I have gone through the grieving process of losing a child in utero four times but it has taken that long to believe in the need for self-care! The concept felt selfish and an unnecessary luxury but I now recognise that really it is an investment in all the people I love, not just in myself. If I’m not well, I can’t love others well either. Each loss was different but each time I also had different expectations about what the recovery process would look like.
Four losses, four journeys:
1) When I first lost my son Solomon at 16 weeks pregnant I wondered if I was about to fall into a depression. Not because I was particularly depressed around that time, just because I had associated grief with depression – surely grief was all about being sad all the time, right? After that loss, I felt like depression was a choice for me (I know depression is not always a choice!) and one that I avoided by using writing as a tool for processing and engaging with all the emotions I was feeling, writing everything down.
2) My second loss happened in a season of travel and change and I plowed through the season of grief with so many other things going on that I barely had time to acknowledge the loss.
3) My third loss happened just three months later on Christmas day and was a long process which involved an undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy, a ruptured fallopian tube, a month’s bed rest and then a further month’s recovery from surgery when said ruptured fallopian tube was finally discovered. To say I was anxious to get back to ‘normal’ life was an understatement – I was impatient after 6 months of miscarriages and surgeries but they knocked my confidence and made me question what I was even doing with my life, which took time to work through.
4) The fourth loss two years later, another ectopic pregnancy. This time it happened on the other side and was diagnosed quickly but still required surgery and a long post-surgery recovery period. It took me 4-6 weeks to feel like my body was ‘normal’ again (a beach clean at 4 weeks post surgery quickly highlighted I wasn’t quite at full physical strength again!). It also took much longer to adjust emotionally to the news that I was no longer going to be able to have children naturally. I also felt like I should have been able to adjust back to life quickly now being an expert at losing babies!
But that was part of the problem. The expectations I had each time about being able to function at full speed in a short period of time were unrealistic. I needed to be compassionate and practice self-care. I needed to love myself, not blame myself for what had happened (isn’t it your own fault for wanting another baby – don’t you ever learn?!), and to allow myself to take time off to process, heal and go at a slower pace for a season.
Here are four things I have learned about self-care after pregnancy loss:
1. Recovery can take time – and that’s okay.
Nobody expects someone who has had open heart surgery to be running marathons within a month. Not even within three months. Recovery is not about running at full speed as quickly as possible, but it is about strengthening our bodies and souls again after loss. For different people that is going to take different amounts of time. We expect the process of building physical muscle to take time. We need to do little and often regularly with sufficient rest in between. Emotional strengthening is the same – we need to take time to grieve and we need to take time to do things which will give us life. That’s why self-care is so important after miscarriage and pregnancy loss. It helps build emotional strength again.
2. Time is needed to process what we are struggling with.
Part of self-care for me was prioritizing time to process my emotions in a healthy way: seeking out other people who had been through the same thing; reading, drawing, writing etc. I knew I felt weird but it took me a while to sift through the emotions and identify why. I was irritable at times and I needed to look under the surface. Why was I angry exactly? Was I scared of something or just in pain and needed some space? If I needed space I could then find ways to create it. I also needed to be okay with saying ‘no’ to things or to tailor fit my commitments for a while. I needed to be okay with attending a party for 20 minutes and then going home rather than staying for the whole time. I needed to be okay with saying ‘no’ to extra responsibilities or even to some of my regular responsibilities for a season.
3. Asking for extra help is good.
I hate asking for help because I like to be self-sufficient and strong, but the truth is I needed help at times to become strong again. I needed to ask my husband to give me some time without my other children. I needed to accept help from others to bring a meal or clean my house. I needed to say ‘yes’ to people helping to fill in other responsibilities I normally did at work. That meant I had to communicate my needs to others and also communicate what had happened. It was hard, but the love that others showed me in that time was also part of the healing process for me.
4. Self-care can be an opportunity to reset life.
Sometimes my life needs a reset. I get too busy and I forget what is really important. Although I have struggled with the recovery period after miscarriage and pregnancy loss, when I have taken time for self-care, I have seen a transformation in my life. Being intentional with my time has helped me live intentionally. As I have intentionally processed emotions and been intentional with rest and other life-giving activities, I have been able to carry on some of those healthy soul-care things into my daily life after loss which has enriched it tremendously. Gardening and writing have have both become regularly life-giving activities which began in seasons after pregnancy loss. I have also become a more joyful and grateful person as I had to intentionally look for things to be grateful for post-loss and began gratitude lists. These things are small but have given me a greater resistance to daily struggles. Self-care has made me stronger.
What things have helped you post-loss?
I have put together a free (and beautiful!) guide for you with 10 self-care ideas especially for women after miscarriage or pregnancy loss. You can get your free guide now by clicking here or on the image below:
You may also like to read:
What you need to know about depression and pregnancy loss
What healing after miscarriage and pregnancy loss really looks like