Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I went to therapy for two years after Eliza died.

I don't mean grief group--which I attended just a couple times in the first year and once after Zuzu was born.  I mean that I saw a therapist, first with David and then on my own, from December of 2010 through the fall of 2011.  First it was weekly, then every other week, then, about halfway through my pregnancy, it was once a month.  (I would have gone more often when I was pregnant, but I had so many OB and MFM appointments that it became unmanageable, and those doctor appointments afforded me their own kind of stress relief, so I did just fine).

After Zuzu was born, I went back to every other week for a couple of months.  I worried that after all the trauma associated with birth that I could have some form of PPD.  Even though that (thankfully) wasn't an issue for me, I was definitely glad to be able to talk to my therapist about the sneaky resurgences of grief and also the weird guilt that was sometimes associated with my newfound happiness.  And then things were going really well, and I went to therapy and talked about that.  And then I had an appointment that I had to cancel, and I didn't have time to reschedule right away, and then a month had gone by and I hadn't gone back and...  I kind of missed my therapist (nice lady!) but I was okay.

I know therapy is not for everybody (or at least there are a lot of people who want to say it's not for them, whether or not they've actually given it a try) but I just want to take a moment to say that it was a really, really good thing for me.  I had a great online support group, caring friends and family, and, obviously, this blog as an outlet, but I still needed help coping with my overwhelming, soul-sucking grief.  I was not clinically depressed and I never took medication, but  I have no doubt that seeing a professional therapist on a regular basis made a significance difference in my mental health.

At one point, about six months out from Eliza's death, my therapist and I discussed the possibility of taking antidepressants, but I was reluctant to do so because at that point I was trying to get pregnant again and I didn't want to worry about meds in my system.  (Which is not to say that there even would have been anything to worry about--I have no idea--I was just super neurotic about it).  I was certain that this new wave of sadness had a specific cause (I wasn't getting pregnant again) and required a specific cure (to get pregnant).  My therapist was understanding and supportive of my decision (and about six weeks later, we discovered that I was right).  However, I was glad to have someone I could have that conversation with who was evaluating my needs based on my needs, with no other agenda.

Therapy was the first place I went by myself after Eliza died.  I cried my way through every session for the first few months.  It's not like I enjoyed it--a lot of times I felt totally drained after a therapy session, and sometimes I wondered if it made me feel worse instead of better, especially in the months when life felt more manageable.  There were times we'd I'd be feeling okay, and then I'd go to therapy and discuss all my sadness and anger and I'd leave feeling more tired and sad and angry than I had before I went.

But most of the time, I felt better after I left.  Tired, sad, but a little lighter.  I often left therapy and wanted to call someone--David, a friend, my mom--to talk about something that came up in therapy or something that I'd figured out or decided upon after talking it over with my therapist.  My therapist didn't use words like "recovery" or "acceptance."  She never made me feel like there was a time table for my grief.  She sometimes asked me hard questions, but she always listened thoughtfully to my answers and validated my feelings.  She reacted with shock and dismay when people said or did shitty things.  She celebrated with me when I got pregnant again.  She acknowledged the anxiety and the hope and the fear of pregnancy after loss, and offered practical advice for dealing with all of it.

She recommended some things I could never get into--for example, she is a big fan of meditation.  The only time I'd tried meditating was when I was pregnant with Eliza and trying to prepare for a med-free birth, so meditation was just kind of off the table for me.  But she also encouraged me to go to yoga, recommended books for me to read (including When Bad Things Happen to Good People, which helped salvage the little faith I had left at that point), and helped me form specific and concrete plans for handling difficult people or situations--everything from telling my boss I was pregnant (again) to coping with the first family get-together with the in-laws.

I know that you don't NEED to see a therapist to survive the loss of a child.  But I don't really know why you wouldn't want to.  I mean, I GET that it makes some people uncomfortable, but for me, nothing was more uncomfortable than the desperate sadness I felt after Eliza died, and I would have done anything to try and find some way out of that pit of despair.

It helped me to have a professional to help me process what was happening.  I felt so crazy and so out of control and so unbelievably flattened by sadness that I needed someone objective to weigh in on whether this was actual insanity or regular grief.  There were a couple of times when David and I were not seeing eye-to-eye and I was so relieved we had an objective but caring moderator to help us talk to each other.  Sometimes I needed a pep talk, sometimes I just needed someone to listen without judgment or unsolicited advice.

I had support from my friends and my family and especially the community of bereaved parents I met online, but the regular therapy sessions I had were invaluable in a different way.  They gave me something to do when I felt so helpless and out of control.  It's not like therapy could fix anything that had gone wrong in my life, but at least it gave me a sense of being proactive, of doing something other than passively accepting what had happened to Eliza.  It helped me analyze my experience, to be objective and subjective about what I was going through, and to also see my loss within a greater context of loss and struggle.  It never made Eliza's death easier, but it made my life without her a little more bearable.

A friend of mine, whose brother died tragically a few years ago, told me that she admired the way I handled my grief by working through it, by going to therapy, by reading, by making an effort to keep myself healthy instead of handling grief the way she had--by drinking and smoking and eating to numb the pain.  The truth was that any of those escapes would have been easier (and, honestly, preferable) to therapy, but I really freaking wanted another baby.  And I needed to feel like I was fit to have one.  

After wrestling for so long with the notion that I'd failed Eliza, I didn't want to be so screwed up by her death that I would fail another baby, too, even if it was in a totally different way.  I needed reassurance from someone who was outside my situation, from someone who was getting paid to be honest with me about how I was doing.  I needed to prove to myself, too, that I was willing to do whatever it took to get myself to a place where I was capable of managing a stressful pregnancy and--hopefully--eventually parenting another child.

Sometimes I get e-mails from people and they sound so desperate and when I reply to them and tell them that I understand and assure them that it will get easier to breathe again someday, I also ask if they've talked to a therapist.  I always second guess myself when I ask those questions, because I don't want them to think I'm saying they are psychotic or something.  I don't think that their grief is abnormal or scary or wrong and therefore they need to see a professional.  I think that grief is normal and real and unavoidable, and it can feel so impossible and so overwhelming and a good therapist can help with that.  Surviving the loss of a baby is hard enough with a good support system--I can imagine how much more difficult it is without the kind of support that I had and have.  My therapist was such a great resource for me that I want everyone to have one!

I know that I got lucky in connecting with the first therapist I saw (she was recommended by my OB) and I cringe when I hear stories of people who had a bad experience because it cannot be easy to sit in a little room and tell the story of your heartache and then feel like you never want to see that person again.  I also know that seeing a therapist can be prohibitively expensive or, in my case, a pain in the ass to submit to insurance.  But in my opinion, it's still worth the trouble.

If you ask me what was essential to surviving the first year after Eliza's death, I would have to say it was the friendships I made with other moms who were grieving their own losses.  But if you asked me if there was anything that made that year a bit easier for me, it was going to regular appointments with my therapist.  Even when I left feeling sad (which was most of the time, because I mean seriously, I was seeing a therapist to cope with the death of my baby--it's not like there's much to NOT feel sad about), I also left feeling a bit more clear-headed in the midst of my grief fog.

I realize now that I didn't blog much about therapy while I was doing it.  I don't know if I was a little embarrassed that I needed it when many others didn't, or if I just needed to keep some of that private.  At any rate, I just wanted to say that I am glad I went and I know that it helped me.

I'm sure that I could have survived without it, but it would have been a helluva a lot harder than it had to be, and it was already hella hard.  I don't know if I'll ever need therapy again in the future, but if life ever gets that bleak again, I won't hesitate to call someone and make an appointment.  I will always be grateful for those therapy sessions and the small sense of stability and hope they offered me on the darkest and slipperiest days.


  1. I think it's so important to reach out for help like that if you feel it would be beneficial. It's easy to feel like it means something it doesn't, like it means you're weak or crazy, when that's totally not true. It's sort of a taboo subject, I think. Good for you for speaking out for it!

  2. Gah, I totally relate to this and feel the exact same way. I am SO thankful I chose to go to grief counseling, and I too recommend it to all of the newly-bereaved people who contact me. And totally felt the same--that I needed to work at my grief in order to be a fit parent. I mentioned that when I spoke at the remembrance ceremony too.

  3. I went to therapy on my own after my first miscarriage and it was supremely helpful to have a sounding board. I don't know if I would have survived without it. After our third baby passed, hubby and I went to a great support group for a few sessions. It made us and our marriage so much stronger. I'm so happy you wrote about this.

  4. I went to therapy a few times in college, a LOT of times when I was in my abusive marriage, and for a while after my divorce. I love me some therapy and if it was free and I had unlimited time, I'd go all the time.

  5. SO agree with everything you said...

    I've been going to my therapist for a year and 2 months now. She calls the shots on how often--At first it was once a week. Then bi-weekly. Then monthly. Now kinda bi-weekly again. Sometimes I wonder if I'm totally a whack-job that I can be feeling totally OK and normal when I go in, and then find myself bawling my eyes out at just a single mention of something about Luke that hurts me that particular day. Out of nowhere.

    I feel so completely lucky to have found my therapist--By some terrible luck...she also lost her first baby at 38 weeks. Almost the same exact situation as mine. And when I share with her things people say, thoughts I have...I sometimes feel like I'm burdening her. But she's so amazing--and the thing that I find the MOST comforting is that she knows EXACTLY where I'm coming from. EXACTLY. It's a relief, because I feel like that's something so rare for most of us.

    Anyway. I totally know what you mean about walking out sometimes feeling worse off than when you walked in. But in the end, I totally agree that it's done a lot for me and my mental state this past year.

  6. As someone who has never been to a therapist, I can admit my reluctance to do so is based on fear of the unknown. I didn't want to acknowledge that I had lost my baby to someone who I worried would feel sorry for me. Or would just watch me cry...I didn't/don't know what visiting a therapist would even look like.

    And really, to share that with people who hadn't done the same. I understand that therapists are professionals, but I just never felt like any professional would know what losing your baby feels like.

    And I guess they really don't have to. Because it's more about connecting with someone and being able to talk through your feelings...

    It just never occurred to me to talk to a therapist, but rather spoke to my friends, and blms and blogged through it... My own version of therapy I guess?

    I'm ranting. lol

  7. I can say therapy saved my life. So many days I just found myself in such a dark and scary place and I was afraid to admit that to anyone in my family or support group. There is something to be said for confidentiality. Sometimes you just have to speak crazy out loud to someone who is impartial and willing to tell you the truth. I am forever indebted to her and you are not alone. I would have to say I was skeptical. I saw a therapist in college a couple of times and she was well, horrible. But I was glad I did it and it was really great to have her there while I was pregnant with V too. ~M

  8. I am in the same boat as LJ, but reading this makes me wish I would have sought out and found someone right after we lost Cale. I don't think there is a timeline on seeing a therapist but do wish it was something I did in the dark, early stages of grief.

    This was a really lovely and honest post. I think you should send it to your therapist.

  9. I WISH I'd....bonded? With the therapist I saw after losing Little M. I felt like she was talking me off a ledge I wasn't on. I went to her to discuss my losses, my fears, my sadnesses, but she just kept reassuring me of all the positives in my life. I am Well Aware of how lucky I am to have J, G, family support, a nice house. I am the most grateful person you will ever meet. But that is all she kept bringing up. It did not work out. I wonder about this coming December. Will I make it on kickboxing and treadmilling alone? Am I band aiding a wound that desperately needs stitches? I probably am. My scar will be bigger and take longer to heal. *sigh* I wish I didn't live in the middle of nowhere. Therapy doesn't need extenuating circumstances of gas prices and travel time.

  10. I agree w everything you said. Ev-er-ree-thing! I went to a grief councillor 3 months after Alexander died. It wasnt the best thing I'd ever done. But it was good to cry and let it all out. And I knew I wasn't doing well on my own. She wasn't the best therapist, but it was good for me.

    A big regret I have is that I didn't go longer. I stopped cold turkey after returning to work. I'd only been seeing her for 5 ish months and appt were monthly. Sometimes twice a month.

    I wish I had dug deeper to find a better fit, and gone more often. What you said about being a fit parent and sorting out what needed sorting before you had Caroline .. Thats huge. Something I know I didn't do, and i still struggle with my abilities to be the best parent through all this grief. So good for you. Really. If I could go back in time and changed how I dealt with my grief, it would be to be more proactive, and less willing to Let it wash over me everyday. And just HOPE it would figure itself out and find its proper place.

    And talking me off a ledge is a big thing this lady did with me which was an indication that she didn't really get my babyloss life. But I'm not sure if that chapter is closed for me. Therapy, that is.

  11. I saw a therapist for over a year and a half and it was really good for me too. Like acupuncture, it was something to do that felt proactive and helpful as I grieved and tried to get pregnant again. My therapist specializes in women's health and pregnancy and her first baby was stillborn 25 years ago. I never felt a profound aha moment but she allowed me to talk which I needed so much and she helped validate all my feelings as normal (much like this tribe). She was knowledgeable about all the latest research and helped me stay sane during Bode's pregnancy.
    We also discussed antidepressants about 4-6 months and I felt similarly to you and chose to just keep plugging along without them.
    I definitely recommend therapy to other baby loss parents but then really hope they find someone they can connect with because another person who didn't understand would have been extra hard.

    1. Oh and I mainly stopped going after Bode was born because of insurance reasons. I think it would probably still be beneficial but so expensive now that we haven't maxed out health plan this year!

  12. As a licensed psychotherapist AND a baby lost mom, I appreciate this post very much.
    I've often wished for resources (time, mostly -- it's a long round trip) to keep seeing my therapist regularly.

    The most important thing I want to pass on to other moms like us is that my therapist worked with me through the lens of trauma. Believe it or not, even though I started seeing her a month after my baby died, I hadn't considered myself a trauma survivor/victim. At first I found this scary and depressing. But it gave me a way out, too. There is a way to survive trauma, and I definitely needed to believe in that. Still do.