By: Brooke Taylor Duckworth
When your baby dies, the last thing you really want to take care of is yourself. You just spent weeks and months daydreaming of taking care of an infant—and in all likelihood, you started that process by taking care of yourself during pregnancy. But, somehow, it didn’t work.
I was so angry at my body for somehow failing my baby that I didn’t want to feed it good food or stretch it in yoga or treat my tense muscles to a massage. I wanted to curl up in a ball and try to tune out by watching television for fourteen hours a day.
In the midst of our grief and pain and anger, talk of “self care” and “healing” can feel misplaced and almost inappropriate. It seems neither possible or even desirable in the early days of grief.
Eventually, though, I knew that as much as I loved Netflix, it was not the best way to spend every waking hour of my life. I had to take care of myself so that I could sustain my marriage, find new connections with other bereaved parents, and eventually continue to try and grow my family. I discovered that taking care of my self never meant leaving my daughter—or my grief—behind. It gave me ways to honor my love and help me manage my sorrow.
Here are 31 steps to self-care.
Of course I’m not a medical doctor (or a therapist). But these are things that worked for me, and that might make life a bit easier for you, too.
- Order the book Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief by Martha Whitmore Hickman. Work through it, stopping and starting whenever you need to. I read it daily for about a year and a half, and I still keep it in my nightstand, just in case.
- Do yoga. Try a restorative class first—especially if you’re new to the practice or it’s been a while. If you’re not ready to venture out to a yoga studio, do an online video. Yoga With Adriene has a video called “Yoga for a Broken Heart” that is free and available on YouTube. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8sC_bhpCYQ)
- Make an appointment with a therapist. If you don’t have coverage and it’s expensive, be clear and up front about this when you make your appointment. Explain you can only afford a certain number of sessions, whether that’s a single one or a dozen. Ask for coping strategies you can take with you, and write them down.
- Attend a grief support group. You can often find these through your local hospital or church. I recommend going more than once, as the first time is often awkward, and the dynamic of the group varies significantly from month to month. Keep showing up—you’ll find your people. Connect with a local Share Chapter near you.
- Visit the website Glow in the Woods. Read the blog posts. Lurk on the message boards. Make a comment. Find similar websites, like Sharing Magazine, where bereaved parents tell their stories.
- Start with a journal no one will see. (It’s okay simply to write “I love her” or “I miss him” over and over again.)
- Tell your baby’s story to the world at facesofloss.com or on a blog that you can make public or private.
- Make a scrapbook or a shadow box for your baby. Include baby’s footprints, maybe a tiny hat, a poem or song lyrics, perhaps a sympathy card that is especially meaningful. Display it in your home or tuck it in a drawer for now. It’s the act of making it that matters.
- Sit quietly and listen to the song “Love Came Here” by Lhasa de Sela. Just breathe and know that love came here and never left.
- Read the poem “Heavy” by Mary Oliver. Copy it down in your journal or on a piece of paper you can fold up and tuck in your purse. Know that your grief will become easier to balance. Know that laughter will come again.
- Get a massage. If there is a massage therapy school near you, their student clinics will often offer discounted prices.
- Try acupuncture. When you make your appointment, explain you are coping with intense grief. They have special techniques and approaches for mental and emotional health. Community Acupuncture offers reduced rates.
- The Japanese have a practice called “forest bathing.” It just means to go into the forest and surround yourself with nature. (You can keep your clothes on.) Find some trees and give it a try, even if you only stay a few minutes. Take some deep breaths and look up at the tree tops.
- Drink some chamomile tea before bed. See if it helps you sleep.
- Experiment with essential oils. Put two or three drops of lavender (calming) or peppermint (invigorating) on a tissue and lay down with it on your forehead. Do the deep breathing thing.
- Visit the Sharing Magazine archives and read stories from other bereaved parents. Write on your arm the words “I am not alone.”
- Read a memoir by a parent who has survived the loss of a beloved child. Try Resilience by Elizabeth Edwards or An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.
- Write a poem for or about your baby. You don’t have to show it to anyone. Or you might want to post it on Facebook.
- When you need to mark your baby’s birthday or another important holiday or anniversary, or you just want to send a message out into the universe, consider skipping the balloons (which can endanger wildlife) and using wish papers instead. (https://smile.amazon.com/Flying-Wish-Paper-Write-Symbol/dp/B014JT1B64/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1530833704&sr=8-5&keywords=wish+paper)
- Take a trip. Drive or fly, for a day, a week, a weekend. You can’t get away from the grief, but a change of scenery can still be helpful, especially if you go somewhere with lots of nature and not many people.
- Try a bit of retail therapy. Of course spending money won’t really ease your pain, but wrapping up in a soft cardigan or pulling on leggings that aren’t maternity wear can make it easier to start your day.
- Create a playlist of songs that remind you of your pregnancy or your baby. Listen to it when you need to have a really good cry.
- Read something that is completely distracting. Use social media to ask for recommendations for whatever you like—a mystery, a romantic comedy, a political thriller. Be specific about wanting something that doesn’t include pregnancy in the plot line and then request it from the library.
- Meet a friend for coffee. Be sure that it is a fellow baby-loss friend or a friend without kids or a friend who is blessed with that special sensitivity that makes them easy to be around and unafraid of your grief.
- Make sure you’re feeding yourself well. Consider splurging for a meal delivery service to make it as easy as possible. Don’t punish yourself by under or over eating, and if you know you have that tendency, talk to your therapist about it.
- Consider adopting a pet. This is a huge decision and obviously shouldn’t be taken lightly, but you are ready to parent a child. You can certainly take care of a dog or cat or gerbil. If you already have a pet, commit to long walks or long couch snuggles, whichever is more enjoyable for the both of you.
- Create a ritual of lighting a candle before a meal or when you come home from work. Take that moment to send love and light to your baby.
- Use your journal not just to write your own thoughts, but to collect the words of others. Jot down song lyrics, lines of poetry, or quotations that you find meaningful.
- Clear some clutter. Organize a closet, sort a desk drawer. Don’t force yourself to tackle anything you’re not ready for (this may not be the time to go through the nursery). Try a linen closet or the junk drawer in the kitchen. Sometimes outer order can actually lead to inner calm, at least temporarily, even while you are grieving.
- Create or request something personal that reminds you of your child. Perhaps a pencil portrait of your baby drawn from a photograph, or a photograph of his or her name in the sand (http://theseashoreofremembrance.blogspot.com/2012/06/gallery.html) or a piece of jewelry you can get personalized with your baby’s name or initials.
- Make a donation to an organization you feel passionate about. Indicate that this gift is in memory of someone, and type your baby’s full name. If they send you a note or give you a certificate you can print, tuck in away in a memory box or book of baby things. Donate to Share in memory of your baby.
Obviously this list is not complete, and not every item will appeal to you. Pick and choose what resonates with you and what feels right in the moment. Remember that taking care of yourself—even if that just means pausing to let yourself breathe deeply—is another way to honor your baby, to value the life that you so wanted to share with him or her, and to make yourself strong enough to continue to parent their memory.
Self care is not selfish. It will not diminish your love or your grief, but it can help you move from simply surviving the death of your child to living a life in which you are able to carve out enough joy to balance the great sorrow that you carry.
If you have additional suggestions or ideas about self care that worked for you, please share them in the comments below.