Grief, How Do You Deal With It? How Do You Survive It?
Regina Miller Sanders
This book is in memory of the precious babies I loved and lost, Lauren Kristi Sanders and Austin Daniel Sanders; and the miscarriages I suffered through.
It is dedicated to those who have loved and lost whether it is the death of a child, parent, or grandparent. May your hearts be comforted through the words I share here.
It is in honor of my wonderful husband who experienced each loss with me and stood by my side when it seemed I would go insane.
Thank you for taking the time to read these words and expressions and may your pain be lessoned by what you are experiencing now. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
Chapter 1 The Beginning….
November 2, 1991, 3pm. That is the day this journey began. This is the day my wonderful husband and I got married. It was a beautiful, autumn afternoon and we were surrounded by our families and our friends. Life was great. We chose not to go with the huge, glamorous wedding. We just wanted something simple. In 6 weeks time we planned our wedding, got our license and rings, and the day finally arrived. Planning…that wasn’t my best feature at 19. I planned an outside wedding…with NO backup plan. Needless to say, I was very upset the day before the wedding when it rained
all day! What was I going to do? PRAY! And, pray I did, all day long. The rain didn’t stop us. I ran around in the rain making my last minute preparations and when I awoke on my wedding day the sun was shining brightly. This is a good sign, right? Isn’t that how most 19 year olds think? The sun is shining; this means we are going to have a perfect life just like in the fairy tales.
We had very humble beginnings. We didn’t have a lot of money but we both worked hard and had each other. In our minds, that was all we needed. After all, love conquers all….or does it?
Chapter 2 We’re Expecting!!
Not very long after we were married we found out that we were expecting our first child. We were ecstatic! We knew we wanted children. We had discussed this before we ever got married. Was this baby going to be a boy or a girl? Did it really matter? No! We didn’t care. We loved this baby from the time we found out we were expecting! Each
month went by and we heard the heartbeat, we saw the ultrasounds, we felt the movements. All this helped us to bond more with this baby and fall in love with someone we had not even met yet.
We are nearing the end of the pregnancy. What’s this pain I have? Oh no! I am so nauseous I can’t stand it. This is worse than morning sickness! What is wrong? SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT! I call my doctor. I tell him my symptoms. He says this is pretty normal in pregnancy, probably just indigestion. “Take 2 tbsp of Mylanta every 2 hours and call me in the morning.” This pain is so bad. I can’t stand it any more. I shouldn’t be alone. I call my cousin who comes and takes me to her house because my husband works at night. As the hours pass the pain intensifies. The Mylanta is not working. It’s not helping. This is not indigestion….but what is it? I can’t sit. I can’t lie down. All I can do is pace the floor and pray. My cousin decides enough is enough. She calls my doctor back. He informs her that he has already spoken with me and advised me what to do. She tells him that I have followed his advice to the T but I am getting worse not better. He tells her not to bring me in. To wait until morning and call him. She informed him that we were on our way to the hospital and if he didn’t want to see me he didn’t have to but someone was going to.
She calls my husband at work and tells him that she is taking me to the hospital and he can meet us there. He contacts my parents and lets them know what is going on. We arrive at the hospital. I am triaged and put in a room. Nurses are all around me. They hook all of the monitors to me. No one is saying anything. Finally, a nurse comes in with
a bag of fluids and starts an IV drip. I ask what this is for. She tells me that I am dehydrated and need fluids. Someone goes and talks to my family. They tell them that I am threatening pre-term labor and that they are giving me an IV to stop this. So, which was it? Dehydration or pre-term labor, or both? I was never able to find this out. I spent a few hours in the hospital and was released still in pain! The pain had not subsided at all. I never saw my doctor! He never once stuck his head in the doorway. I never saw any doctor! I was told to follow up with my doctor later in the day.
I was finally able to rest. I don’t remember if the pain eased off or I was just so exhausted I couldn’t go on, but I rested. I followed up with my doctor, who again told me this was indigestion. Then he became angry with me because I told him it wasn’t. I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was NOT indigestion!
A few days later the pain and nausea returned. It was just as bad as the first time. Again, I contacted my doctor. Again he told me to follow up the next morning. We did this several more times. Then, June 10, 1992…I grew concerned. I hadn’t felt the baby move in quite a while. This was very unusual because she was a very active baby. I patted my bulging belly, I rubbed it, I pushed on it…anything I could do to try to stimulate her and feel at least a little movement. …NOTHING! I called my doctor [this time it was during office hours so he allowed me to come in.] They first listened for a heartbeat, but could not find one. The nurse told me not to panic that she was sure everything was fine, the baby was just trying to hide. Hello?!!! Hide? I’m 8 months pregnant! Where do you think this kid is hiding? Something is wrong…I know it! She goes and gets the doctor who does an
ultrasound and confirms my worst nightmare. There is NO heartbeat! How can this be? What happened? Why is this happening to me? No one has any answers……..
He sends me to the hospital to labor and delivery. They put me in the very nice labor and delivery suite. They induce labor. My mom is asking why they are inducing labor instead of doing a c-section. They tell her there is no reason for a c-section and vaginal delivery is best for future pregnancies. Finally, she is born. One month early, no life, and 2 lbs. They allow us to hold her and say good bye. We count her little fingers and toes. She has 10 of each. She is perfect except she is not living….
Chapter 3 What Now? Once we say good bye to her. They remove her from the room and give us a little time with our family. Once the family starts to disperse they come move me from the nice labor and delivery suite to this hole in the wall room. No space at all. It was like being moved from a mansion to a closet. No baby, no nice room.
I kept waiting on someone to come ask me her name. Why wasn’t anyone asking her name? Didn’t they need that for the paper work? I asked my husband who didn’t know an answer. He asked someone and they told him someone would come by the room. We waited and we waited…no one came. Didn’t they need her name? Why weren’t they asking? My mom came and I told her, “Mama, I have been waiting all day for someone to come ask me her name. In Lamaze classes they told us that we would be asked her name for her birth certificate. No one has come by.” So my mom asked someone. Again, she was told someone would come by.
After many hours of waiting and wondering…someone came by. The grief counselor stopped by to check on me. We asked her about it and she cried with us. She said, “Oh honey. In the state of South Carolina, if a baby isn’t born alive they don’t give you a birth certificate. The baby has to breathe so long outside of the womb to be considered a baby, and get a birth certificate. Otherwise, it is considered a fetus. You can get a ‘Fetal Death Report’ from the Office of Vital Records, but this doesn’t have the babies name or anything like that on it. It is simply a statistical record. They stopped offering birth/death certificates many years ago. The state decided that it could better keep up with infant mortality rates this way.” WHAT??? I don’t get anything? You are telling me that I went through labor pains and held this BABY with 10 fingers and 10 toes in my arms but she’s not really a baby because she didn’t breathe so long after she was born? Who stands there with the stop watch to see if they have breathed long enough to be considered a person? SHE IS A PERSON AND SHE HAS A NAME!
Where is she? Are they throwing her out with the trash? That is what it sounds like! She reassured me that, no; she wasn’t being thrown out with the trash. We could tell them which funeral home we wanted for proper burial. Let me understand this. I can’t give anyone her name or act like she exists but I can and should give you the name of the funeral home. “Yes, Mrs. Sanders. I’m sorry. This is how it is.” Please don’t misunderstand me. This grief counselor was very nice and she had given us information that a) either no one else knew or b) they just didn’t want to be the ones to share. In fact, she was so nice that she had them make me a “souvenir” birth certificate and take her little hand and footprints for me. She knew I needed this. We gave her the name of the funeral home, and the next day I was released to go home.
At Home…Now What? We leave the hospital. We have our family and friends thinking we are going to my parents. I really need some time alone with my husband, just the 2 of us. I still can’t believe this is happening. How am I supposed to process this? Why is this happening to us? It’s not supposed to be this way! How do I make funeral arrangements? I don’t know how to do this? What happened to my fairy tale? It has turned into a NIGHTMARE! I am sad, mad, overwhelmed, and anxious! Every emotion the human body has…I was feeling all at once! Was I losing my mind? It felt like it!
Oh no! What is this? Why are these people showing up at my house? It’s my grandmother and her sister telling me they are coming to help me clean my house because the church will be bringing food out at 6pm! What?!!! It’s nearly 3pm now and I just got home from the hospital! I want to be alone with my husband not being a hostess! I can’t handle this! Why are they coming here? They are supposed to go to my parents!! Who spilled the beans that I wasn’t going to my parents? We had this planned out! Aren’t we going through enough?
I can barely face my own husband because I feel like I have failed him so horribly by allowing our baby to die…and now you are telling me I have to face the world today? I am NOT ready! I do NOT want to do this! Grandma, why do you have clothes and where is your car?....
My mind is racing…Oh no! She’s moving in! We will never have any time alone! How can this be happening? Why do they keep asking me where things go? Why can’t they just go? I don’t want to do this! I don’t want to be here! I can’t do this! “What do you mean can you put my cat outside? NO! He’s an indoor cat!”…and with that, I go outside. I sit on my doorsteps and cry…My husband is lost in this mess and doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t want to offend my grandmother and her sister. He knows they are only trying to help, but he knows I don’t need this right now and he doesn’t know how to “fix it” for me. He also feels helpless.
Oh no! Here comes another car! Are the people from the church showing up already? I love them and I know they love me…but do I have to see them today? No…it’s not the church…not yet. It’s my cousin. She exits her car and runs over to me. I just melt. I break down sobbing. She gives me her sympathies, but I stop her and I say, “IT’S NOT THAT! GRANDMA’S MOVING IN AND I CAN’T DEAL WITH THAT RIGHT NOW!” She assures me that grandma is not moving in and she will indeed be leaving my house this same night and giving us the time alone that we need. Poor grandma! She had no idea what I was thinking or how I felt about it. She is grandma…everybody’s grandma…and she takes care of every body. That’s all she was trying to do was take care of me…but I could not receive that at that moment. How could I be so selfish? I was only thinking of myself at this moment. I didn’t want to play nice. I didn’t want to be nice! Didn’t they understand what I had been through? Why would they think I could handle this now? I wasn’t sure I could fathom what was happening. Everything is a blur!
It is 6 pm and my tiny little mobile home is packed with people of all different shapes and sizes, each bringing in dish after dish of food! Eat? You want me to eat now? Please just help yourselves. They stay for what feels like an eternity, but it was only about 4 hours. My cousin and my dad stay until everyone leaves to make sure EVERYONE leavesâ€Ś.finally, I can just crash.
Chapter 5 My Parents, My Helpers, The Funeral Thankfully while the cleaning crew was preparing my home for visitors from the church, my parents were making funeral arrangements for me. The funeral home director blessed us so much. He advised my parents for us NOT to have a visitation where I had to sit and
greet people. He felt that would just be too hard on us. He had my mom ask if we minded if others viewed her. Of course, we didn’t as long as I didn’t have to sit there through it again. She asked me who I wanted over the service and I named the pastors I wanted. She followed the advice of the director and chose a simple grave-side service. It was a beautiful service. They each went above and beyond what they had to do to make this as special as they could for us. As we were sitting there during the service this one particular flower kept my attention. All I could focus on was this flower. It was a Styrofoam teddy bear arrangement. It was pink and beautiful. The florist had given it a red felt mouth. She pinned the mouth on with these 2 big white head pins; one in each corner…this thing looked like a vampire teddy bear! It stared at me and I stared at it!
After the service we went back to my mom’s and ate while the director finished closing the grave and arranging the flowers. We went back to the graveside to view the flowers. Although many flowers were around it…there was that vampire teddy bear staring at me again! My mom said, “Who sent that grinning teddy bear with the vampire teeth?” My dad bent down and viewed the card attached to it and said, “It says Grandma and Grandpa…YOU SENT THIS FLOWER!” With that announcement I had to laugh. The first time I had smiled in days. It was funny I couldn’t help it. Was I wrong to laugh…no, not at all. My child had died, but I was left to live this life and feel all of the emotions.
Chapter 6 The Funeral Is Over…Now What? As much as I wanted to be alone when I had to be surrounded by people, when I finally was alone and everything was over I didn’t know what to do. I slept most of the time. I couldn’t eat. Then there were days I couldn’t sleep at all and I still couldn’t eat. I moped around all the time. I wanted to talk to my husband, but he didn’t want to talk…It was too painful. I have all of this time on my hands and I don’t know what to do with it. I cry watching comedies, I cry watching dramas…I cry. That’s it. I want to scream but if I do people will think I am crazy. Maybe I am!
I follow up with my doctor. I tell him how I am feeling, what I am experiencing. He replies to me that I didn’t eat before I got pregnant, so why worry now. To which, I replied, “At least I got hungry before! I don’t even get hungry now and I can’t sleep or all
I do is sleep. There is no balance! I want to hit something! I want to scream! I want my baby!” At this time, he looks at me and says with a very serious look on his face, “Have you thought about hurting someone or yourself?” And I replied, “ONLY YOU!”
“Only you”… there, it was out! I partially blamed my doctor for what had happened because when I called him he didn’t listen to me! He didn’t want to see me and see what was wrong! He didn’t see me even when I went to the hospital. In my mind he killed my baby and I was ANGRY! I was angry with him and with God and with the world! I was angry and didn’t know what to do with it. How to let it go. I was empty. A huge part of me had died and I didn’t know how to survive any more! How do I live without my child? How does life just go on? When will this pain go away? I can’t continue to live like this! This isn’t life! I am an empty shell with a broken heart and spirit. I needed my husband to listen to me and he couldn’t do it! Why couldn’t/wouldn’t he just listen? Did people realize I was losing it all? I was going insane…or so I felt.
After my outburst with my doctor, he decided I needed some medication to help with depression. He prescribed some and sent me on my way. I took them, but each time the medication wore off, the emotions were still there. Do I have some kind of switch to just turn off these emotions? You aren’t supposed to feel them all at one time!
Chapter 7 The Support Group Meeting I felt like no one understood how I felt. No one could ever know this kind of pain. It was too much to handle. I wasn’t living. My heart was beating and I was breathing, but I wasn’t alive. I died with her and no one knew it. Why wasn’t this medication helping? Isn’t this what it’s for? Why did I still feel like this? This is hopeless. I can’t continue with no hope… The phone rings…it’s the grief counselor from the hospital just calling to check on me. Finally, someone who is willing to listen and isn’t uncomfortable when I talk! She is allowing me to open up to her and we are connecting. She invites me to a support group meeting that she holds weekly at the hospital. I tell her I will think about going. I talk to my mom about it. She decides if I will go that she will go with me. This meeting changed my life! It gave me hope and it helped me realize that I wasn’t alone! There were others out there who knew and understood everything that I was experiencing. This meeting saved my marriage! It was here that I learned that men and women grieve differently. Society teaches men that they have to be the strong ones. That they can’t show emotions or they are sissies. Don’t cry no matter what because that is a form of weakness. Men internalize their emotions. They work them out in totally different ways. Women…well, we have the gift of gab and talking is usually what we need. So, how do you do it if he needs to work things out and you need to talk? You go to a support group meeting so you can talk. Share your feelings and receive help from someone who has
walked a mile in your shoes. Find other ways to comfort your spouse and allow him to comfort you in the way he knows how to. Do not shut each other out or push them away…if you do, your marriage will not survive. One man looked me square in the eyes and said, “This can make your marriage stronger or it can tear it apart! Only you and your husband can decide which it will be!” He was right! I could start to feel the life coming back into me. I wasn’t just going through the motions any more. Someone had offered me hope! There was a little sunlight shining through this dark cloud of life. I rushed home eager to share with my husband what I had learned! You know…I still had to talk…but this time, it was about the hope I had received. I loved him and wanted to share that hope with him. This is when the healing began!
Chapter 8 The Journey Begins
I am now on the road to recovery. I learn that I need to incorporate exercise and a good diet in my life to help heal the broken heart I have. I learned that even though, this grief came on suddenly, it’s not leaving just as quickly as it came. This is a healing process! I learned I didn’t need to make major changes in my life like moving to another state or starting a new job. I just needed to take things one day at a time. I learned that everything I was experiencing was NORMAL. I wasn’t losing my mind after all. Does time heal? No. God does. He puts people in our paths that encourage us and offer us help along the way. There will be good days and bad days. On those bad days you become
thankful for the good ones and you start to see that even though you have experienced a terrible loss, you were blessed to love that one for even a short period of time.
Within a year we were expecting again! Once again we were very excited…but at the same time a little scared….well, a lot scared! After all, the previous pregnancy had been uneventful until the last month and it ended tragically. I changed doctors. Even though I was having better days, I was still feeling the doctor had to hold a little responsibility. How do I feel now, all of these years later? Well, while it’s true that maybe he should share the responsibility; I have forgiven him for what I considered negligence. He is human and not a woman. I just pray he learned something through this experience. This 2nd pregnancy went without a hitch! The new doctor monitored me very closely because of the previous pregnancy. We were blessed with a beautiful daughter! She was 5 lbs and 5 oz [and she was my big baby].
Chapter 9 The Fairy - God Mother Crashes
We were feeling on top of the world again. No, this little girl could not replace our 1st daughter, but we could love her and be better parents to her because of the tragedy we had experienced. We realized just what a precious gift we had been given and were not going to take her for granted. We watched her grown and shine like the sun. She was our ray of joy! Maybe we were going to get that fairy tale ending after all!
Before she was out of diapers we discovered we were pregnant again [3rd time]. As you can tell, fertility wasn’t our problem. LOL! This pregnancy moved along fairly well. Towards the end the doctor was concerned that the baby wasn’t growing as he should. He didn’t want us to end this pregnancy with another stillbirth, so it was decided that he would come early. A month early, to be exact. He was a tiny baby, weighing in at just over 3 pounds. His small size landed him in the NICU. As far as anyone knew, he was there because he was a tiny baby. He didn’t seem to have any other health issues going on. Or so we thought…. When he was 7 days old the pediatrician at the hospital called me. He said they had detected a heart murmur and he felt it was serious enough to transfer him to another hospital. He would not go into any details over the phone and they had already moved our baby to another hospital. He gave me the name of a pediatric cardiologist and told me she would be expecting us. I woke my husband and called my parents. I was hysterical. My husband and my dad tried their best to calm me down. We arrived at the hospital and were immediately carted to a small office to meet the cardiologist. She began to explain to us that our son had
Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. In layman’s terms… the left side of his heart didn’t develop at all. I lost it. Not again! We weren’t going to have to go through this again! I asked about open heart surgery. I pleaded with her to fix it. She told me she couldn’t. That he would have to have a heart transplant in order to survive, but before they could do that he would have to have a different surgery to keep his little heart functioning until they could find a heart for him. I couldn’t sit there any more! I ran from the room going to find my baby. No one was stopping me! I was going to hurt anyone who got in my way and I meant it! My dad took off behind me. My mom tried to stop me…the cardiologist told her to let me go. She understood it was too much to process right then. As I was getting ready to enter the NICU a nurse approached me. I drew back to hit her because no one was going to stand in my way. Thankfully I didn’t hit her and she didn’t try to stand in the way. She took me straight to him. The cardiologist had called down and told them to expect me. All I could do was sit and hold him and cry. Were we really going to have to face this again? Was there nothing I could do! God, PLEASE! I don’t think I can go through this again!
While I was having my breakdown the cardiologist was still talking to my husband and mother. She told them that we had 24 hours to decide if we were going to put him through this 1st surgery and that the survival rate was lower than 25% because of his size. She also stated that IF [the big word] he survived this surgery it was going to be a slim to none chance of finding a heart small enough for him. How do you make this kind of decision in 24 hrs? How do you do it? I just didn’t think we could handle this. Losing one baby was hard enough…now we have to face losing another one! My husband and I sat
outside the hospital, with the sun shining down on us, and decided that no matter what we wanted, we had to do what was best for our son. We chose not to proceed with the surgery. They couldn’t guarantee us he would survive, they told us that if he did it would be next to impossible to find a heart for him, if they found a heart there was the possibility of his little body rejecting it, and if it didn’t reject it he would never be able to run and play like other children his age. He would have to be constantly monitored and limit his time with other children because a simple cold could kill him. At that time the oldest known survivor of this rare anomaly was 10 years old. They didn’t even know a survival rate for this!
We desperately wanted him to live, but we had to do what was best for him so, as I said, we decided to cling to him as long as we could without putting him through the pains of surgery and not being able to hold and love him.
They set us up with hospice and allowed us to bring him home. They told us that they really didn’t know how long he would live that usually this heart defect is detected when the babies are about 3 days old and they usually die before 7 days old. He was 7 days old when his was detected and they just didn’t know. God blessed us with him for 9 more days. He passed away at the age of 16 days.
He was introduced to his home, his sister, and his family. He was loved and well cared for. I chose not to take any medication to help me with grief this go around. After all, I still had a baby to raise and didn’t feel I could do it taking the medications. Do I think it’s
wrong for doctors to offer these medications? No. Sometimes we need them just to cope. We just have to remember that we have to face these emotions head on at some point and time. If we keep them masqueraded with medication, they will still be there and there with a vengeance when the medication wears off. I focused on my daughter. I walked. I exercised, and I tried to get the proper nutrition. I was coping a little better this time around, but my husband wasn’t.
He had not been able to go to the support group meetings with me when I went during our 1st loss. He had not learned those coping mechanisms that I had. Our marriage became strained and we separated. When he left, I told him to visit our daughter every day if he wanted to. I wasn’t holding her back from him. I didn’t want to punish him. I loved him. We just agreed we couldn’t live together right then. He continued to take care of me and our daughter. He still provided tremendously and it gave him time to work things out his way. By allowing him that time and space, we were able to work things out. We stayed separated a month, but then he was back home where he belonged and we were on the road to reconciliation.
After this loss, we faced 2 miscarriages. Then we found out we were on our 6th pregnancy! Everyone was terrified throughout this pregnancy but every precaution that could be taken was taken. I had wonderful doctors who listened to me when I had concerns and didn’t dismiss my concerns.
Thank God they did listen to me because I developed pre-eclampsia and went into liver failure. They almost lost us both. They performed an emergency C-section and delivered our beautiful 3 lb 2oz baby girl. She was tiny but she was a fighter! She came 1 month and 1day early. She stayed in NICU 3 weeks, but was finally able to come home with us. We stopped with her. We were blessed with 2 beautiful surviving daughters and we weren’t asking for more! As far as anyone knows, none of the tragic endings were related to each other. No one has an explanation of why we experienced the pains we did, except that it was the path God had chosen for us.
So, were we angry with God for our losses? How did we deal with this grief? How did we cope and move on? Is the pain still there? Where are we now?....
We Are Survivors If you remember, at the beginning of this book I shared that in South Carolina you can purchase a statistical report called a “Fetal Death Report”. I had pure determination that we were not going be just another statistic. We were going to survive this one way or another. If I needed to talk and he couldn’t, I would find someone who would let me. I am blessed with some friends that just know when to listen. There were many times they just listened and cried with me and never said a word. I accepted the fact that I was NOT going to “Get Over This”, but I was going to learn to accept that it happened and take it
one day at a time. I learned to look for the blessings in my life and if I was blinded and didn’t think I could find any, I started writing down things I considered a blessing…starting with my husband and children and other family and friends. I chose to turn to God for comfort not away from him. I learned not to put myself in a situation I didn’t feel I could handle emotionally. This meant I missed some family gatherings and I didn’t change the flowers on the baby’s graves as often as some people felt I should…but it granted me sanity. I took slow deep breaths and counted to 10…and if I felt I needed to hit something…I walked outside and picked up a stick and hit a tree. I faced each emotion, one at a time. They were flooding me all at once, but I couldn’t take on the whole group at once…just one at a time.
One of the things that helped me survive this more than anything…I reached out to others facing this same pain and emptiness. I shared my experience with them in hopes of helping them cope. I made myself readily available at any time they needed me. God allowed me to use my tragedies to help others and this was the best medicine for me!
So, as I close this today. I tell you from my heart…YOU ARE NOT ALONE! There are others just like you who have felt this loss. Some are able to reach out to others and some are not. If you are experiencing this loss, please find a local support group meeting! If you can’t get to one immediately, there are several online groups that are there for you. I know there is one on CafeMom [www.cafemom.com], Compassionate Heart has one. You do not have to face this alone. You are not going crazy…it just feels like it at the moment! I am here for you! Don’t hesitate to contact me! It is my prayer that this book
has enriched your life and helped you in some way. May you find peace which surpasses all understanding.
Here is a ray of sunshine for you. May this offer you HOPE and the ability to live again!