This article was written by Rose Carlson, National Share's Program Director.
When you are grieving the death of your baby, just getting out of bed each day can seem like a monumental task, and most likely, the farthest thing from your mind is taking care of yourself and your own needs. You will likely begin to recover physically well before you begin to heal emotionally, but the stress of such a tragic loss can quickly take a toll on both your physical and emotional health. Grief can be a long, lonely and challenging journey. While taking care of yourself may not be a priority, especially in the early days, taking care of your physical, emotional and spiritual needs can help you grieve in healthy ways, heal, and eventually find joy and hope in life again. Following are some suggestions and ideas; hopefully, some of them will resonate with you and you will find some ideas you had not thought of.
*Lean on loved ones who care about you
Your friends, family and other loved ones are likely worried about you and want to help, even if they do not always know the perfect way to go about it. Friends may want to help with the care of your other children or bring you a meal. Even a short visit with a friend over a cup of coffee can be uplifting. While many bereaved parents feel very isolated after their baby dies, sharing your feelings with others who care about you can be comforting and help you feel less isolated.
*Find strength in your spiritual beliefs
You may pull away from your church or other beliefs, and that is not uncommon. However, others do find solace in their spiritual beliefs. You may find it beneficial to talk through your feelings and thoughts with your priest, minister or other spiritual advisor.
*Find a support group in your area
Some grieving parents find it a relief to connect with others who have experienced similar losses.
*Find a creative outlet
Many bereaved parents find it comforting and relaxing to find a way to do something creative in memory of their baby, and the possibilities are endless. Even something as simple as keeping a journal can be therapeutic as it gives a written record of your baby's life as well as your grief journey; looking back on what you have written can not only help you see how far you have come, but it also gives a written record of your baby's life. Making a scrapbook can have similar benefits—not only do some parents find it healing to work on the pages, but again, you will have a tangible record of your baby's life.
*Pay attention to your physical needs
Studies have shown that grieving has a physical component as well as an emotional one. People who are grieving are more susceptible to colds and other illnesses, so it is important that you take care of yourself. While returning to the doctor can be difficult and heart-wrenching, it is important to make those follow up visits.
*Try to do some sort of physical activity
It is important to get exercise a few times a week, and even a short walk can lift your spirits. It can also be therapeutic to take part in physical activities such as hitting golf balls at a driving range, baseballs at a batting cage, or even a punching bag at the gym.
*Continue to do things you enjoyed before, even if you have to scale back on them
*Consider finding a way to “give back”
Many bereaved parents find great comfort in making blankets, memory boxes or other items to donate to the hospital. Dads who enjoy woodworking may want to consider making caskets to donate to the hospital or a local funeral home.
*Take a few minutes each day to unwind
Listen to music, a relaxation CD, or a book on CD. Even a few minutes of quiet time can be of great benefit
*If you are having an especially bad day, give yourself permission to scream, cry, etc.
Set a timer to give yourself a time limit.
*Get plenty sleep
If you are having trouble sleeping, try listening to some soothing music, drinking decaffeinated tea, or meditating. If you need to, don't be afraid to ask your doctor for something to help you sleep
*Talk about your baby with someone who is willing to listen
*Try to stick to your daily routine as much as possible
However, allow yourself downtime when you need it too…sticking to your routine helps you feel some control over the situation, and can be comforting. This is especially important if you have other children.
*Treat yourself gently
Don't expect too much of yourself, especially in the early days and weeks—give yourself permission to avoid situations and events that you know will be difficult, such as baby showers, birthday parties and family events. Be patient with yourself and know that in time, you will gradually feel up to resuming your normal activities.
*Avoid drugs and alcohol
*Try to put off major decisions for at least six months
*Create a sanctuary in your home
Having a quiet spot to read, relax and/or listen to music for a few minutes can be soothing.
*Plan ahead for special days
Days such as your due date, holidays, and other meaningful days can be difficult to get through. If you plan ahead for ways to spend those times, you won't feel blind sided by them when they arrive.
*Find something special to do in remembrance of your baby
Many bereaved parents find it healing to create new rituals and traditions, plant a garden, start a collection of something meaningful, or even purchase a special piece of jewelry. Not only do these things help you preserve your baby's place in your family, but they also give you something positive to focus on.
*Do not feel guilty when you have good days
Laughter is therapeutic, though bereaved parents often feel guilty when they laugh or begin to enjoy aspects of their life again.
*Know that there is no specific timetable as to when you will “feel better”
Try not to let others make you feel guilty for the way you are grieving. Some parents find it helpful to write a letter to their family and friends explaining what they are feeling and experiencing. Remember that it is okay to cry.
Taking care of your own needs can be a challenge, but it is so important that you do. Attending to your physical and emotional needs can help you feel as if you have some control over a situation that is mostly out of your control. Whatever you decide to do, let your heart and feelings guide you.