real life

'After stillbirth, I had to learn to love the body that I felt had let me down.'

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In acknowledging the damaging view I had of my body after stillbirth, I couldn’t avoid that I was applying one of the most toxic of behaviours toward myself, a behaviour I was desperately trying to not have others throw upon me: judgement.

I was afraid that others could see my broken postpartum body, and they would look and somehow see that within me was an abnormality of life, a mother with no baby. That my function as a child-bearer had been so faulty and that I was incapable of the living up to the word ‘mother’. Blindly, I preempted their judgements by casting judgement on myself.

My daughters’ stillbirth was late-term. Physically, I looked ready to give birth. Mentally, I was ready to give birth, but only to a live baby. The adaptability I had to show to cope with her sudden death was not a perpetual unending reserve. All my love went into her, her birth, her funeral, the unbalanced emotions of saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ simultaneously. All that I had left for myself after the hurricane were the dregs of emotional coping; the frustration and the judgement.

This manifested in the need, (and I choose that word specifically) my need, to rid my body of any outward sign of the pregnancy. Physically from the process of natural labour and birth, and mentally from the shock and trauma of a child’s death. But by judging myself I refused to allow that flow of natural recovery. I forced my body to become what it was prior to my daughter’s pregnancy and birth, instead of allowing it be become something that felt so uncomfortable to carry.

A very raw Monique Bowley speaks about miscarriage, grief, and how friends and family can help someone who is struggling. (Post continues below.)

It took me just weeks to stop my milk supply and weeks to rid my body of the extra weight I had carried during the nine months of pregnancy. When family commented on how I lost my baby kilos so quickly, my answer was always along the lines of: “I thought I would be spending all my time with our new baby, so now I just exercise with all this empty time.” And exercise I did, excessively.

I was seeing all that was wrong with my body. To me, it was a compliment if I could be outside and have no one suspect what these last few months had dealt me. I was trying to be normal again; to not be that mother, to not be stuck in the physical body of a new mum but carrying only the burdensome label of  ‘bereaved parent’.

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Thankfully, after the shock had dissipated and my mental outlook normalised, I became aware that no one else viewed this as I did. This judgemental fog was only around my own head and only put there by me, and my judgement of my body was really just a focal point of my grief – a place to focus my frustration and anger. It was a coping strategy, and a terrible one at that.

I began to slow down, I looked at my behaviour and could see how critical I was being. Slowly but surely, I realised that it was okay to love the body that I felt had let me down. This body had given me the only time I had with my daughter. It gave us those precious and sweet times together – the rolls, the hiccups the yawns and stretches the aches and pains, a beautiful birth into the waiting arms of her parents and the love, all the love. That unbelievable, outside-of-yourself love for your child. If I could love my daughter as I did, then I could love myself as her mother and begin to love and embrace the body that bonded us.

In time, I did rid myself of the judgemental fog. The label of ‘bereaved’ mother still sits uncomfortably, I like to think of myself as a mother, a mother to all my four children. My body has grown and nourished and given birth to my four babies, we have three here in our home that we get to watch grow and one we can talk to in the stars – forever our baby. We truly feel blessed to share her short life and the abundant love she left us with. By changing my self-talk and removing the uncomfortable labelling, I moved passed being just a bereaved mother to being HER mother, and that’s what sits well with me. With that, I can be proud of my body for giving me time with her, and these days I embrace all of who I am; all the scars, tears, rips and pulls, aches, pain and sags that all my precious pregnancies gave me. This body of mine has done me proud, even if I didn’t realise it at the time.

Till has worked in bereavement support since her daughter death in 2014, she writes for stillbirth prevention and education organisation Still Aware, and is the former President of Sands WA (miscarriage, stillbirth & neonatal death support). She also runs her own website, https://thestilllifeproject.org.

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