The shock of losing our own child
Is there a meaning behind everything?
Written by: Paul E. Wanvig, published in English: 1. March 2019
First published in Medium Magazine (Norway) 03.2015
This was supposed to be my year. Everything was laid out and ready for the most productive, exciting, and meaningful year of my life so far. I had planned on starting the New Year by announcing on my new English-language blog the wonderful news that I was going to be a father. This was a deep desire for both Maria and me, one that would finally become a reality.
On Christmas Eve 2014, we passed the critical time for pregnancy: the 12th week. We could relax more now, since the probability of losing a child after this time is minimal.
What happened two weeks later is the biggest trauma I have ever experienced and probably the worst fear of all parents—losing your own child.
Why am I sharing this with you?
The reason I am sharing my story with you is mostly for my own benefit. For many years, I've shared my experiences and recipes for solving mostly any problem that has arisen in my life with my Norwegian readers.
This time there is no step-by-step solution that provides the recipe for how such a trauma can be healed in general—for I do not believe that one exists. But maybe my story can give hope to others who are experiencing the tragedy of losing their own child or inspire someone who has family members or friends that have lost a child.
Back in 1997, my father passed away and I did the opposite of what I am doing now. I had suppressed what had happened, which led to severe physical and mental problems a few years later. By sharing my loss tragedy with you now, I am taking important steps forward in my own healing process. Hopefully some good will come out of this, both for you and for me.
The morning of January 5th 2015, I saw Maria looking chalk pale with tears in her eyes. "I have massive bleeding and I'm afraid for our child." My heart stopped almost completely, and it felt like cold knives began stabbing my back.
The gynecologist urged us to come in at once, and the ultrasound image showed that everything was in order. "Such things are not abnormal," she said to calm us down. "If this gets worse, I recommend that you go to the hospital. As it looks now, there is nothing differently the hospital can do either."
When we returned home, everything went back to normal. We breathed sighs of relief, believing that everything would be alright.
What happened over the next five days, I think only Maria can describe. She suffered intensive pain that came and went continuously. The feeling of helplessness came over me as I watched my beloved wife suffer without being able to do anything to help her. Today I understand this better—the intense distress was labor pain.
The emergency room shock
On Friday, January 9th, we went to the emergency room, because the pain was unbearable. The shock that confronted us there is hard to describe. The ultrasound image showed that the child had slipped down into the birth canal. The chief physician and the other doctors had never seen anything like it before: a strong and vital child in the birth canal at this time in pregnancy.
For Maria and me, this was the biggest shock of our lives. The doctors said there was nothing they could do, they could only hope that the child would die quickly and get out so that Maria could be free from pain.
These words were inconceivable to us. We had so much looked forward to the birth of our child, and now we hear that they hope our baby dies quickly.
I had never felt so helpless before. The feeling of numbness came over me, and I was no longer able to perceive the world around me. It was like stepping into a timeless bubble. I saw only Maria and me, while the world around us became more and more blurred. The shock began to take over, and it was good I did not know that this was only the beginning.
All thoughts and reactions for self-preservation began in me, and survival instinct took over my actions. What could I do for the baby to get back into its proper place? What could I do to help Maria? What if my worst nightmare would come true that I also was losing Maria—what would I do then?
Thoughts rushed chaotically through my head. Stress hormones were pumped intensively into my blood stream, and all of me was on alert.
I've never been so glad that I've worked with meditation for so many years; this made me able to think clearly instead of flipping out.
My task was to help Maria in the best possible ways, both mentally and physically. Although it was impossible for me to understand what she was going through in this situation, I could help by being present and making sure she had everything she needed at any time.
Over the next six days, I shuttled between hospital and home. I prepared organic food for Maria, brought clean clothes, and took care of our dog, Emilia.
On the one hand, it was good that I had something to do all the time, but it was incredibly difficult, since I had no one to take care of me. The nights were the hardest to deal with, since I had to be home to take care of Emilia. Lying awake without knowing how it was going with my beloved wife was very difficult.
The nightmare becomes a reality
On Saturday, January 10th at 8:20 a.m., my cellphone rang. My blood froze and tears ran down my cheeks when Maria told me that the child had come and that she was going to have an emergency operation. It's hard to describe what was happening inside me then, but I remember my intense fear that something bad would happen to Maria.
I had never before dressed so quickly. I arrived at the hospital just in time to accompany Maria down to the surgery department where they normally take in emergencies that come by ambulance or helicopter.
Nobody explained to me what happened and why she needed surgery. The waiting time and uncertainty were like torture. Every minute felt like an hour. After 90 minutes, a nurse came out and was about to pass me without saying a word. I stopped her and asked if she knew how the surgery went. "Everything seems to have gone well, and she is lying in the recovery room now", she said briefly before moving on.
A while later, the surgeon informed me that everything had gone perfectly well and that he hoped he would never see us again. The pressure was relieved and tears flowed when I took Maria’s hand as she was still groggy from the anesthetic.
One of the consequences of the operation was a major infection that the doctors were not able to control even with the strongest intravenous antibiotics. "We have not seen this before," we heard again. "We'll try another type of antibiotic and see if it works better."
The next day, the infection markers increased; this indicated that the infection had become worse. The fear that multiresistant hospital bacteria had gained a foothold in Maria was intense.
Our first son
Our son, Wotan Dompierre Wanvig, was born at 8:00 am on Saturday, January 10th, 2015. He died in Mary's hands at 8:01 a.m.
To see my own son lying dead in my hands was heartbreaking. He fit into my hand, being only 12 cm. long, a miracle with hands, feet, fingers, toes, and nails that never came to say the words “dad” or “mom.”
The priest and the undertaker
On Sunday, we were visited by the hospital's priest. Although we have no relationship with religion, it was incredibly good to talk with someone who was an expert at helping people in our situation. She explained to us all the details about what was going to happen, including that since the child had come so far in its development, it was mandatory according to German law to have a funeral.
The next day, the undertaker came. How to talk about the experience of discussing the funeral of my own child with a priest and the undertaker is something I’m not able to fathom. On one hand you are glad that someone is available to tell you what's going to happen so that uncertainty goes away, but on the other hand, you want to escape everything and hope that it is all a bad dream.
The desire to suppress
The desire to suppress what had happened was overwhelming. However, both the priest and everyone else we've talked to—both experts and those who had experienced this themselves—said that suppressing our feelings is the worst thing we can do.
We heard many stories about how things had gone for parents who had repressed the grief of losing their child. Disease, relationship problems, and years of suffering were some of the aftereffects.
Everyone said it was important that we gave space in our family to Wotan as our first child and that we gave him a name and a burial.
An unbearable shock
Maria was allowed to leave the hospital five days later. The shock was overwhelming, and neither of us was able to think clearly about the days to come. The only things our world consisted of were tears, numbness, and deep pain.
The same day she was discharged, we got a visit from our dear friend, teacher, and mentor Walter Lübeck, who helped us understand what had happened, why it happened, and how the road ahead looked.
Walter gave us several essences and homeopathic remedies that would help us process the shock and trauma. Starting with this at an early stage was helpful, in addition to our talks to professionals and others who had experienced the same trauma.
Finding the right place for the burial
The next thing we had to do was find the right place to bury our son. We wanted to have a shamanic funeral ritual in a natural grave by a tree in the forest. In Germany, we have special “peace forests” (e.g., Friedwald) where we could buy a tree and bury our son there.
We eventually found a suitable location: a great oak tree overlooking a small lake and a small river in a beautiful forest. That was the right place, and Maria and I also will be buried there when the time comes.
On Thursday, January 29th, we buried Wotan at the root of an oak tree with a beautiful shamanistic funeral ritual led by our good friend Walter. As I write these words, tears and sadness overwhelm me; it was only five days ago that I stood there with a shovel and buried my son with my own hands. What I experienced is something I cannot put into words.
I find it all still incomprehensible and surreal, and it will certainly take a few weeks before I come back to myself.
After the worst shock had subsided, deep grief came creeping over us. For me, grief is a process of letting go of what has been and finding a new path for my life.
How we humans mourn is personal, but I'm convinced that we can choose to suffer or go through the process filled with love and forgiveness. I know people who have lost a loved one, and the rest of their lives had been destroyed with suffering. But I also know many people who have actively chosen the other way—the path of love and forgiveness.
No one who dies would wish that his or her family should suffer because of it. The soul passes on to the Kingdom of Light after death, where it plans its next incarnation. In other words, prolonged suffering is only hurting ourselves and our nearest yet has absolutely no influence on the soul that has passed on.
A wise man once said the following to me: "Death is a part of being human that we need to learn to deal with. Everyone has a choice: We can unconsciously go through this guided by our inner desire of suffering and self-destruction, or we can choose to consciously go through a grieving process by letting go of what has been and take with us the good that this human has given us in the time that it was with us."
Grief is something that takes time. It is now a little over three weeks since we lost Wotan as I continue to write about my experience, and I'm not nearly finished with my grief. But what is certain is that both Maria and I know that something good will come out of this eventually, as it has always done after the major disasters earlier in our lives. We just do not know yet quite what that ‘good’ might be.
How should I support you?
How should I relate to someone who is experiencing a trauma like this? I do not think there is a definitive answer to this, since we all have different needs. The best option is probably to ask the person directly how you can give support in the best way possible.
Flowers or other gifts are what I personally need least. I would rather not have to tell the story over and over again—it's one of the reasons why I'm writing these words. Then everyone is informed, and those who want to support me know what I need.
“I think of you.”
The most supportive thing for me is to hear, "I'm thinking of you," or "You are in my thoughts." Simple gestures can let me know that I am not alone. I had no idea of the strength of these words until now.
To me, this is like tiny lights that illuminate the darkness. The more of these small beacons of support, heartfelt wishes, and similar comments that reach my blog or inbox, the more the darkness is dispelled. The effect on me is outstanding, and I am so grateful for all the supportive words and actions that are coming our way—they mean so much!
What had we done wrong?
‘What had we done wrong?’ was one of the first things we discussed. Was this our fault? Could we have done anything differently? Should we have known better?
It’s probably normal that we tried to find the cause in ourselves to be able to find the answer to why this happened. The reality is that all parents who have gone through the same have done their best, including us. Maybe there are some things that could have been done differently if we would have had more knowledge. Maybe there are things we should have done differently. Maybe we should have gone to the hospital earlier, although the doctors said that it would not have changed anything. Maybe we should have informed physicians and specialists we work with here in Germany at an earlier time. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
What has happened has happened, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to reverse this now. Torturing ourselves with reproaches that we should have done differently or somehow have made better decisions helps nobody; it only destroys us.
As shamans, we are trained to listen to nature, which is much more wise and complex than a human can ever comprehend. This is what nature chose at this time. There is nothing we need to understand right now; it is something that we just have to accept. But this does not mean that we should not learn from what has happened. Learning acceptance is probably the most important thing we can take with us from any crisis.
Forgiveness is a very important part of the mourning process if you choose to walk the path of love. Without forgiveness, the suffering may continue indefinitely.
For Maria and me, actively forgiving ourselves was the most important thing for us to do in order to release the enormous burden hanging on our shoulders. This will also set us free.
The problem with forgiveness is that it does not work very well with the use of willpower. We must have a deeper approach in order to reach the hidden programs of the subconscious and the depths of our hearts.
I have written a longer article on the subject of forgiveness and how this can be done to set us free.
In such a situation, it is easy for conflicts to arise in the relationship if one fails to communicate with the other about what has happened. We know couples who have lost children and who would not talk to each other about it. After twenty years, they still have problems in their relationships because of what they had never put into words.
Thank goodness that Maria and I are talking about what has happened. Neither of us runs away, even though it is difficult. When we manage to ride out a storm like this, I think it would take a lot to ruin our relationship.
Is there a meaning to everything?
Is there a higher meaning behind losing our own child? This is difficult to answer, since we comprehend only a tiny slice of the reality we live in. Also, the answer always depends on the point of view from which the situation is observed. From the Creative Force (God) point of view, a spiritually enlightened and self-realized point of view, or from a human point of view, everyone gives different answers.
A better question to ask is what we will make of what is happening to us. How do we create meaning out of what has happened? This is entirely our own choice. We can choose to be the victim and continue suffering, or we can use what has happened—to learn from it and grow.
How we can turn this tragedy into something good for others and ourselves is, of course, unclear to Maria and me at present. Even if we perceive the contours of our reality, we must allow ourselves to grieve, as humans of flesh and blood, with the feelings that fill our lives right now.
What is certain is that we have chosen to incarnate into this world as human beings with all the joys and sorrows that this existence has to offer. Escaping from what is difficult in our lives is not an option.
In a few weeks, we will see the world and ourselves with other eyes. Until then, we are grateful from the depths of our hearts for all those who care about us.
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Paul E. Wanvig is a Neoteric Shaman, entrepreneur, journalist, author, speaker, bio-hacker, spiritual teacher & encouraging optimist dedicated to helping you and your family live a Fulfilled Life and ending the stress and burnout epidemic by Utilizing the Best of Modern and Ancient Scientific Practices, Medicine and Technology.
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