'The true hardship of grief': Mum opens up about pain of losing her stillborn daughter

Photo: Rachel Whelan and a photo of her daughter, Dorothy.
Photo: Rachel Whelan and a photo of her daughter, Dorothy. 

I didn't hear the door close, but I felt it. I sat up just enough in my hospital bed so I could look that way. Just visible through the glass was the outline of the nurse's shoulders – hunched and tense as she so carefully carried my daughter out of the room. I quickly looked away. I couldn't watch her disappear.

I knew very well that the nurse would return, but I was never going to see my baby again.

As I lay back down, I felt like I was living someone else's life. It didn't seem possible that I had just given birth to a stillborn baby. I had to be living the life of another because to live this life as my own would be impossible.

How was I going to survive for a single minute without my baby?

In those first moments of grief, the ticking of the clock actually hurt. The minute hand seemed to mock me as it moved from one little black line to the next. Each tick marking another minute that I was being forced to live this new, cruel life I never asked for.

That's how I survived those first days without my baby – minute by excruciating minute. Hours felt too long and days seemed downright impossible. But I felt that I might be capable of carrying the pain a minute at a time.

It took a while for me to see time in anything but minutes. When I finally dared to think about my life more than 60 seconds at a time was when I realised the true hardship of grief.

Grief is not just about surviving those first minutes, it's about living all the minutes that come after.
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This life of living without my daughter was only just beginning. In just a few short days, I felt like I had lived a lifetime. Yet, I still had a lifetime left to live.

I no longer wondered how I was going to survive one minute without my baby. I now questioned how I could possibly make it through every single minute that was yet to come.

When I dared to consider the future, the minutes seemed endless. Not the kind of endless that you feel when you marvel at the vastness of the ocean. This was the kind of endless that terrified you, like a black hole where you could fall forever.

In those first moments without my baby, I thought I was going to fall forever. I didn't believe it was possible to get back up after being so low. I assumed my only path was down because I didn't yet understand that nothing in grief is permanent.

After losing your child, you realise that nothing really lasts forever.

It's been three years and I now realise that those minutes I feared are less like that black hole and more like that ocean. The minutes that once seemed so empty begin to fill up with little pieces of life again. It was the little things that helped me see time in a gentler way. Laughter, favourite songs, and really great books became my proof that the minutes without my daughter weren't meant to be unoccupied.

Time could hold her absence and it could still hold my existence.

The minutes I have left are not punishment, they just feel that way sometimes. I have survived for many minutes and I will live for many more to come.

Because a life of grief is like that ocean – it's endless, but there's a horizon.

This article was first published on Rachel Whalen's blog An Unexpected Family Outing and is republished here with permission.

Rachel Whalen set up her blog and Facebook page as a place for those going through grief as a result of infertility, miscarriage or stillbirth. 'We are a community for families of loss, infertility, and the unexpected'.