considering therapy for grief (or for any other reason) is to make sure you feel comfortable and at ease with whomever you see. If you have a first session and don’t like the person, don’t go back. Move on and try someone else because this really only works when you connect with the person. I was so lucky to have clicked instantly with my grief therapist, who even checks up on me regularly in between sessions. Really feeling that she genuinely cares made a big difference during the worst time of my life.
Professional help is fantastic, but that being said, it can come at a high price. What’s more, very few health insurance policies cover it, which can be a major barrier for many. If it is for you, there are a number of free support groups in the UAE, and Rashid Hospital offers emergency mental health care too. Whatever your circumstances, there is always a way to access help.
If you need medication, take it.
I’ve always tried to avoid medication when I could, looking for alternatives whenever possible, but there is a time and place for it. For me, this was it. I don’t think I would have made it through the early days without it. The pain was so unbearable that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was prescribed a monitored combination of anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication for daily use, Xanax for panic attacks, and sleeping tablets because the nights were the hardest.
When I opened up to people about it, I was surprised to discover how many were also on medication. You would never know, because it’s helping them get well and back in control of their life.
I’m still on medication today, but I’m on the lowest dose and I plan to be off it come January. Trust me; it can really help getting you functioning and back on your feet when you’re not sure if you’ll ever be able to stand again.
You need to let yourself feel the pain – every last inch of it.
One of the best pieces of advice I received was to allow myself to feel the pain and go through it – to face it head on in order to have the best chance of getting through it as “easily” as I could.
There’s no hiding on this journey.
In the first few weeks, I lay in bed and howled crying. It hurt so much that I didn’t know where to put myself. I’ve always found comfort in a warm shower, and I lost track of the times I sat on the floor of my shower sobbing, feeling every bit of pain in its rawness.
It brings a tear to my eye and hurts just writing it. But I let myself feel every last painful, brutal, and horrendous bit of it. It’s shit, but you have to face it and feel if you’re going to have any hope of getting on with life in a healthy way. There’s no hiding on this journey.
Be selfish – it’s the one time in your life when you really can be!
If there is one time in your life when you can be totally selfish, then this is it. If you want to eat cake in your pants, you can. If you want to cry for ten hours straight or scream, you can. And if you want to see no-one, that’s also totally fine.
It was about three weeks after Aya died before I could see anyone other than my husband and medical professionals. When that time came, I knew who I could face seeing and who I could not. Go with your gut instinct; some people will be better for you in this time than others, and you will know. Avoid those who always have to outdo you even on the terrible stuff and those who you can’t be yourself around. I surrounded myself with friends who didn’t care if I looked shocking, or if I smelt because I hadn’t showered in days and was covered in snot. They’re your true friends.
Whatever you need to do to get through this, you do it or you don’t.
I own a business and have been known to be a bit of a workaholic, so everyone assumed I’d just throw myself back into work to get through this, but I could barely get out of bed and function, so work was not an option. Today, one of the reasons my psychiatrist says I am doing so well is because I didn’t rush back to work and I took time off, followed all the steps to “recovery”, and didn’t keep busy to avoid dealing with it. I was selfish for me.
I also found that, after we lost Aya, the invitations to baby showers, kids’ birthdays, and many other social events stopped. People also didn’t want to tell us that they were expecting or share their good news, so they avoided us again. I understand that they didn’t want to “rub it in” or risk upsetting us, but it didn’t help. In the end, I asked friends to invite me as if everything was normal and to leave it up to me to decide what I was or wasn’t up for doing. If I couldn’t face it, I would tell them straight. It’s nice to feel included; I just wanted to feel normality where I could.
Whatever you need to do to get through this, you do it or you don’t.
Talk about them, but be prepared for some difficult conversations too.
Saying you lost a child is a total conversation killer. Trust me; there’s nothing quite like it. But that old adage that “it’s good to talk” is true. Our children existed; they were real and it’s totally natural to want to remember them and say their names.
So, yes, it’s good to talk, but as humans we’re not very good at talking about the bad stuff. We don’t like having difficult, slightly awkward conversations, and we’re generally not very good at it. But like with most things, the more we embrace and talk about uncomfortable things, the easier it becomes. That being said, you have to be prepared for some difficult and downright awful conversations. They will happen.
Some of the things people said to me really triggered and upset me. “Your child is in a better place” – I mean, I don’t know about you, but I think the best place for a child to be is with their family and not in a graveyard. There are always questions about what happens after death; where we go and what it’s like. The bottom line is that we don’t know. Nobody knows.
Also, don’t tell me, “It’s just not your time and you’ll have another child again soon.” It’s far too soon to be going there and why wouldn’t it be my time? Oh, and don’t ask us if we’re “better now” or “holding up” or anything along those lines. The truth is that we’re doing horribly, and if we say anything else we’re just trying to be pleasant and make you feel better.
There’s no right or wrong – we’re all different.
Ultimately, when it comes to grief, there is no right or wrong. I’ve met quite a few couples who have dealt with child loss since this happened to us, and our journeys have all been very different. My husband and I go visit our daughter’s grave every Monday morning. It’s our weekly routine and we find peace in it. I have met other people who in ten years have never once visited their child’s grave but find other ways to remember and honor them. Some people want to talk about it; others don’t. Some go back to work soon; others take time out. Give yourself time and remember that there is no rule when it comes to a loss like this.
I read an article about child loss that described it as losing a limb.
There’s also no one-way-fits-all approach to surviving it. My advice and guidance is what worked for me, but for others it could be completely different. As with many things in life, I believe that you need to trust your gut instinct and do what feels right at the time.
I’m not going to sugar coat anything. Nothing will change you and your life more than the loss of a child. I read an article about child loss that described it as losing a limb. It also said that, if someone tells you it gets better with time, they’re just lying to you. Yes, cuts get better and wounds do heal, but when you lose an arm, it’s foolish to await the day it “gets better”. You simply learn to live with one arm. And I guess that’s where I am, six months on, taking each day as it comes – the good days, the bad days, and the downright awful days.