It's difficult to come out of the other side of grief after you've lost a child, let alone come out with tangible, valuable lessons in hand. When my partner and I lost one of our twin sons at 19 weeks, I couldn't see through the fog of anger and pain and self-doubt, let alone see a silver lining that could potentially benefit me in the future. When I had to give birth to a child who wasn't alive, immediately after I had birthed a child who would cry and open his eyes and eventually grow into the spirited toddler he is today, I didn't realize that the overwhelming heartbreak I was experiencing was also harboring underlying lessons that were making me a stronger mother.
Make no mistake, these are lessons you never want to learn, not like this. There isn't a mother in the world who wouldn't give damn near anything to have the child back that she lost, myself included. But when you're face-to-face with an undeniable sorrow that you can neither alter nor reverse, you're given a unique opportunity to learn what many are (fortunately) spared. You learn about yourself, the people around you, the potential of the future, and your undeniable strength; all beneficial as you move forward with your life and eventually (if you choose) motherhood.
I can't say that every woman's experience with pregnancy or infant loss is the same, because they're not. Everyone grieves differently, mourns in their own unique way, and makes it through an unimaginable experience to the best of their ability. But for me, I was able to learn vital lessons as I dealt with the pain of losing a child; lessons that have helped me become a better mother. So here are nine things you learn from losing a baby that makes you a stronger mother. For better or worse, you're never the same after you experience a loss. And yes, sometimes it really can be for the better.
You're More Capable Than You Think You Are
Sadly, for many of us, we don't know or appreciate the true depth of our abilities until they're tested in the most painful of ways. The tough times are often what highlight our strengths most clearly — as well as our weaknesses, of course — and it is in those dire moments that we realize that we are far more capable than we realized or are willing to give ourselves credit for. Knowing that you can handle the worst of the worst will help you in every other aspect of motherhood. Whether it's sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, toddler tantrums, the trials of potty training, the unending judgement from seemingly everyone else when it comes to your parenting decisions, you'll be able to handle it all, because you've already handled the worst situation imaginable.
This Too Shall Pass
The pain of losing a baby doesn't necessarily go away, but it does (eventually) become a manageable part of your every day life; like a cut that has scabbed over. You can still move and function and go about your day, but sometimes that scab is picked and you find yourself bleeding all over again. But whether it's the initial mourning period or a moment when another wave of sadness hits you unexpectedly years later, you know that it all will eventually pass. Time will push you forward, help the throbbing pain subside to a dull ache, and you will be able to put one foot in front of the other again.
The ability to believe in the light at the end of the tunnel, even if you can't necessarily see it, will be so beneficial: You'll forever know that sleepless nights will pass, arguments will pass, and any other conceivably difficult parenting moment will, eventually, pass.
It's OK To Ask For Help
When you're mourning the loss of a baby, you often (and definitely should) ask for help. No one should go through the grieving process on their own, and because you do need someone during that painful period, you will learn how to ask for help when it's necessary. Whether it's asking someone to make you dinner, asking someone to cover a work shift, asking someone to listen to you, or asking someone to help you find the professional help you may need, losing a child teaches you to lean on the supportive people around you.
While mothers are constantly told by an unforgiving society that they should do all of the childrearing on their own, asking for help makes a mother stronger. You cannot, and should not, do everything on your own, especially not when you are grieving, and not when you're parenting.
You're Still Needed
While taking care of yourself and your needs should be the most important, especially after you've lost a child, it's also impossible to ignore the fact that, even when you're mourning, you're still needed. Whether it's by your partner, who is also grieving with you, or by other members of your family, your friends, your coworkers, and your employer, the responsibilities of every day life — obligations that adulthood brings and the obligations you have to the relationships you have — do not go away after a loss. You wish they could and would, trust me, but they just don't.
And while everyone grieves differently, many find that the feeling of being needed by others is helpful. Knowing that you still have purpose, that you still matter, and that you still have work to do — work that will benefit others — can instill a renewed sense of self-worth; a sense that many mothers lose after the death of a baby. And that fortified resolve can carry any mother through the most difficult challenges of motherhood, because regardless of how tough things get — how sad or overwhelmed or frustrated you become — people still need you, and you still matter.
Some Things Are Simply Out Of Your Control
For many parents, it's difficult to not be in complete and total control. We want to protect our children every step of the way, in any way that we can, and even though we know that controlling parents can cause long-term damage to their children, it's difficult to step back and trust that our children will be safe and happy and simply OK. But when you lose a baby, you're acutely aware that there are so many things outside of your control. That no matter how hard you try, how sincere you are in your efforts to keep everything in line and on track and according to your plan, you can't. You just...can't. That's a hard lesson to learn, but one that is infinitely beneficial to know.
Knowing that there are some things out of your control will decrease your stress levels, your feelings of anxiety, and reduce your exhaustion. As a parent, you really can only do so much, and that's perfectly normal and 100% OK.
Self-Care Is Vital
You can't take care of anyone until you take care of yourself first. You can't help anyone through a grieving process until you have helped yourself through it, and you can't take care of a child until you have tended to yourself. Losing a baby forces you to look inward, in more ways than one. While that self-reflection can be painful, and often times even feel masochistic, it can also be beneficial. You are forced to take care of yourself, to tend to your overwhelming emotional wound because, well, that's all you can do. And that time of forced self-care, can teach someone how to love and care for themselves at other times in their life. Far too often, mothers are told to sacrifice everything — including their health — because that's what a "good mother" does, but caring for yourself first and foremost will make you a better mom to your kids.
You Can Handle Your Emotions
When you lose a baby, an unending variety of emotions bombard you tirelessly and mercilessly. Pain and anger and sadness and feelings with no known description overwhelm you, and at times it feels like you can't control them, or yourself, or both. But, eventually, you do learn how to control your emotions; not to stifle them, but to sit in them, experience them, and then use them to your advantage. You learn that controlling your emotions isn't about pretending they aren't there so much as it's about acknowledging them in a healthy way, realizing why they exist, and moving forward by either using them or discarding them when they're no longer necessary.
Obviously, learning how to control your emotions makes you a stronger mother. Again, not because you aren't in tune with your emotions, but because you can identify them and use them when your kid is throwing a tantrum, or a relative stranger deems it necessary to shame you for breastfeeding in public.
You're Not Alone
While losing a child can feel isolating (and every person experiences a loss in their own, unique way), 1 in 4 women will experience a pregnancy or infant loss in their lifetime. Even though it doesn't feel like it the majority of the time, and especially when you're mourning a loss, you're not alone. Whether it's a community of women who have experienced what you have, or family and friends who are willing and able to support you, you don't have to go through grief, or motherhood, all by yourself.