Going through pregnancy is supposed to be one of the most magical and joy-filled times of your life. You spend your days eagerly preparing and awaiting the arrival of the beautiful new child that is growing inside of you. Friends and family members shower you with more attention and gifts than you will ever know what to do with – seriously, I already have a wardrobe for my baby that spans at least to 24 months of age. All of this excitement and happiness is what you expect from pregnancy. At least, these are all the wonderful things I always expected from my first pregnancy.
What you don’t ever expect from pregnancy is having to cope with the grief over the death of a close family member during what is supposed to be the happiest time of your life.
It’s been a little over six months now since the tragic loss of my father. I’ve had my baby (birth story to come!), but I think I am finally ready to talk about how losing my dad affected me and shaped the rest of my pregnancy.
This past November of 2018, I was about four and a half months pregnant. I was nervous, but happy. Floating along through my second trimester on the cloud that all expectant mothers find themselves on. Halfway between “the pregnancy still doesn’t feel real” and “my belly is getting bigger every day.” We had just moved back to Miami from Dallas, leaving my parents and extended family behind. Before we left, my dad was sad that we were leaving, but knew we had to do what was best for our little growing family. My parents were going through their own issues, and it was hard to be around so much stress at a time when I was trying to paint my life with positivity. We left Dallas with promises from my dad that he would travel to Miami when it was time for the baby to be born.
I knew my dad had been sad. I knew he had been depressed for what seemed like most of my life. But he had always reached out before. When my mom called me on a Friday night to inform me that he had killed himself, I was absolutely gutted. The world disappeared from underneath my feet. Nothing can prepare you for news like that. It’s something you see in tragic movies and read about in novels, but you never think it can happen to you in real life. I was so shocked and numb that it took me more than an hour to finally break down into tears.
I was hyperventilating on the phone with my mom and my aunt, almost in denial. How could this possibly be true? I was pregnant with his first grandson! He had promised to come for the birth! I hadn’t spoken to him in several days! Why hadn’t he called me?! He never said goodbye. I had so much left to say to him. My mind was spinning with all of these thoughts that I could not comprehend or accept. I was overwhelmed.
My aunt emphasized that I should take care of myself and take care of the baby, above all else. I felt pressured to “be okay” and to “stay strong”, so as to avoid harming the baby in some way. What I came to find out, however, is that grief (pregnant or not) is a one-way journey. There is no way out of it except to go through it.
I know that I am not the only one who has lost someone dear to my heart during pregnancy. Reflecting back on my pregnancy, I want to share some of the lessons that I learned on how to cope with such a life-changing, heart-wrenching event while simultaneously trying to create a beautiful place in this world, and in your heart, for your new baby.
Allow Yourself to Grieve
I think the first and most important thing is to allow yourself to grieve. Feel all the feelings. Crying your eyes out is not going to harm your baby, no matter what others may tell you. The joy of your pregnancy does not cancel out the despair, just as the despair over your loss does not cancel out the joy of your pregnancy. Suffocating these intense emotions and ignoring them for the “welfare” of your baby will only cause them to resurface in a more detrimental way later. Allow yourself to grieve, but also allow yourself to feel the joy that comes along with your pregnancy. Some days will be wrought with sadness, and others you will find yourself in such mother-to-be bliss it will almost seem like the tragedy never happened. The emotions will come in waves. Ride them. Experience them. But don’t ever try to swallow or ignore anything you feel, whether it be positive or negative, especially for the sake of others.
Honor Your Loved One
My dad may have never had the chance to meet my baby boy, but I wanted to make sure that he would always be a part of my little one’s life. We knew our baby’s first name was going to be Noah, but were having a difficult time choosing a middle name. We had even toyed with the idea of not giving him a middle name. Before we left Dallas, my boyfriend and I went to dinner with my dad and suggested to him the idea of making the middle name David – my dad’s name. He kind of half laughed it off, in the way he always did. We thought about it, but still weren’t sure. The night I found out about my dad’s death, I knew that Noah’s middle name had to be David. Giving the baby my dad’s name felt like the right way to honor his life.
And Noah will always know that he was named after his grandfather, even if he never gets to meet him. He will always know who his grandfather is, and what a wonderful, sarcastic, funny, and intelligent man he was.
Find an Emotional Release
Whatever it is that you like to do to relieve stress, do that thing. If you love to paint, spend time every day painting. If you like to cook, cook. My personal therapy is working out. Having that hour every day to move my body, lift weights, sweat, and focus solely on myself really helped me to work through my emotions. It provided an outlet for my anger – the anger I felt at the world for taking my dad away, and the anger I felt at my dad for leaving me without saying goodbye, the anger I felt at myself for not reaching out to him just one last time to make sure he was doing okay. Even on the days that I felt like doing nothing but laying in bed and staring at the ceiling, I would force myself to get up and go to the gym. It would get me out of my funk and give me the energy to continue with my day.
Seek Some Sort of Support
Losing a loved one to suicide can be really isolating. Losing a loved one in any way can be isolating. Your whole world has crumbled and come to a screeching halt, but everyone else around you just keeps moving forward with their lives. Please understand that you don’t have to go through these emotions on your own. You don’t have to hold everything in and pretend like you’re okay. You aren’t going to bother people with your problem. Find someone to talk to, whether it be a friend, family member, therapist, or even a support group. Most cities have grief support groups for the survivors of suicide and other tragic events. It can be scary to confront the feelings you have, especially around people that you may not know very well. But you are not alone. Find someone to talk about your loved one with. Find someone to share your feelings with and to share all the wonderful things about the person you have lost. Personally I found that focusing on the beautiful memories I have of my dad really helped me to grieve him in a healthy manner. I am lucky to have those 27 years of memories with him, when so many others may have never even known their fathers.
I am not usually a very religious person, but I can’t help but feel like I was blessed with this baby boy because the higher power out there knew what was going to happen. The love I feel for my baby has helped tremendously with my healing. It has allowed me to focus my energy on creating something beautiful. This love has reminded me what a gift it is to be alive and how important it is to cherish each moment. Life is painful, but life is also a wonderful adventure. Beauty and pain will always coexist with one another, and we cannot truly appreciate the blessings without also experiencing the suffering.
I always tried so hard to help my dad see this. He had a difficult time finding the beauty in life. My life will never be the same without him. Every night he is in my dreams, and in my dreams he is always still alive. I love him so much and am so grateful for how hard he worked to give my family the life that we had. But depression is real and dark, and sometimes people just can’t find their way back into the light. My only hope is that he has finally found his peace.
It’s crazy, my boyfriend is Cuban and his whole family has dark hair, dark eyes, all dominant genes. Most of my family is light haired and light eyed. I have blue eyes, but my dad was always the only one with kind of hazel-green eyes. We thought for sure the baby would be born with dark features, but Noah David was born with greenish eyes. Just like my dad.
If you are currently pregnant (or not) and experiencing grief over the loss of a loved one, please do not hesitate to reach out to someone. If you are having thoughts of self-harm or feeling suicidal, I urge you to reach out to a friend or family member before making a decision that you can never undo. You can even contact me directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on instagram @paleoclaire. You are not alone, and I would be happy to hear you and help you. Life is beautiful and there is always something to live for, even if it seems like the pain will never pass.