Navigating the Postpartum Period After Loss
For most bereaved moms, a pregnancy that ends in loss shatters the plans we made for life after giving birth. We don’t know what to what to do when we come home empty-armed. What is considered “normal” when our outcome is far from normal? Decisions about returning to work and engaging in our usual activities are confusing and challenging. How do we heal from labor and loss at the same time? There is no roadmap to the postpartum period after loss.
I had planned on “lying-in” – a traditional month of postpartum recovery – after my daughter’s birth. A period of rest and healing sounded perfect. In the weeks leading up to my due date, I prepared freezer meals and readied myself to lie low after my daughter was born. I envisioned days of breastfeeding in bed, cloth diapering, and bonding with my baby. I couldn’t wait to meet her, and I planned to make the transition from womb to world as lovely and sweet as I could for my little one.
Then the Unthinkable Happened.
Without warning, all of my plans fell apart. My daughter was stillborn at full term. I came home from the hospital after a traumatic labor empty-armed and heartbroken. Instead of cuddling up in bed with a breastfeeding infant, I was stuffing ice packs in my bra to keep my milk from coming in. The beautiful postpartum period I had planned became a distant memory. Instead, I was faced with the unwritten script of a postpartum period after loss. I knew I needed to heal on many levels.
Even though my pregnancy ended in loss, I decided to keep the tradition of lying-in. Rest and healing are important for both physical recovery, and for the grief process, too.
The Tradition of Lying-In
Known as confinement, lying-in, sitting the moon, or la cuarentena, most traditional cultures around the world acknowledged the 30-40 day period after birth as one of great importance. Many still do. It involves practical guidelines for a new mother on leaving the house or performing her typical household tasks. Friends and family come to visit. Relatives and neighbors help out with housework and care of older children so that the new mom has an opportunity to rest, spend time with her baby, establish breastfeeding, and heal.
Modern natural birth circles discuss the benefits of lying-in. “Sitting the month” is still common in Asia, and as an acupuncturist, I wanted to follow the wisdom of the ancients in this regard. In Chinese medicine, we say that childbirth depletes a mother’s Blood and Yin. Her body will work to replenish these until the fourth month after delivery. We recommend rest, herbal therapy, and warm, nourishing foods during this time.
Lying-In After Loss
If you are considering a lying-in postpartum period after loss, here are a few recommendations specific to these special circumstances.
- Lying-in doesn’t mean being confined to bed. It just means easing back into activities like exercise, cooking, cleaning, and work. Let friends and family help you out with meals, chores and older childcare. The postpartum period after loss is important for your physical and emotional recovery.
- Your body is healing. Follow your doctor’s recommendations if you had complications like an episiotomy, perineal tear, or C-section. Consult a healthcare provider before taking herbs or supplements.
- It may be even more important for you to have visitors than if you had your newborn at home with you. Let people know that just because you are staying home for awhile doesn’t mean you want to be alone. You will eventually want invitations to go out! Express your preferences – e.g. best times to visit, and what friends might bring that could be helpful (food, toilet paper, etc). Most people are looking for something helpful to do and welcome suggestions.
- Your health care provider will most likely give you instructions on how to stop milk production. I used cold compresses and this sage tincture with a supportive sports bra. Please discuss with your health provider whether this is an appropriate remedy for you. Here is another article on how to stop milk production.
My Postpartum Period After Loss
I never thought I would be navigating a postpartum period after loss. It never occurred to me that I might be leaving the hospital without my precious girl. In the chaos after, I was tempted to scrap all my plans (since they had just been scrapped by the universe, anyway), and distract myself with any activity possible.
I’m glad I didn’t. My physical recovery kept me from wanting to do much outside the house at first, anyway. Grief made venturing out into the world surreal, and acutely painful. Mostly, even though my beautiful daughter was stillborn, I knew that my postpartum body still needed to heal. This was even more essential because of the grief. I needed a window of time to transition from mom-to-be to a bereaved mom brave enough to venture back out into the world. Even if lying-in is not the right choice for you, remember to be gentle with yourself during the postpartum period after loss. Make time for self-care, and remember that while your body needs time to heal, your heart does, too.
What was your postpartum period after loss like? What healing practices helped you during this time?
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Robynne Knight is a writer, educator, and acupuncturist who lost her daughter, Zoë, to stillbirth in 2011. She is passionate about sharing her experience with grief and loss, and helping others find growth and healing through her writing, private practice, and sharing support and resources through The Zoë Project.