This is a hard season for self-love. Images of perceived perfection dance slightly out of reach as companies work to profit off our self-doubts. Nothing about our physical bodies drastically changes as December flips to January; yet as the year turns over, we are suddenly in drastic need of fixing.
Whether it be an early miscarriage, a late-term loss, a still birth, or a baby that passed after birth, a broken body image is common in the wake of losing a baby. Our physical body is an easy scapegoat for blame. This month, I want to share 4 core realizations about body image I had after my loss. I started ashamed of myself; slowly, I was able to get myself healthy and acknowledge what my body had actually done. I am not a doctor, I am not a specialist, I am just a mama of loss. The things I say below are based on my own experiences, supported by information I found helpful, and they are straight from my heart.
ONE: Your body acts outside of your control
The lie – We control everything our bodies do.
The truth – We control very little of what our bodies do.
It is expected to feel angry at your body after loss. I remember feeling unbelievably frustrated when my milk came in. My body was preparing to feed a baby that it had birthed too early. It just couldn’t hold her past 30 weeks, and yet, it wanted to feed her. It felt like a cruel joke.
After Darla left, it was easier to blame myself for not resting more, not drinking more water, and not asking more questions about what “modified bedrest” even meant, than it was to accept there was nothing I could have done. It was destructive cycle: having something to blame made me feel in control, but blaming my body made me feel ashamed.
“When you believe you should have total control, it is easy to feel angry at yourself when things go wrong.” (Empty Cradle, Broken Heart).
From the moment we find out they are growing inside of us, protecting our sweet and helpless baby is one of the first tastes of motherhood. Society paints an image of a body we can manipulate and control, and it is easy to transfer that to pregnancy; hormones, abnormalities, cord placement…there is so much that goes on outside of our conscious control.
If you could have stopped it, you would have. Whether genetic, situational, or unknown: you loved that baby. It is unfair to shackle yourself to a burden that isn’t yours to bear.
TWO: Your body made life, no matter how brief; you are still a mother
The lie – You aren’t a mother without a baby.
The truth – You are a mother, now and forever.
When we found out Darla was on the way, I held that positive test and wept as many mothers do. When we found out about her abnormalities at our 20 week scan, as a mother of a sick child does, I began researching options for her care in our area. When the doctors told us she would need round-the-clock care if she survived, I accepted that our life would be different than I had pictured, but I got ready. I worked to save her, I did the best I could, I loved her fully as her mother. Just because my baby left, and my arms were empty and aching, I did the mom stuff. I loved my baby, and to this day, I still do.
Celebrate the fact that the body you inhabit was used in a miracle. It carried a beautiful new life; no matter how brief that life was, it mattered. Your baby mattered, and your baby matters still. You have the body of a mother; that fact must be respected and celebrated.
“Accept yourself and your body. Many bereaved mothers learn to accept that they are imperfect. It is healthier to realize you are imperfect than to always strive to be perfect. Perfection is never achieved, whereas imperfection allows you to feel good and worthy for just who you are. Remember, bad things happen to good people without stripping them of their goodness.” (Empty Cradle, Broken Heart).
THREE: Your body deserves self-care
The lie – Your flawed body doesn’t deserve to feel better.
The truth – Your body did a hard thing. You deserve to feel healthy again.
No matter if your loss was early or late, your body has been through something traumatic. If you aren’t feel physically well, working with your healthcare provider to establish a plan for recovery is critical. Monitor yourself, and be honest with what hurts; your body, your heart, your mind: if you need more help, ask. Always ask.
Accept your limitations, they are temporary and justified. Your body did a good thing. Rest and recover, the people who love you need you to be well; you deserve physical peace. You deserve to feel better.
FOUR: You will never be the same
The lie – You will bounce back to how you were before.
The truth – Mind, body and soul: you will likely never be the same.
You have a body altered by motherhood, beautifully marked by signs of life. Grief make changes that stick. Your heart keeps beat, even with a scar. Scars don’t go away, but they do stop bleeding.
After losing a child, the word “healing” doesn’t really seem to fully encompass what remains. It indicates that we are restored, but really, you are more than restored to a former self. You are on the other side of loss, you know more now than you ever have about yourself and what it takes to survive the unimaginable; you don’t really heal, but instead, you transform.
So despite the specific circumstances, you know your heart. You made a beautiful little life, your body needs to be celebrated. You are always a mother.
We don’t have to live very long to have a profound impact on the world. Your baby had an impact on the world. Your body was the vehicle for that life.
it is an honor to have been your home,
your window to the world,
and to be your mom, forever.