Different kinds of grief. LOSING A BABY
Grief is a natural response to loss, and unfortunately, having grieved for so many loved ones, I learned that there is not only one kind of grief. In the 60’s our first baby was born six weeks premature, and died due to a lung defect. My frail infant was rushed off to an incubator and I wasn’t allowed to visit the preemie department. I wanted to see my baby, touch him and croon to him. My infant died during the third night of his life. My husband and I had dreamed of diaper changes, our toddler’s first day at school and even birthday parties. We’d never contemplated having a baby who would not live, one I would not carry to full term. I sat in our empty nursery until family and friends urged me to put this tragedy behind me. A neighbor said; “It is not possible to mourn for a baby you haven’t even held.”
“Not true,” I replied. “I never got to cradle my baby in my arms, but I carried him in my womb, rocked to his rhythms, felt him kick and listened to his heartbeat.” Today, that baby would probably have survived but there was no point in the ‘if only’s’ one tends to say in that kind of situation. I realized that I had to move on. I was all of 23 years old.
Crying is a natural response to sadness and I felt as if I were on a roller coaster. I didn’t know how I would feel at any given time. I had different emotional reactions to things that occurred in my life so I experienced grief and loss in different ways. I often wondered when I would be done grieving. What I do know is that I will never forget my infant. The emotional pain was far more difficult to cope with than the physical pain. It tore at me. And of course, I agonized and wondered whether the same tragedy would recur when I had another baby.
For some reason, outsiders didn’t look at the death of an infant in quite the same way as they did when older children died. Maybe because they felt I had not bonded with my baby yet. It was absurd as both mothers and fathers begin emotional bonding with the unborn child long before that baby is born. I have been told that marriages are put to the test when one loses a child but fortunately, ours was a strong one. I was one of the lucky ones whose husband knew how to give unconditional love. The loss of a child is perhaps the most profoundly overwhelming, the most inconsolable of losses to deal with because it violates the natural order of things. My baby was not supposed to die before we did. The injustice of it all evoked a rage in me. Most of my friends were expecting babies or had given birth recently and these were the people I saw often, so I felt envious of them and their happy families. I did not wish them any harm but it was difficult to meet with them. I had to plaster a smile on my face. Imagine how I felt when I was in their company.
Slowly, I returned to the world of the living, searching for the positive, trying to regain my optimism. Eventually I reached the stage of acceptance when we decided to go ahead and have another child. Three months later I was pregnant again and on April 23, 1962, I gave birth to my infant that I carried to full term. When a nurse placed my son in my arms, I wanted to say his name over and over. We named him David. He weighed seven pounds, was a robust, healthy child and I felt safe. We were a family. Surely we had been given a second chance?
In retrospect I have often wondered why the well-meaning friends and family who came to visit did not mention therapy. I doubt whether people went to therapists in those days probably due to the stigma.
I know now that the grief we felt is known as non-finite grief as we could not help thinking of the stages in our infant’s life that we would never get to share. Non-finite grief occurs as a result of losing hopes and expectations like when one receives a diagnosis of chronic illness or a developmental illness, or families with children diagnosed as suffering from autism or hearing loss for example. These families are constantly reminded of their difficulties whenever they see a healthy child of the same age.
There are many books on grief but I find it difficult to believe that my feelings can be categorized as there is no rule. Every person reacts differently.