I woke up in my hospital bed at a local private hospital in Harare. The room was silent apart from the beep beep sound you often hear in hospitals. It was maybe 2 hours after surgery. I had pushed the baby out naturally. Straight after, I had to be rushed into surgery as the umbilical cord was stuck. I was told by my gynecologist sternly right after delivering. “If we do not operate on you, you will die”. This would be the 2nd time in my pregnancy journey that I would be operated on. The trauma is indescribable.
I glanced around in the blue and white color schemed hospital bedroom. My best friend was sitting on the visitor’s bench with my mother and my aunt. My feelings were a cross between feeling numb and feeling rage. The first person to speak was my aunt who said to me softly, " God has taken him to a better place”, with such a deep reservoir of sadness with eyes so heavy and about to burst into tears. I looked at her intensely, just squeezed her hand softly then I said to her “What other place could be better than my arms?
On this day a year ago, I had a stillbirth at 32 weeks. His name Zuva meaning SUN. I have not been able to talk about it openly for a while, because apparently, it is not the sort of thing people usually talk about especially publicly. Then Michelle Obama started talking about it. Beyoncé talked and sang about it. The fictional character Dr. Amelia Shepherd of Grey’s Anatomy finally shared her long-kept secret about it to Dr. Alex Karev after keeping it away from her family and friends (Thank you Shonda). So, “me too” I talk about things. I am pretty successful at writing about things. Let’s talk.
I am 1 in 4 women that have experienced pregnancy loss through still birth or miscarriage #iam1in4
My experience losing a child caused self-doubt, anger, embarrassment, guilt PTSD and depression and a bit of crazy. A little while after my still birth experience, I had four mild accidents in row, I would just switch off and replay the moment over and over in my head, I had loss of concentration (this usually happened in the car) and I started suffering from insomnia, I did not sleep normally for months. I was exhausted all the time and I had to stop driving for a while.
The most interesting thing about all of this is the same experience has also made me more self-aware, self-caring, stronger, faster, better. confident and true in the pursuant of my dreams – you know the big big dreams that I did not think were possible are suddenly now possible. I guess losing the baby and almost losing my life twice during the pregnancy made me realize that I get just one shot of living my best life.
Throughout my journey of grief, which is of course ongoing, I am starting to realize that the grief never really goes. You sort of find a way to co-habit and move on along. I was lucky to have met and be surrounded by a number of strong women survivors who came and reached out to me, sharing that they too have experienced a still birth, or a miscarriage and they strengthened me. Through their stories of resilience, I started getting my strength back up, building my self-bit by bit, and layer by layer, and unpacking the trauma, and a year later, a little bit stronger and a little bit more courageous to tell the story. Some of these women who reached out to me were women I did not know at all, who heard about my loss, well because I am a bit of a public sharer, I can assume a lot of people were wondering what happened to the baby.
Here is what I have come to learn. When an individual experiences the death of a loved one, in my case losing a baby pregnancy, most people do not know what to say and because of that they often say the wrong thing. I do not blame them as it is a hugely awkward, sad and traumatic time, not just for the mother and father, but for everyone in their sphere of influence. I assume mostly because “it is the baby that never was” and people get stuck when it comes to the right words. This is very understandable.
For me, some of these hard or wrong statements which were probably meant to be consoling but instead ended up making me feel more negative emotion.
“It is well”: I hated hearing that one because quite frankly in that moment or period IT IS NOT, eventually there comes a time when “it is well” however let the grieving one tell you when it is well to tell them that it is well.
“Look at Job in the Bible, God took away everything”: This would drive me up the wall. The story of Job in the Bible (Job 1vs 13-22) is indeed a compelling and powerful account of trust in the time of loss, however in most scripture, the Bible as well talks about wisdom and ability to discern times and seasons, So the opportunity to minister with that scripture of Job will eventually present itself when the time and season in right. Please kindly avoid bible bashing people in times of loss and trauma.
Other statements being “He wasn’t yours, it wasn’t meant to be”, “You will have another one”. When you have another one, it is never the same, it is not like you forget that baby that you lost. It is not as if it suddenly replaces your heartache for the other one, sure it may slightly shift your focus but grief is grief. I was watching Marvel’s The Avengers the other day and in a defining moment in the movie, Vision said to Captain America “We don’t trade lives Captain”. This statement stuck with me, and I thought to myself so neither do we trade the love we feel for our children, the ones who didn’t make it countered by the ones who do.
“At least you can get pregnant” This one is a NO on all counts as there are some women struggling or still trying to conceive. I read on the internet that in America about 10% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 (6.1 Million ) have difficulty becoming pregnant (https://www.hhs.gov - I am still trying to gather the facts for Africa and for Zimbabwe.) I feel like that statement “At least you can get pregnant” is a disservice to these women trying to start or extend families, besides I just think it is prudent to just stay away from people’s uteruses and bedrooms as you never know what someone is struggling with when it comes to conceiving.
Another awkward experience during my time of loss, someone shared their pregnancy news days after I left the hospital after the still birth. When I think about it now, I do not have any negative thoughts towards the person, let us not judge that person too harshly, trust me when you are pregnant, you are excited, you do not think about a lot of things except that well you are pregnant.
Lastly the most heartbreaking thing that someone said after I lost Zuva “At least we do not have to hear about this baby anymore” Oh don’t mind that person, that was the best friend of my baby’s father, he is a real arsehole.
So what do you say when you come across someone experiencing loss?
I think there are never any real right words but I believe less is more. You know what made me feel better? The silence. The soft hand squeezes. The making me food when I could not find the strength to get up, Running my bath water so I could just sit in the bathroom and cry, Bringing me a candle for Zuva. The hug with no words. The statements “What would you like me to do for you” “I am here for you “ “I love you” “ I am praying for you” “ Good morning” . If all else fails, the traditional “I am sorry for your loss” is just fine.
For me, it was the 48 + women who reached out to me till this day, the most recent one being the lady from Instagram last week. Thank you. I have kept flowers by drying them and they are so beautiful. The emails, the WhatsApp messages and the letters and the wine. I have come to learn the people who can better understand you are the people who have similar experiences to you, even though the intricacies are different, the experience is still the same. Who better to share your story with than someone who has walked in your shoes?
You may wonder how is it for me now. I am a lot better thanks to the support of the most beautiful and wonderful people in my life who continue to inspire me and love me wholeheartedly. And to you. I love you fiercely. There is restoration in my life. Not replacement. I now understand the difference. We shall STILL remember the one though, the one who lived through my heart beat and left us. Zuva. Our SUN
This is my advice to anyone who feels alone and does not know where to get help and is going through any sort of depression, especially regarding child loss: do not be rushed by anyone or anything, you will get there when you get there. Getting help in terms of professional counselling did a world of good for me, you don’t have to even keep it local as I am also realizing that when it comes to addressing mental health issues in Zimbabwe are still finding our feet. With the new digital age, video counselling is also available. One of my counselors was based in the UK and she worked with me for months. I am in a much better space.
When you finally gather up the strength, there is a TV show that makes so much sense to the situation of grief. It is on Facebook TV and called “Sorry for your loss” starring Elizabeth Olsen. Do not worry, it is far from dark and twisted (because at times in your grieving journey you will feel dark and twisted). This show is filled with the true depths of all the things you cannot talk about with your family or friends. It will not make your sadder, but you will identify with the journey and you might even laugh.
There is a book called Option B by the amazing Sheryl Sandberg COO of Facebook, she has been through her own abrupt loss when she lost her husband in the past few recent years, she gets it! It is a great resource on how to start the journey of picking yourself up. You might even also laugh. One of the quotes she says in her book that I love “Option A is not available, so let’s kick the S*** out of option B”. I believe humour gets us through at times. One day you will laugh, it will not be a forced laugh. One day you will dance.
Finally, dear you, be still and steadfast in knowing that you are going to be okay. I know as I am STILL.
Chiedza Makwara is an entrepreneur in the Logistics field. She currently is the Managing Director of Charlie Stevens International, a reputable logistics company in Zimbabwe that was founded by her and a partner. She is also the author of popular novel Bongile: Journey To Redemption, a novel that touches on issues to do with gender-based violence, life choices, family and love.
Chiedza hosts a TV show on Afre TV, an online based station. There, alongside a panel, she moderates discussions on societal issues, i.e. gender based violence, gender stereotypes as well as other topics. Her passion is for women breaking that glass ceiling and reaching their full potential in all aspects of their lives.