This was a hard title to choose but the only thing that kept spinning through my mind was the feeling I had after my twins' stillbirth when I was so angry with my body for failing me. Failing what it was supposed to do, what it was designed to do, and failing at doing something it had done twice before without a hitch.
I was so angry because I took care of myself, ate healthily, and took prenatal vitamins regularly, and after my loss had thoughts like "why do people who abuse their bodies get to have their babies?" Or "why would I trust this body to do anything?" I would look down at my c-section scar that had staples over the opening where they took my babies out of me and felt betrayed by my own body. I had a belly that looked deflated but still carried the extra weight I gained, and breasts that were swollen and painful as they leaked the milk that was meant for the baby who was no longer there. Anger. Besides intense sadness, I felt so much anger toward my body for not functioning like it was supposed to and guilt because it was all up to me to keep my babies alive before they were born. Since we were children, little girls learned that we might one day have a baby since that's what our bodies were made to do, so if it couldn't carry out this main function, what good is it, and where else will it fail me? I was pregnant again shortly after my loss so I never fully lost all the baby weight before starting all over again and the disappointment with my body carried on for several more years. The C-section scar was barely healed from the year before when it made its final opening to birth to my healthy red-haired (surprise!) rainbow baby girl.
The inner dialogue we have with our bodies struggles as much as the inner dialogue in our minds. There are no suggestions or how-to guides on how to live in your body once your baby's heart stops beating in it. That very thought in itself changes the relationship you have with your body. You no longer see it as this vital miracle-making machine that is providing everything it needs to grow a human and changing every day. The wonder and excitement of all the noticeable changes and photo documentation, the fun of learning what fruit matches the size of your baby this week come to a complete halt, and all you want to do is to be anywhere else except inside of this body. This disappointing body who betrayed you. I've never been cheated on by a partner or spouse but I imagined it feels so similar- like you have a beautiful future planned together with nothing but happiness and to be together and then you find the secret phone with the cheating text messages and suddenly all you want is to be out. I think it's similar to how we feel inside our bodies after a loss.
Part of the frustration we feel with our bodies is because of the fact that the body takes a little while to catch up and be signaled that the baby is no longer there. What doesn't let up is your desire to still be pregnant. The lack of fetal movement and kicking are gone, the food aversions or cravings subside and nausea, if you have any, usually goes away pretty quickly. You're missing the symptoms of a pregnant body, your life feels so out of control, and are now left with a body in a state that you weren't expecting it to be without a baby in your arms to show for it. Those extra pounds, bleeding for weeks and flabby skin seems like a fair price to pay when you can deliver a healthy baby, but it can be devastating and lead to body shame, guilt, and self-blame when the pregnancy ends in loss.
Many women feel disgusted at the sight of their postpartum loss body and develop an unhealthy body image as a result. The desire to "bounce back" after a baby to pre-pregnancy weight isn't usually talked about among loss mothers. It's another thing that we're supposed to get right back to normal with, but it causes conflicting feelings because we would do anything to see the scale climbing and experience the body changes that pregnancy brings. Some women admit to even keeping weight on as an emotional blanket as proof that the baby was actually there. Of course the public chimes in with their opinions of how you look. 'You don't even look like you were ever pregnant" or "You look great for what you've been through" can add to an already difficult time of accepting what has happened and the aftermath it left on your body. Your body is yours again but at what cost? Most grieving mothers don't have it in them at least for a while to care much about their appearance and instead only see failure and emptiness.
My battle with my body image lasted for years (and still does) but I worked with a coach once who had me look in the mirror naked and tell me what I saw. All of the cellulite, sagging everywhere, too thick thighs and bulging stomach were staring right back at me in full view. Then she asked me to look again at all the things this body has done and that's when the tears started to flow My body survived childhood trauma, grew 5 babies, had 4 c-sections, 1 hysterectomy, and a colon reconstruction. I am strong, I am healthy, and I can do anything I put my mind to, My body has carried me to amazing vacation destinations and allows me to be a participant in my life. It lets me hug my loved ones tight and be the creative person I am destined to be. I can change the outward appearance part of it and while I definitely have some battle scars and stretch marks to show for the journey, I am so grateful for the things my body allows me to do. It doesn't feel like a failure anymore.
How do we forgive when we are so angry with our bodies for letting us down? What does forgiving your body even mean?
Trust Your Body
I think the first step is to trust your body. Trust that it did all it could to provide a safe, nurturing environment for your baby. It didn't fail you and it doesn't have the ability to betray you it is simply a vessel. But it's a vessel that can produce that rainbow baby you are dreaming of, or be more of the loving wife or partner you want to be. Think back to a time when you felt invincible because you ran a race, finished home decorating project or just had a relaxing day at the beach. Tap into that pride and comfort you felt in your body. Trust that your body has gotten you this far and it is made to heal, protect and provide resilience and strength for you in every scenario of your life.
Start by taking care of your body from the inside.
I know- it's the most boring, basic advice but so much of the basics get left behind in a grieving season. So I'm gonna go there... Drink the water to start replenishing all the tears that it has produced, eat some healthy food to help nourish the empty hole in your heart and stomach that is left behind and if possible, take it outside and look for the beauty in nature. Can you do the mirror assessment as I did? If you have a c-section scar can you see it as something different than an exit wound? Cue the zipper jokes... List out the amazing things your body has done or survived already in your life and appreciate its resilience. When you look at it from this perspective the lumps and bumps seem to get a little less obvious, and if you can marvel at the miracle your body is and all it has gone through, then you can truly be on the path to forgiveness.
Try to talk positively to yourself
I follow an amazing weight loss coach, Corinne Crabtree, (she has a program called NO BS weightloss) and her program is all about positive self-talk and how to shift your thoughts. There is no food plan, no exercise regimen yet she helps hundreds of thousands of women lose their weight for good through positive self-talk and by catching themselves in those moments of shitty thoughts ( a little disclaimer- she is not afraid of some cuss words! Like a LOT of them so if that bothers you you may want to stay away) but can you imagine how much your life would change if you would catch yourself in those moments when you are beating yourself up and were able to change your thoughts? I will admit, that this is something I'm still working on but my self-confidence has been greatly improved but what she teaches. An example that loss moms usually think of would be switching a thought from "My body will never be the same" to "My body is strong and protected and cared for me through the hardest time in my life." Notice where you are talking negatively about your body or about yourself in general and jot down those thoughts. See where they could be upgraded to some thoughts that would actually be helpful and make you feel better.
Something I have learned about recently is bereavement pumping and am amazed by the women who are able to give this incredible gift to other mothers, especially because at the time of this post we are experiencing a nationwide formula shortage, It definitely isn't for everyone and I am in awe of the dedication and resilience you must need to possess in order to do it, I love that this is a choice for loss mamas now. It wasn't something I knew about at the time or had to make a decision on but if you can do it it's a great option to make peace with your body and feel like your pregnancy served a purpose.
Find your people
I guarantee you are not alone and if you talk to other loss moms I promise you will find do many similarities in your feelings about your body. You can join me on my Private Facebook page- Navigating Baby Loss where you can meet other parents and we can have discussions in a safe space. Finding others who are or have been in your shoes is a vital part of recovery. Warning: don't stay in a group or engage with people who swirl in negativity. You know the ones... the ones who are in it all the time with some sort of comment that brings everyone down or seeks attention and never seems to have a better day. Healing is not a straight line upward- there will be dips and peaks, but the people you are surrounded by should have enough positivity to get you out of the dips quicker and celebrate your peaks with you.
Forgiveness is a Gift
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself and those who love you. Can you imagine watching your best friend or daughter or sister hate the body she has and pick out all its flaws and talk daily about how terrible it is? It would be terrible and heartbreaking! I always like to use the perspective of how we would view it if someone we loved did the same things we do. We are so protective of others and believe so much in them yet we say, do, and believe the worst things about ourselves. You deserve to feel good in your own skin. Allow forgiveness. Encourage healing. Muster up as much positivity as you can and be proud that you are still standing and breathing following the most unthinkable thing a parent can face.
As always I would love to hear your thoughts on this or any other topic you would like to discuss regarding your journey as you are Navigating Baby Loss. You can connect with me in lots of different ways which you can find by checking out my website at jennifersenn.com
Jennifer Senn is a Pregnancy Loss Recovery Coach and founder of Navigating Baby Loss and the host of the Navigating Baby Loss Podcast. You can listen anywhere you get your podcasts. SHe can be reached at email@example.com