After I went to my one-week and six-weeks checkups after labor, I reflected on how much my midwife stressed my emotions. Even when I checked in, the automated tablet Jenny’s clinic provided would always pry into the stages of grief I was currently confronting.
“Rate your emotions,” it would say. I would tap the multiple choice answer and its matching rating that fit my emotional state.
No, I hadn’t fostered harmful thoughts over the past week. Yes, I had cried and felt depressed.
Jenny, my midwife, would then follow this survey with her own concerned questions. She warned me about the five stages of grief and how they would engulf me one by one, like a tidal wave bent on flattening its neighboring city.
“Those emotions are normal. You’re going to feel them,” she said.
I didn’t mention that I had probably weaved through these stages, jumping back and forth, multiple times over the last five months. I would have to endure them yet again.
The Five Stages of Grief
People have debated about these stages recently. Actually, the original authors of On Grief and Grieving even regret some of the hype around the stages. Kessler and Kuhbler-Ross admit that doctors, teachers, and patients alike have taken the model far beyond its original intent.
The authors wanted people to see what they might go through. People shouldn’t think that their anger is abnormal or that they alone encounter depression.
Many people read the stages and assumed they happen in chronological order, ending in acceptance. Then, those same bereaved people lost heart when they realized their denial or anger was returning.
As I list and explain these stages, don’t make the same mistake that others have. You’ll never truly rid yourself of the wavering emotions. You may even find yourself reliving the horrible day when you lost your child.
But you don’t have to let the anger and depression overcome you. They will have their fitting place in your life, and then you can find joy again in the memory of your child.
At this stage of your grief, you refuse to believe the reality of your child’s death. You’ll likely go through denial at least at the beginning.
You might feel that the world stood still the moment your child passed away and that you’re frozen solid in that moment. Shock and numbing coldness overcome you. You might not feel any emotions at all because you’re grasping for the truth.
I went through varying degrees of denial several times. When the doctors first told us our baby would die after having spent mere hours studying an ultrasound.
When Jenny first related that Hadassah had organs growing outside her body. How does that happen? I’m shaking my head even now.
When I spent evenings alone at home while my husband worked an evening event. When I lay in bed for months on bed rest. When we visited Atlanta, talked to highly specialized doctors, and realized that literally nobody could save my baby short of a God-given miracle.
When I sat staring at my beautiful, motionless angel in my arms and couldn’t shed a tear. So many times did I hope, only to recognize the real plan God had for my little girl.
Yes, this stage will help you fully grasp and grieve the reality of loss. Don’t rush through it, trying to get back to normal. Give reality its time to sink in. You can’t stay here forever, but rushing through grief will only ensure that the next wave will hit you harder than the first.
At this point, you might question God. You might push others away, seething in a lonely corner of your bedroom. You might lash back at comments people make or overreact to your loved ones’ genuine concern.
I’m not promoting such behavior, but I’m letting you know what might happen. You’re the one responsible for your actions that result from anger.
I can tell you that I harbored anger at times. I thank the Lord that it didn’t fester into raw bitterness, but I don’t proudly broadcast my angry talks with God during my pregnancy.
I think I felt more anger before Hadassah died than after actually. God helped me understand His ways, and I no longer struggle with this unholy anger.
Here, you will find any trade to bring your child back. If only you could take their place or drive more safely or perform more kind actions for needy people, then you could learn your lesson. You would attain perfection in order to see your child’s smile again and hear his bubbling laughter around the house.
Unfortunately, once you grasp that bargaining won’t work, you might often follow up with blame. You can’t take responsibility for something you had little to no control over. That’s God’s job.
Oh boy, did I try to take God’s job, though. At the beginning, I tried praying more and listening more closely in church. I tried recounting my sins against God, making sure that He wasn’t trying to punish me for anything.
Next, I thought about what might have happened had I not . . . fill in the blank. I went through this process many times
It’s still possible that I influenced Hadassah’s birth defects, but I can’t prove such a thing. I can only keep going through the grief stages, learning important lessons as I go.
Depression opens its cozy arms and offers you overwhelming sadness. I say cozy because many people rest in a forever state of depression.
You should feel some sort of sadness during child loss. If you don’t, people might think you didn’t love your child.
Again, let yourself dwell in those silent downcast moments, reflecting on the beauty of your child’s life. You need those moments. Just don’t sink too far, or you might never enjoy life again.
I definitely had times of overwhelming sadness. During some of my solitary evenings, I would fall to the floor and weep from the depths of my heart. These moments were short, intense pockets of time when I could grieve quietly for my baby. No one else shared them with me.
Still, I certainly would hate to live that way every day. These moments brought healing that allowed me to laugh and find happiness on more sunshiny days.
Once you’ve reached this point in your grieving process, you might think the grieving will end. This is the point I’m warning you about. Grief really doesn’t confine itself to one step-by-step process.
It skips, hops, muddles its stages, and tests your limits until you’re so confused about which part you’re experiencing that you give up the pursuit of joy altogether.
If you hang in there, seeking guidance from those you love and trust, you’ll find acceptance of your child’s death again. You’ll learn to cope with your loss, and you’ll learn to love once more. Losing your child will knock you down and challenge you, but it doesn’t have to keep you there.
Have you gone through a stage or emotion not covered in the five stages? Tell me about it.
by Sarah George