Nothing quite rocks your self-confidence more than a pregnancy loss or stillbirth. Within minutes, your whole life and the future you have dreamed about disappearing as waves of disbelief and grief wash over you. You just can't believe this is happening. That this is your life or that it's happening to you. You've heard of it happening to other people but never dreamed it would happen to you. Yet here you are...
You have to say goodbye, make decisions about where to lay your baby to rest and are tasked to tell those around you that the precious bundle the whole family was waiting for is arriving in a different way, then leave the hospital with empty arms. You look in the mirror at a body you don't recognize or even want to be in, and a face streaming with tears that you're sure will never see a smile again.
It's no wonder your self-confidence is shattered. You don't trust your own body, question your faith, and all of your future desires, dreams, and plans have all vanished. Everyone around you looks different and doesn't seem to have any concept of the magnitude of pain you're in. It feels like you are in a carnival fun house of sorts where everywhere you turn there is a new challenge that is scarier and uglier than the last one and your job is to claw your way through it and survive. I suppose this may sound dramatic to someone who hasn't lived it, but I promise for those who are in the early days, weeks, and months of their pregnancy or stillbirth loss- this is their reality while they are desperately trying to pretend they are OK.
So how does someone come out of this state and feel confident once again and find the energy and desire they once had for the things they enjoy? As you might have guessed...it is a process. Just as grief itself goes through a process, so does regaining your confidence. It is very personal and takes a lot of patience.
One of the hardest hurdles for me was to be able to trust myself again. It took some time for me to believe that I was worthy and able to achieve the dreams I had and that I wasn't damaged as a result of my loss. I was positive that I would never fully feel joy again, that this scar I had physically and emotionally would be a constant reminder of the stillborn babies that were born too soon. I didn't feel like I deserved to be happy without them. How could I ever move on with my life when I had 2 babies whom I couldn't keep alive? Why would I ever trust my body to help me do anything? And my faith took a big hit until I decided it was the one thing I could cling to that brought me the comfort of a reunion again one day. But overall I felt damaged. I would be okay but not quite enough. And that's where I stayed until I was shown a different way which is what I'm hoping to bring to you today.
I've put together the 5 things that made the biggest difference for me and what I think makes the biggest difference for my clients in regenerating the confidence they once had, or for creating the confidence they would like to have. If you are struggling I want to encourage you to try the thing that seems the easiest for you to try on this list and master that before you move on to another item on the list. Because after all, that's what confidence is isn't it? It's a series of small wins that prove to yourself that you CAN do it and are worthy of it. And please don't judge how basic some of them are. When you are in a season of grief, even the most basic tasks or habits take a huge effort to pull off.
1. Take Care of Yourself.
Get up, shower, and brush your teeth and hair. Drink water. Eat something healthy. Buy yourself some new clothes. Squash any bad habits you may have developed out of depression or anxiety. If you find that you're drinking too much, try one less. If you're relying on chips and queso to comfort you, try portioning it out. Don't wear your maternity clothes. As much effort that goes into making care of yourself usually is met with stopping some things that you know are destructive. There is much to be said for how much basic grooming can make you feel "human" or like yourself again. Especially in the days after a pregnancy loss or stillbirth while you are likely bleeding heavily or leaking milk, a shower, fresh clothing, and a big glass of water after a vigorous toothbrushing session can help stave off the symptoms of depression. If you're normally someone who feels their best with a full face of makeup then give it a try. Buy something new to wear or find something comfortable that doesn't have you noticing the belly that's missing. You might feel more like yourself if you put on some basic makeup and a new outfit and sometimes if you radiate confidence on the outside you just might feel it on the inside.
2. Practice Gratitude
Yes, I said gratitude. Even in the hardest, darkest days of your life, there is so much to be grateful for. A husband or partner who is walking this journey with you, an Extended family who is searching for a way to be helpful, or Possibly older children who you can squeeze at night. Your home. Your community. Having your needs met. There is so much to be grateful for and part of rebuilding confidence is realizing that you do have access to so much even when times are tough. You have resources and people around you who believe in you and are able to pull you out of the ditch when needed. Can you write down 3 things each day that you are grateful for?
3. Get Rid of Negativity
It would be hard to find someone who is confident and reeks of negativity. Well, you can probably find them but you wouldn't want to be like them. Think of someone you admire. Who is someone you look up to and aspire to be? Now think about how they are rooted- is it in negativity or positivity? A few people I admire are Oprah (of course!), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Jennifer Garner. These women are all positive despite the struggles they have gone through and are confident despite it all. When those negative thoughts creep in you know the ones that say "you'll never be happy again" or " I just can't do anything right" or "you're just worthless and broken", stop them in their tracks and start stacking up all the things you DO have in your favor (refer to your gratitude list!). It is a skill to recognize it and turn it around, but the more you listen to what those voices are telling you, the quicker you can argue for the positive, and before you know it you will feel the confidence building again because you are telling yourself all of the amazing things that you know you CAN do. And the one that should be at the top of your list is surviving a baby loss. This is not a fete for the weak and with the strength and wisdom you gain from this experience, my belief is that you can conquer any challenge that comes before you. Besides positive self-talk, some other ways to quiet those negative voices is to listen to music or meditation. Any way to take you out of negativity and put you in a positive space is helpful.
4. Don't Compare Yourself to Others
Your journey is unique and your own. Don't look around at how others are dealing with their loss or their life in general. Keep in mind that people only share their best and worst on social media and the progress of everyday healing is left out because it doesn't seem exciting. Once you have lost a baby you are forever changed. Body after baby takes on a whole new meaning when instead of a trim svelte body all you really want is a big, healthy bump. You look at life, relationships, family, and everything differently. Your timeline is your own. Your grief is your own. Who cares what others do or think you should be doing? Stop trying to measure up to some ideal that doesn't apply to you. Confidence comes from banking up small wins over time. You need the experiences and time to show yourself that you can do anything you want to and that you can trust yourself again. Pen to paper again- Can you write down the "wins" you have had since suffering your baby loss? Maybe you walked for 10 minutes one day or you went back to work and only cried 3 times that day. Compare it weekly to your own progress, not someone else's.
5. Clean Your Space
This one might be my favorite because I love a good cleaning sesh. And I can feel like all is well in my world if my bed is made, dishes are done and blankets are folded neatly. Whether or not you have a similar OCD gene I inherited from my father, cleaning up your environment will give you the confidence (small wins for the win!) that you are in control. Loss mamas know better than anyone that there are things in life that are out of our control, but taking control of the things we can is sometimes what we need to feel better. And feeling like you have control over yourself and your space is a great confidence builder.
Don't Give Up
This is the most important thing. Don't. Give. Up. It's tempting just to settle into the "it is what it is" mentality and think that you are never going to feel like yourself or be normal again. And some of that is true- you won't! But I promise you can come out of it and be confident once again in a whole new way. In a whole new way that most people won't experience. You know how when you tell people that your baby dies and they say "I can't imagine it"- it's not true because they can. They imagine themselves holding their own precious baby and not getting to keep them, and the terror that comes with that thought. What you don't realize is the fact that you have lived through his nightmare and are here to tell your story is the kind of confidence and strength that people work their whole lives to achieve. You didn't get here by choice but don't you dare let it defeat you. You owe it to your baby and yourself to take the gifts their life brought to you and live your own life to the fullest.
Jennifer Senn is a Certified Life Coach, wife, and bereaved Mama of stillborn twin girls. She works with women who are struggling after the loss of their baby to find hope and healing so that they can live a life full of possibility again. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on her website at jennifersenn.com
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