Be kind to yourself.
Even when you are racked with grief, and at your lowest ebb, focussing on your own needs will actually help you regain a sense of balance.
Getting your emotional needs met is a way of looking after yourself.
It is not selfish.
But it is fundamental to you getting back on your feet.
You probably have not had to think about this consciously before. I imagine its always come naturally to you.
But losing a baby is such a dramatic shock to anyone, it’s not surprising that what was ‘normal’ for you before does not seem possible at the moment.
When someone loses a baby like you have, thoughts immediately go to grief, of course, as with any loss.
Yes, that’s very real. But actually, it’s not all.
Its normal too, that after the death of someone you love, you may be having difficulty sleeping, and that you would feel more exhausted than you knew was possible.
Lack of sleep, and ‘unmet’ emotional needs, can make you feel generally stressed, disoriented or overwhelmed. And perhaps you have also noticed something like a taboo around babyloss too.
All this can get in the way of how you are able to cope.
And this is just at a time when you really need some security to hang on to.
So what needs could you be nourishing, and what could be getting in the way of doing this?
And most importantly, what can you do - and from today - to feel better?
8 important emotional needs that need nurturing after a baby has died.
1. A need for attention
Pregnancy can be a time when the mother gets a lot of special and different attention.
This attention comes from everywhere - friends, family, colleagues, doctors and nurses. Then suddenly, there is nothing.
People don’t talk. Maybe you have come up against the taboos around babyloss, or maybe it’s just a misplaced fear of upsetting you further. Whatever the reason, you have walked into a void, when there has previously been a truly intense focus.
Silence can be such a cruel metaphor for the loss already endured.
Did you ‘nest’ while pregnant? This is almost like acting out a pattern of parenthood, and as if you were practicing to give attention, or even imagining your baby already here. Then, suddenly, and shockingly, there is nothing to put all this into. What to do with all this attention and love you have to give?
We all have a basic need to give attention, as well as to receive it, and a bereaved mother is no different.
2. A need for autonomy and control
There is an obvious ‘timetable of pregnancy’ and a timetable for a newborn. In pregnancy for example, we are told it will take 9 months, or 40 weeks plus a few, with regular check -up dates, scans, and beautifully drawn pictures of what your baby looks week by week, that can be delivered to your inbox; you know your due –date, and its natural that your mind would have jumped forward to this date, considering perhaps what the season will be like for a newborn and for you. This is normal, and part of our basic human need to be in control, to know what is happening.
But if the pregnancy ends before the due date, the due date still exists.
Losing a baby is a tragic reminder that we are not in control, really, of many things. With current medical knowledge, there is a limit to what can be controlled. What is so sad, is that in babyloss, that limit is reached. It was out of both the doctor’s, and your, control.
3. A need for status
“In the English language there are orphans and widows, but there is no word for the parent who loses a child.”
Is the bereaved parent still seen as a parent? does the mother get maternity leave, or just sick leave, from work? did the parents actually pin future status in some way on becoming a parent? Did the baby get a birth certificate?
Changes in status can be a real blinder after babyloss.
And yes, showing-off comes into it. Which new parent does not proudly show pictures of their newborn?
We all need to be accepted and to be valued. We need to feel that for ourselves, and if bereaved, on behalf of the baby as well. Any lack of acknowledgement for the baby is keenly felt.
Its easy for status to be wittled away, as the expectant mother and father suddenly become bereaved parents, but with no chance to get to know the child and no memories to say good bye to.
4. A need to be emotionally connected with others
We need also to feel emotionally connected with others, be part of a community, and have good relationships. But good friends may be at a loss at what to say, or even become bored with the mood their friend is in and actually distance themselves – ‘friendship tree pruning’ is not uncommon.
Other family relationships may be affected, and couples, both grieving, may cope differently. This can be misinterpreted and misunderstood.
The clumsiness of other people around the subject of babyloss adds to the emotional isolation. Friendship, love, intimacy can be strained to the limits.
5. A need for a sense of competence and achievement
Its hardly surprising some people can feel a real sense of failure. Just think about the words that can be used - miscarriage, failed pregnancy, incompetent cervix, loss…. or they can be so rocked by grief that their ability to function as the normally competent person they are, can be held back for a time. Again, we all share a basic need to have a sense of competence and achievement in our lives.
6. A need for purpose and meaning
You may find that any existing beliefs you had around purpose and meaning – another basic emotional need - may be shaken or changed; you may have a major reassessment of priorities. Its as if you cannot be the person you once were for a time.
7. A need for security
Any sense of security you may have once have had can be challenged: you have seen first-hand the fragility of life. It’s a taboo: babies are not supposed to die. To feel distraught or disoriented for a time is normal.
8. A need for privacy. See more about this in the solutions below.
3 solutions to nurturing these needs.
1. Are any emotional needs being pushed aside for you at the moment?
Reflect a little. (the 8 th emotional need here is that of privacy – we all need space to consolidate our experiences). Did any of the scenarios above ring bells for you? Are you sure that beyond your grief, other emotional needs in your life are being looked after?
Scale now, from 1 to 10, how well the following emotional needs are being met for you at the moment:
- Attention (remember – giving and receiving)
- Control or autonomy
- Good relationships and being part of a wider community
- Sense of status
- Sense of competence and achievement
- Sense of meaning and purpose
- Ability to have privacy.
- Does anything come out from this list, and your numbers assigned, that surprises you?
- Note too if you have areas of strengths and good support. This is not just about looking for problems.
It is common for the emotional needs for attention, status, and control to be particularly badly hit following the death of a baby. But then again, one or all of these may be an area in which you are strong, so do focus on your own reactions to the list. Everyone will have their own unique findings.
Just understanding that needs are not being met, and which ones, can be enormously helpful.
Now, consider these emotional needs again. Are there ways you can fix a problem you have spotted, that would work for you in your life today?
Here are 2 examples to get you started, but you will definitely come up with your own too.(And if you want to share - please do let me know what comes up for you)
The need to give attention can be huge after babyloss: you could find somewhere, perhaps symbolic, to put your love. For example, many people have made memory boxes, or work with photographs, or portraits of their baby. You can have someone else craft something special and personal for you, you can start a blog, contribute to remembrance websites, make memorials, join movements or campaigns. All can be in the name of your baby.
If control and autonomy has gone missing for a while, try to build it up again in a small way. For example: anticipate dates in the ‘timetable of pregnancy’. The day you found out, the due date, the birthday, the anniversary of the death, and prepare something personal for these dates. In this way you will be calling the shots, and won’t feel so sideswiped when a significant date comes up. In time consider choosing one day a year for commemoration.
- 2. Relaxation, visualisations or mindfulness
Its so normal for you to feel stressed. Relaxation techniques, and mindfulness meditation practice can really calm you down, and build space to meet your emotional needs.
For mindfulness examples, UCLA have excellent podcasts: http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22
Combine this with a physical activity,
Try to do 20 minutes of relaxation or meditation a day. In time, try also to do something active such as a sport, take walks or an active hobby on most days as well.
The relaxation will calm you, and the activity will lift your mood and get you back into shape.
3. Be really, really, honest
How else can I put this, but is your thinking straight at the moment? It is such a stressful time and you have been through a lot. Are you allowing this to undermine your sense of competence?
Do not do that.
None of this was your fault.
Absolutely none of it. The medical profession cannot yet explain why these losses occur; many people who sit through a post mortem will know just how much of a mystery this is for doctors. The honest ones admit it.
Or are you feeling your sense of status has been undermined?
In time there will be positive things you can do for your baby, for yourself, or for your community that will re-adjust this sense for you. These things will come to you.
Do you perhaps believe that to mourn and, therefore to recover, would be disloyal to your baby? That focussing on yourself will make you lose contact with your child?
Please grieve in your own time, and at your own pace. But your baby would not want you to be sad forever. Other people who love you need you too.
Be kind to yourself. If you are not being so already, make this the day you start.
Babyloss has been called a special kind of loss. It can be so very distressing and disturbing and create real chaos in people’s lives. Grief, stress and taboos all conspire to form obstacles to meeting emotional needs properly.
Spending a little reflective time to focus on what those needs are, then working to ringfence, protect and nurture them, together with relaxation and meditation, can give you space to move through grief.
Being kind to yourself, by addressing your own needs and then allowing yourself a place to relax regularly and feel calmer, will allow you to regain a real sense of control again.
It is actually quite likely, as hard as it may be to believe now, that you could come back stronger.