Recovering From Infant Loss
Lisa Wall | SHE RECOVERS® Foundation
Regardless if it was day one or an adult child – your loss is valid, your pain is real, and it doesn’t make it any easier no matter where along the timeline you lose someone. It is always painful. It is always a process. It is many, many, many, layers of grief.
Lisa Wall, SHE RECOVERS® Community Engagement Specialist
My name is Lisa Wall. I am a person in recovery from codependency, workaholism, and trauma. I am also recovering from infant loss.
On January 14th, 2020 I received news that a beloved friend, Charlene Chambers had passed away. Not long before we had talked about the upcoming birth of my son, Rowan. After losing her daughter Faith at 20 weeks, Charlene transformed her pain into purpose when she became a birth and bereavement Doula and created the Healing Hearts Foundation to support families who have experienced infant loss. She was a mother, wife, relentless supporter, and advocate. It was impossible not to feel deeply heard and seen by Charlene. I was struck by the community she had created for local families. It was her power, strength, and presence that would serve as a guiding light on my own path of recovering from grief. These words are for you, Charlene. You are the doula in the stars, calling all of our spirit babies home. I love you.
January 30th, 2020 was the day my heart burst open with a love I never knew possible, and the deepest sorrow I’ve ever known. My son Rowan joined my husband and I at a young 19 weeks. We shared a few breaths earthside. We held each other. I cried out to Charlene. I prayed she would look after him. I howled “I’m so sorry” over and over. I sang to Rowan. And then, we said goodbye.
With courageous vulnerability, I write these words on the anniversary of Rowan’s passing. This is what I have learnt.
It’s ok to grieve.
One year later, I still struggle to call losing Rowan a miscarriage. What word is there really, to describe the experience of deeply loving someone you had never met but know better than anyone who had come before. He also didn’t go missing, so loss doesn’t even really sit right. What I do know, is not to let any words like “miscarriage” or “stillbirth” or the opinions expressed by others minimize your experience.
Regardless if you are recovering from infant loss or the loss of an adult child – your loss is valid, your pain is real, and it doesn’t make it any easier no matter where along the timeline you lose someone. It is always painful. It is always a process. It is many, many, many, layers of grief.
It’s ok to cry.
Sometimes I have moments where I start crying because I ruined my hair trying to cut it myself, or for the time my dog got spooked and ran off, or because I let the fire die out again. As isolated events, these things seem trivial. The truth is, when I get curious about it, I’m not “crying for no reason.” I don’t need to just “get over it”. These tears are an invitation to peel another layer of grief surrounding the loss of my child. These “why the fuck am I crying moments” have turned into opportunities to heal a little more.
I deeply relied on my friends, family, and recovery community. There is no shame in saying “I simply can’t do that little thing you are asking of me today because my grief is just so overwhelming.” I found the only person “expecting” me to jump back into things was myself.
It’s ok to remember.
My impulse to pack everything up was an attempt to avoid my feelings and lock them away, which would only drive my grief deeper down inside myself. I set up a beautiful altar for Rowan. Sacred objects and belongings to honor him including a picture of his baby feet, healing herbs, a candle, and a garnet. It is ok to honor spirit babies as living beings. We develop a relationship with them in the womb, earthside – whatever it may be. We don’t have to be ashamed of these experiences.
“Turns out while it may feel like it, we’re not the only ones that remember. And while our babies’ lives may have been short, their impact isn’t. While the grief is endless, there can still be love.” – Charlene Chambers
It’s ok to forget.
Forgetting to say thank you for the gifts from friends, unanswered voicemails, appointments missed, dates confused, losing track of time, inability to recall “what happened”- is all a normal response to moving through trauma. I dissociated at times throughout the 72 hours spent in the hospital. It is our body’s way of trying to keep us alive in times of imminent threat. Having empathic witnesses who see us, who can hold our grief, who feel completely well and good with witnessing our tears – can serve as the historians of our experience. We don’t have to remember every detail to know it changed us.
It’s ok to talk about it.
My husband and I processed our feelings with a bereavement counsellor and I received spiritual guidance. I also shared my experience within the SHE RECOVERS Together Community. Not only did I receive an outpouring of support, but I heard so many stories from other women just like me who were recovering from infant loss. While it is absolutely heartbreaking to have this in common, it was reparative for all of us to have our experiences normalized in a welcoming and supportive environment.
My body had a story to tell too. I experienced “shame butterflies”, generalized nerve pain, and complications following my time in the hospital. I was able to process the physical trauma with a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner who specializes in birth trauma, and consulted with a homeopath and herbalist to help my body release the stuck shame and physical trauma from my nervous system.
“After a loss suddenly it seems like everyone opens up with a personal story. Because it truly affects so many. Few talk about it until after someone else loses, and I vow to change that. I will speak our children’s names so the whole world remembers.” – Charlene Chambers
You don’t have to recover alone.
I discovered that even women very close to me had suffered in silence because of the shame they felt. I had no idea how common infant loss truly was. It is estimated about 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Like Ann Voskamp, I believe that “shame dies when stories are told in safe places.”
“If you reach out, the community you will receive is priceless. While it’s the club you never wanted to join, we will hold you up. Some of my closest friends were made after sharing about loss. While I would never want to lose my daughter again, these people in my life are irreplaceable.” – Charlene Chambers
It’s ok to not be ok.
A few days before the anniversary of Rowan’s passing, I saw a family with a young boy learning to walk. I started to feel an ache in my heart, knowing that I would never teach Rowan how to walk, ride a bike, or hear him say “I love you.” When these aches happen, it doesn’t mean we don’t want the best for other parents. Our grief doesn’t take away the joy from others. It simply means our little ones mattered to us too.
“We often hear the stories or the pain about what happens right after a loss, but less so about what happens years later. Time does not heal all wounds. While it does dull the edges of grief, that grief is still there. But then there are new different parts to that grief, milestones never met while you watch other children meet them, and it leaves you feeling broken all over again. You become the gate-keeper to the memory of your baby when all you want to do is hold them in your arms.” – Charlene Chambers
Daily and sacred ritual are huge pieces of my patchwork of recovery. In the aftermath of our extreme loss, exploring my environment through the senses, putting my bare feet on the earth, and reading a meditation each day helped me to reclaim a sense of magick in the mundane. Singing for 5 minutes in the morning also helped me to foster resilience and keep going because sound moves matter. If we have energy or stories stuck in the body we can use our voices to engage with the nervous system and move emotions through and out.
Community can serve as a healing balm for heartbreak.
We can learn so much about the potential for healing and processing of grief from Indigneous culture, First Nations’ Peoples, Shamans, and followers of earth based spirituality. The sacred art of coming together in community – to honor loss, to dance emotion through the body, to sing loved ones to the other side – is a trauma reparative experience as much as a ritual of mourning. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to heal from the loss of one.
Kim Anderson, Author of ‘Life Stages and Native Women: Memory, Teachings, and Story Medicine’ refers to Indigenous women as “doorkeepers to the spirit world”, a metaphor to describe their giving of life, their stewardship and relationship to the earth, and their knowledge of holistic medicines. These medicines being not only herbs and plants but the somatic practices of singing, moving energy, and dancing in community.
Grief is a cycle, not a series of steps.
Grief isn’t something to get over but rather something to move through. I know I will never have closure around losing Rowan. I know that every year the changing of the seasons, the anniversary of his death, and the date he was due to come into the world will be marked in my heart. I will remember him fondly. I will give myself permission to cry. I will hold the sacred memories of feeling his skin against mine. The soothing words spoken by beloveds will forever ring in my ears. There is no finish line in grief. We do not recover. Instead we encounter the same speed bumps serving as sacred reminders of the deepest love we may have ever known and become more whole with each turn of the wheel.
“My life was changed forever when I lost my daughter, but it wasn’t all bad.” – Charlene Chambers
“We are all recovering from something”. – SHE RECOVERS Intention & Guiding Principle. If you are a woman recovering from grief and loss we encourage you to join the SHE RECOVERS Together Facebook Group. You are welcome here.