Dealing with Grief

By Ayliea Holl

In 2010 we held our first (hopefully of many) "AHC Retreat" and were very fortunate that several women from the "A Heartbreaking Choice" Discussion Forum were able to meet in real life. It was a wonderful event with many women and a few men that shared their love and compassion and were able to freely discuss their losses and their grief. As one of the Administrator's for the discussion forum I had the opportunity to write about my own grief and how I found my way through the healing process. I wrote the following message for the Retreat and hope that those of you that find yourselves here reading this, find some solace in it.

According to the book "On Death and Dying" by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. There are Five Stages of Grief: Denial (& Isolation), Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Denial: Many of us tend to first deny that this has or is happening to them. For me, the denial was in getting that confirmation phone call - the one where the doctor told us that DrewAnne definitely WAS a girl...and that she had T-21. The utter despair I felt as I handed the phone to my husband, and then the call back to the doctor to ask him if there was a mistake. Could this be some one else's results mixed up with mine? Maybe the results were wrong - they could have made a mistake in the testing and - and - and! Well we all know how awful that call is. It is usually at that point where we deny that this could happen to US!

Isolation: This is considered part of the denial phase, but ironically, I think a lot of us felt isolated after our first reaction of denial. How can this happen to ME? We feel as though we are all alone in our despair. No one could possibly understand how I am feeling. No one - even those the closest to us - can feel the utter despair of loosing their much wanted and usually longed, hoped for and sometimes planned and paid for - pregnancy. How could our spouses or significant others possibly understand what it feels like to have your child gone from your body? The child you have nurtured and cared for, for many weeks! We feel so alone.

That is one reason the AHC discussion forum has more than quadrupled in size from the time it was founded in 2005. We are the ONLY site that offers complete, private, non-judgmental support for the termination of a wanted pregnancy. This is where we can come and know that others have been in our shoes. This is where we can come and get and give advice, acceptance, knowledge, vent, cry, rage, - in other words we can be who and what we feel - right at that moment in time, and no one is going to judge us for our feelings. We are NOT alone!

Anger: Anger is a REALLY big issue with many of us. I know it was HUGE for me. Anger with myself, feeling like I had failed, anger at "God." I was also angry at the world. I remember, just three days after my termination, I was physically feeling okay and I really wanted/needed to get something from the store (now, I don't even remember what it was - a game, a CD, a movie?) but I was angry with the store clerk. She was slow, she was not helpful, she was chit-chatting with another worker (funny how I remember that!) I had just had enough by the time I got through the line, I screamed at her! It was not nice of me at all, and in retrospect, I feel bad for taking it out on her.

We may feel anger that this happened to us, anger that someone else has what we wanted, anger at "God" or the "Universe" for allowing this to happen to us. We each will move through the stages of grief in our own time and in our own way, yet every one of us here understands how it feels to be angry. It is OK to feel angry, and it is OK to be envious - it is part of the healing process!

Anger really is normal, and it really is part of the grieving process. Anger can also be simultaneous with any of the other stages of grief, and as I said, I truly believe it is an on-going process to be angry. Anger can be one of the most difficult stages to work through, and many may, like me, find that the anger resurfaces often in the months and years after ahc, especially if you have other stresses in your life. Dealing with trying to get pregnant again, infertility if that affects you, jobs and even other deaths in the family can make the anger come back – often it seems like it's worse than it was before.

The thing is to realize that you are having these feelings, and learn to deal with them in a healthy manner. Anger is good to cleanse yourself of these extreme feelings, but it is NOT good to keep it inside, nor is it good to ignore it. I know first-hand how easy it is to say that we need to deal with our anger in a healthy manner and yet, how difficult it is to actually apply it to ourselves and our life-styles. Of course, exercise is the number one way to deal with stress and anger. It also helps to do yoga, read or listen to relaxing tapes or soothing music. I found that getting a punching bag helped! Or you might want to try running, or getting a bat and hitting a post - anything to get the anger out in a healthy manner!

Then the next stage is Bargaining. How many of you find yourselves thinking or saying "If I could just get through this, it will be okay" or "if this happens, then I can make it through the day" or something similar? I used to pray every night when I went to bed: "Dear God, please let (and then a long list of names) get pregnant. Please help them to get pregnant with a healthy baby" and I would think to myself, "if just one of these women – just one – gets pregnant, then I will be able to too." You know, some of them did. Some of my dearest friends from AHC were blessed to go on to have a happy healthy sub pregnancy. But that didn't change things for me, and all the bargaining in the world didn't help me work through my grief.

The truth is that some people find that bargaining does help them through their grief. I had one dear friend tell me that she would bargain with her husband. She would ask him "when am I going to feel better?" and of course he didn't know, but she needed a date. So he gave her a date – he would tell her "Next month, you will feel better" and when the next moth rolled around, if she didn't feel better, she would ask him again, and he would give her another date. She told me this went on for several months, but finally, one month she DID feel better. So for her, bargaining was a big part of her recovery. It helps some of us, and it does help us in the short-term to bargain with ourselves just to make it through the day.

The point is, we all have to do whatever it takes to make it through each day, every day, If that is getting our anger out by punching a bag, bargaining to make it through to the next appointment with your therapist, then we do what ever it takes, and we DO make it through the grief.

Then there is Depression. This is a big one for so many of us. We feel so alone, so crushed, so consumed by our grief, it eats us up and takes away everything that made us who we were. It makes us feel like we are in the dark, and that there will never be a light on, not a flame or a candle or even a spark to help light our way. When we feel that low, we sometimes need a little help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with admitting that you need help to get through that darkness. Sometimes that help comes in the form of a particular post that shows you that you aren't alone, or sometimes, it means seeking professional help and even getting on medication.

Honestly, having been down that road, it is a scary place to be, but if you can realize that you are there and just hold out your hand or even stick out your foot to trip a doctor passing by so that you get the help you need, it is okay. It's times when our lives are the darkest that a friend, a doctor or maybe even a stranger on a discussion forum lights your way and pulls you out of the darkness. Don't be afraid to ask for the help. Don't be ashamed or fearful that you aren't worthy or don't deserve it. You do. Every single person who has been down this road and has healed or is in the process of healing will tell you that they have felt alone and helpless at one point or another, and sometimes just a whisper to say "I need help" is all it takes. Whisper it "I need help" and we will be there. Someone, somewhere will be by your side to give you that help.

I needed it. Okay, I didn't whisper – it was more like a shout, but you know what? I got help! Honestly, there are times when I still want to scream that I need help. But somehow, somewhere I now find the strength inside myself and I try to help others who have been in that dark place. I don't want to see one woman ever have to carry that fear that they aren't worth helping. Every woman, every person who has been through the most difficult choice a parent ever has to make, every single one, deserves help if they need it. If my words on AHC do that, if they help just one person climb out of darkness or ask their doctor or loved one for help – then what I do is worth it, and I am worth it.

Lastly, there's Acceptance. Acceptance it the final step in healing. It's the step where we look at ourselves in the mirror and say "I'm O.K. I am going to go on, live my life, and be happy with who I am an I am going to make my baby proud that I am their mother."

Does finding acceptance mean that we are healed? I don't know. I think that is the final step in our healing process. Once we can accept that we have lost our children, and that loss was our choice, not for our benefit, but for our children's peace or to protect our own lives, once we truly can accept that we made that choice, I think we can say that we are truly healing. As I've said many times before, we never "get over" it, we move through it and move on with our lives. We are changed from it. It's how we deal with the loss and how we deal with the change in our lives that matters - not how long it takes.

I know that there are times when we find that nothing seems to work, such as the days leading up to our EDD's and Anniversaries or Mother's Day, but finding an outlet for the grief is truly healing. Something such as creating a memorial garden, a scrapbook of memories, writing a letter to your baby, these are all things to help channel the anger, the hurt, and the grief into something positive and a way to let go of it all. I know that it isn't easy to do this, and may take several attempts and it may take several months or even years. But keep trying, and eventually, you will be able to let go of the pain, and you will find peace in your heart.

We are all mothers. Complete and whole, whether we have living children or not, whether we are still trying to have a healthy child or whether we have decided that we need to move forward with our lives and we find fulfillment in another way – maybe through adoption or surrogacy or just by accepting that we are not going to have any living children, acceptance is being able to finally move forward with our lives.

Remembering that our children were briefly a part of our lives and giving them the peace that they deserve is truly finding peace within ourselves. We will never heal our hearts and our souls if we can not let them have peace. Let yourself heal, let your hearts have peace – otherwise, your children never will.

I wish you much love and peace, may the memories of your children be in your hearts, but also on the wind, in the song of the birds and whistle of the butterflies wings, like a breath of fresh air – there but gone with a peaceful feeling left behind. I bid you peace and healing.

Ayliea Holl is a contributor to the award winning book Our Heartbreaking Choices: Forty-Six Women Share Their Stories of Interrupting a Much-Wanted Pregnancy, published 2008 by IUniverse, and is the Lead Adminstrator for the Heartbreaking Choice Discussion forums.


Books on Loss and Grief

Our Heartbreaking Choices: Forty-Six Women Share Their Stories of Interrupting a Much-Wanted Pregnancy

The Dive :: A Memoir

A Time to Decide a Time to Heal: For Parents Making Difficult Decisions About Babies They Love

Precious Lives Painful Choices: A Prenatal Decision-Making Guide

Sunshine After the Storm: A Survival Guide for the Grieving Mother

Empty Cradle, Broken Heart, Revised Edition: Surviving the Death of Your Baby

Empty Arms: Coping With Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death

A Silent Sorrow: Pregnancy Loss

Unspeakable Losses: Healing From Miscarriage, Abortion, And Other Pregnancy Loss

Surviving Pregnancy Loss: A Complete Sourcebook for Women and Their Families

Difficult Decisions: For Families Whose Unborn Baby Has a Serious Problem

Books for Fathers, Family, Children and Friends

Couple Communication After a Baby Dies: Differing Perspectives

For Better or Worse: For Couples Whose Child Has Died

How to Say it When You Don't Know What to Say: The Right Words For Difficult Times

A Guide For Fathers: When A Baby Dies

When Your Friend's Child Dies: A Guide to Being a Thoughtful and Caring Friend

When Pregnancy Fails: Families Coping with Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Death

What You Can Say When You Don't Know What to Say: Reaching Out to Those Who Hurt

Books about Trying Again and Pregnancy after Loss

Journeys: Stories of Pregnancy After Loss

Trying Again: A Guide to Pregnancy After Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss

Pregnancy After a Loss: A Guide to Pregnancy After a Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or Infant Death