I'm creating a new quiz and it has really uncovered a topic that I thought was important to expand upon with you and that is the question:
Who Are You?
As I was writing this quiz and putting together the information and creating the different paths that a stillbirth parent might be on it occurred to me that there were many stages you go through as you are healing. In fact, in my experience, these stages last far beyond the initial year or two after the loss, and I believe these stages are equally as much healing as they are reinvention.
Reinventing who you are and who you want to be is a lifelong process. To be fair, it is a process women go through whether or not they have experienced a baby loss, but I think loss mothers are especially aware of this because of the jolting reality we experience in the blink of an eye.
I remember being very confident in who I was and what my future was looking like before my loss. I was married and had my own business, and had two of the most adorable little boys you ever saw. Things were hectic but pretty predictable and I knew I was a very capable and proud business owner, wife, and mother of soon-to-be four kids. Everything I've ever dreamed of- the perfect little family of two boys and two girls. I was very solid that I was where and who I had always dreamed of being.
In the matter of the 10 minutes it took for the doctor and sonographer to confirm my suspicions I completely lost every sense of knowing who I was. I was broken. My whole world shattered and every dream I had for the future was gone. I looked down at a body that I didn't recognize, and the face in the mirror was a ghost of a 29-year-old woman who was buying cemetery plots instead of thriving in her life. I had a wonderful husband who wanted his wife to be who she was, but she was gone. But who was she now?
Who you are from the moment you get the dreaded news is never the same you as it was before. How you find who you are after the loss is a long process and looks very similar to the process a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly.
The cocoon stage- Just as a caterpillar spins itself into a cocoon, we retreat from our lives and grieve. Spinning in the unknown, keeping our loved ones close, and not moving much outside of our comfort zone. We are so brokenhearted that the thought of any kind of life outside of profound grief seems impossible. We are jolted at the slightest hint of a smile or laughter because it might mean that we are somehow forgetting our babies and that feels like a betrayal. We wouldn't know the first step to take toward healing if we wanted to, and we're not sure we want to if healing and moving on equals forgetting. We are using every ounce of energy to deal with all of the emotions, hormones, and grief processing taking place. Who we become in this stage of our loss is a survivor. A warrior. A stranger to everyone including ourselves.
The transition stage- As the caterpillar is changing and growing every day in its delicate cocoon hanging from the branch by no more than a thread, you are experiencing the biggest transition of your life. Trying to live in a house that was meant for happiness and the joy of bringing home a new baby and readjusting all the thoughts from what could have been to what will never be for this baby. You might be returning to work at this stage, or doing some activities you did before but somehow things just don't feel the same. You are navigating a new relationship with your partner, you're trying to understand how to care for a body you feel betrayed you, or maybe like me trying to look normal to the children you are parenting, but you no longer have the excitement and passion for the future like you once did because it seems so unstable. You have an acute awareness that the best-laid plans and dreams can all go up in smoke in the blink of an eye. This stage probably lasts the longest. It is the process of picking yourself up and dusting yourself off and seeing the bloody knees and elbows as evidence of all you've gone through. Who you often become in this stage is a silent sufferer. Wanting things to settle into some sort of normalcy, yet knowing they never will be. Wanting to make everyone else feel comfortable that you're doing better, yet crying yourself to sleep every night in the dark. Keeping your feelings from your partner because you are afraid of saying or hearing something that may be painful, but angry because you seem to be on completely different spectrums of feelings. You are sitting in uncomfortable places and trying to make sense of the whole experience and what it means for you and your life. Because you have no other choice. Who you are becoming is powerful, tenacious, and resilient.
The Emerging stage- The caterpillar's pupa is emerging from the paper-thin veil that it's been living in and slowly makes it into the world again while it tries to figure out its new reality. It spreads its wings and as it unfolds it to its widest capacity, the wings dry and fluff up and the most beautiful butterfly takes flight. This stage takes some intentional work. Many never even reach this stage. But if you can, it is such a peaceful place to be. It's a true sense of knowing that while no one should ever have to experience this type of loss, the fact that you did and are able to see purpose and meaning in it is the ultimate form of healing. You may need help in this stage to forgive anything that needs to be forgiven- your body, your faith, a medical professional, or yourself in general and come to a reckoning of the events that happened. My clients typically find me right here. (See how I can help you HERE) When they have been swimming in the transition stage for quite some time and feel stuck there, not knowing what needs to happen to break through and emerge on the other side of this experience. It usually takes some time for us to nudge some of those feelings out of the way and kick some of the thinking of feeling broken and damaged, but I can literally see and hear the relief as those bricks are being lifted off of their shoulders. (I guess I'm channeling the metaphors today) This stage has you becoming empowered, grateful, and appreciating the newfound strength and wisdom you have gained. They become the person who reaches out to help others who are suffering knowing the lightness healing brings. You can breathe easier again, you begin to dream and allow yourself to take risks knowing that without them you leave life unlived. You become a leader, a mentor, and a guide who shows the world how to overcome hard circumstances and that it's possible to leave you better on the other side of it.
So now that you know what stage of metamorphosis you're in, how do you become who you want to be? I knew that I wanted to be the kind of mother my kids could be proud of. I wanted to be the kind of wife that was the glue that held the family together. I had ideas of who I wanted to become, but I felt far too removed from them to ever think I would be able to measure up to my own expectations. Can you imagine creating the life and person you want to be? It is possible. And once you are able to let go of the feelings of brokenness, guilt, shame, and blame you can start seeing glimpses of the parts of yourself you liked.
But here's what I know...
Getting real and honest about who you are vs who you want to be is an eye-opening experience. You can start to see the places where growth needs to take place, and it takes a little courage to examine it. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to start to rediscover who you were and imagine who you want to be:
What kind of things did you like to do before that you no longer do now?
Who are the friends that are still with you on this side of your loss?
What do you want to feel like in your own body?
Who do you want to be for your children?
Who do you want to be for your husband?
What do you want to be known for in your career?
Where would you like to travel to?
Who do you want to surround yourself with?
What experiences you would like to have?
Take one small step. Write down what kind of person you would be if you knew you could be the person you dream of. Imagine what she looks like and feels like. Then do one thing that will take you closer to her. Does she read books? Find a book you want to read. Does she exercise? Take a walk for 10 minutes. Does she travel? Book a hotel and plan a getaway.
Your grief and memory of your baby will be with you for a lifetime, but if you can imagine what a better, happier, more joyful you would look and act like and you're willing to take small steps to get there you can reinvent a whole new life that is unrecognizable from where you stand right now.
Jennifer Senn is a Grief Coach for parents of Stillborn babies and a Certified Life and Business Coach. She is a wife, mother of two sons, and a rainbow baby daughter and has a passion for helping other families lessen the suffering and long-term self-esteem damage that comes so often with the loss of a baby. She offers one on one coaching and has a self-guided course along with many free resources on her website and her Podcast called Navigating Baby Loss.