We both have different coping strategies, and I have to tell you that witnessing Nick's coping abilities has been amazing, I'm so proud of him. But there have been times when I've literally wanted to say "Oh, just fuck off already". It's seemed so easy for him, not to "move on", as that's a ridiculous saying - you always carry your grief with you - but because he's managed to throw himself into some physical strategies (exercise, breathing techniques etc) that have helped him to re-focus.
It's been more of a challenge for me. My physical recovery has been drawn out. I'm still not fully recovered from my pregnancy today, and as I write this it's been over a year since I conceived. So of course my journey has been slower. I've not had the same motivation Nick has had. But here are some things I have tried, my hit & miss guide to coping after your pregnancy loss, if you will.
In no particular order of success, here is my list of coping strategies:
1) Pregnancy Loss Counselling
The hospital gave me three counselling session funded by the public health system. Why it's assumed you'll be "healed" after 3 sessions I've no idea. We met our counselor the day after my surgery.
We were lucky to be assigned someone who was genuine, empathetic and, if I can get my description correct without coming across wrong - a little quirky. She always had a piece of jewellery or item of clothing that hinted at her alternative personality and I liked that about her - it indicated to me that she wasn't boxed into a specific way of thinking. She was great, we both met her that day after the surgery and again when we came in to have a de-brief session the MFM doctor 6 weeks after my surgery. I had a further 2 sessions with by myself (in this poky window-less consulting room!). She was comforting, she asked questions, let me talk through some things. But because of how few sessions I had and how soon after the loss it was I feel that these sessions may have helped me at the time but overall had little impact on my "recovery". They were too brief and too soon after my loss. I didn't feel like I could open up, I didn't let go, and there was so much in my head that needed to come out. I definitely think a consideration could be made to extend the number of sessions given to women in this situation. But perhaps for some this is enough. I know that some people don't even take up the offer of counselling.
Perhaps my mental recovery is more "involved" due to the other traumas I went through last year, namely caring for my Grandmother in hospice shortly after losing our girl, then losing my Grandmother, losing consciousness and cracking my eyebrow open, having wrist surgery - actually, I could go on, it was a shit year. I realise I've actually been incredibly unlucky, and other women may find a couple of sessions exactly right.
Ok, so this is the big one. Exercise releases endorphin's that make you feel good, we all know that. Exercise gets you up & about, off the couch. But exercise is a massive thing to motivate yourself to do when your emotions are controlling your life, when you're grieving. Hell, getting out of bed feels like exercise. And the thing is, YOU KNOW that if you do it you'll feel better. Of course you will. Getting fresh air, blood circulating, moving your muscles, releasing endorphin's. It all sounds so good. But how do you motivate yourself to start? Well, that's the $64,000 question. In my case I couldn't do anything for months. Didn't want to, didn't care. Then I had my wrist surgery and again, couldn't do it, didn't care. All the weight I lost in my pregnancy I gained back. As I got my appetite back and my hCG levels dropped, my nausea abated, I started to eat what I felt like. Months of disinterest in food meant that when I finally actually felt hungry, when I actually craved something - I ate it. I continued to gain weight and while I felt awful (and still do) about it, I literally could not be bothered moving.
Then when we finally reached the 1st of January it was like a mental reset button and I felt like now that that awful year was finally over I could manage a little exercise. Start small. And that's what I did. I started with 15 minute zumba-style YouTube videos like this one. And some days that's all I can manage. But other days I can manage something longer. Sometimes I actually leave the house for a walk! I'm averaging about 4 times a week and I'm good with that. I haven't lost any weight but I'm getting my muscle strength back and that's actually the most important thing for me right now - to feel in control of my body again.
3) Blessings Journal
I tried this for a month, and at the time it really worked. Then other things happened in my life and I let the grief take over so of course I stopped the habit. But what I've learnt is that moving forward, coping, surviving every day is about using a multitude of resources. There is no silver bullet.
In this instance, my journal was simple - every night I had to think of three great things that happened to me today and write them down. It meant I had to look for positivity every day, sometimes really stretching for it. I always managed three because that was my rule. We actually started talking at dinner most nights about "the best part of our day" and that was a good starting point for me for the journal. We still do the dinner thing (with Sam saying "And what was the best part of your day Mum?") One day I might revisit the journal idea.
4) Shakti Mat
I asked for this for Christmas after hearing about it from multiple sources. I decided being gifted something for my wellness was probably a good thing, so from Christmas Day 2016 I've been using this. To start with it was every day. But that's easier when you're on holiday. Now it's a few times a week. It's an acupressure mat and when you lie on it your body relaxes into the spikes (it's not actually painful) and you start to feel relaxed. It forces you to focus on your breathing and it's great for sore tired muscles. It's also meant to help with better sleep, I'm not sure on this one yet, but it does overall make me feel better when I use it. Read more here.
5) Eating right
I know what I should be eating. I'm not a nutritionist, but I do understand what your body needs to be healthy. The building blocks for great skin (my passion) are the same as for a healthy body - it's health on a cellular level. The Bestow Beauty products I use in my salon are about treating your skin from within. Using the Bestow Beauty Oil (my internal moisturiser) and Beauty from Beneath tablets (multi-vitamin) has been great for my overall health. They also have this amazing Be Cleansed powder which detoxifies. It has definitely helped with my gut health.
You probably read about my mental recovery already, but if you didn't you can read it here. It took me a long time to admit that I needed to see someone. It was in February this year when I realised that my down days weren't getting any less or any easier and that maybe I didn't have all the tools I needed to cope. Turns out I was right. I'm doing a lot of good things - eating better, exercising, writing etc but what I didn't understand was that I was making myself feel worse for being frustrated at how long my recovery was taking. I didn't realise that my subsconscious was so much in control of my emotions, that the tight stressed feeling I was having was normal and was something that needed time and a few strategies to get through. My psychologist has not only given me insight into what's physically happening in my brain, but she's given me tools to help to re-programme my brain. She also validates my emotions, is encouraging and supportive. Sure, we don't really have the money for these sessions, but as Nick says, we actually can't afford for me NOT to go. If I don't get better, our whole family is broken.
7) This blog
Writing about our journey has been cathartic. Emotional. Overwhelming. But largely positive. By sharing our journey and connecting with people I've been able to re-frame some of my traumatic experiences. I think this is because I feel that sharing my journey has some purpose. Not to wallow in my hardships but to acknowledge them. Educate people. Support people. If I reach one person that connects with one of our posts then it's been worth it.
8) Mindful Meditation
This has been one of the best things for my mental state. If you didn't read my post about my psychological preparation for surgery using mindful meditation, you can read it here. I have used a combination of the Headspace App & You Tube to find 10-15 minute meditations like this one, mainly body scans, that help me to relax my mental state and better deal with my anxiety. If I do this every day I find I am a much calmer, more centred person.
So there you have it - my coping strategies. They're not perfect, I know. They won't fix everything - in some ways every day is still a struggle - but for me, they helped. Maybe they'll help you, or maybe they'll give you some ideas of what might help you. Maybe they'll just let you know that it's OK to not cope for a little bit, and that you will eventually cope again, even if it doesn't feel like it just now.
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.