Name: Nadia Obrigewitsch
Tell me about the person who died:
I lost my baby girl Aida during birth in December 2014. It was a freak accident, a prolapsed cord, and completely unexpected. My pregnancy was healthy and uneventful and I was planning a home birth before I got rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. She was beautiful, had a full head of hair and was a big baby—9lbs 10 oz! We were completely devastated. I remember being in the OR watching the paediatric team try to resuscitate her for about 30 minutes. I will never forget the paediatrician's face when she came over to me to say that there was nothing left to be done. Aida died as the sun set that dark day in December. I was in complete and utter shock.
What was the grief like after your loss, and how did it change over time?
The grief was an unmistakable force that took me on a whirlwind ride of raw, intense emotions. I played the traumatic event over and over again in my mind, each time changing the outcome, willing her to open her eyes and breathe. I could not control anything. It was a dark and confusing place, and a very ethereal experience in that I was never really present in the moment during the first couple of weeks. I was always in the past with Aida or in my head.
The grief was like this dark visitor that I kept on fighting and denying. But he kept sitting next to me, forcing me to accept the situation. In time this dark figure became a familiar friend, letting me know that another wave was coming. I could not deny these emotions, I could not deny that she was dead. Over the last 10 months the dark figure's visits have spaced out; I can breathe lightly again and even experience some joy in my life. However, when he does visit, it is always an intense experience of loss, sorrow and yearning for that baby girl.
How did the people in your life support you in your grief? What was helpful? What was frustrating?
For the most part everyone has been great. In the beginning we were inundated with meal trains, cleaning services, cards, childcare support, money, you name it! Close friends set up a group chat for me to vent whenever I was finding it overwhelming. They let me know that they were here for me and that they would hold me when I needed to be held. Two of my sisters came to visit and stayed with me for the first four weeks to support my husband and my 3-year-old, and one of my sisters helped me through the grieving process like a pro. What was helpful was just somebody saying 'I see you are in pain, I will hold some space for you, I will let you cry, please lean on me'.
What was frustrating was hearing everyone else's baby losses (miscarriage, abortion) and then being inundated with stories of various losses. That did not make me feel any better. What was also frustrating and hurtful were friends who just dropped off the face of the earth.
How did your private grieving relate to your public mourning?
There was no difference. I cried everywhere. On the street, in my office, in front of strangers, in my bathroom. I was brutally honest with everyone and anyone who would listen. However, I only cried if it felt safe. If it felt like an inappropriate place to break down, like the middle of a meeting, or playing with my toddler, I would always pause the grief. Then I would dig it up again when I was in a safe private place. This involved looking at her pictures or listening to some triggering music. I knew that if I didn't address the grief in a timely manner that it would come back 100 times worse.
Was there anything about your cultural or religious background that affected the grieving process for you?
Nope. Not at all. I lost all faith in everything. The universe is chaos.
Were there any personal or public rituals that helped you in your grief?
In the first couple of days I really felt Aida's spirit around me. It was a curious and protective spirit. I saw a flock of golden crowned kinglets on a walk shortly after she died and since then every time I see a bird peering at me curiously I think it's her saying hello. We planted her ashes in a crabapple tree at the Government House in Victoria, and had an intimate goodbye ceremony filled with family and friends around the tree. It was very beautiful. So the image of a bird or apple tree has really helped me try to believe that she is ok, and I am ok.
I got my tarot cards read about 3 months after her death and the reader described Aida's spirit as this joyful curious light, saying 'what a ride that was mummy!'. She went from a very visceral experience in my womb to a very light ethereal experience in death. She never experienced the outside world; her spirit was never corrupted with any pain or suffering.
I guess these aren't rituals per se, but I did a lot of 'grief projects' to help me through my mourning. I drew, I wrote in journals, I went to therapy, I went for walks in the garden where her ashes are planted, I found a locket for her hair, I arranged for an illustration to be made of a bird and the tree to give to family and friends. These kinds of projects just let me believe that she was alive, she did matter, instead of it being some sort of figment of my imagination. That's the hard part about stillbirths. You don't have any actual memories or experiences of the child, just a whole load of hopes and dreams. So you can really mourn infinite versions of that child, which is so heartbreaking and never ending, and also not rooted in any reality.
How did your loss and your grief change you?
It turned me upside down and inside out. My whole molecular structure was broken down into mush and I am now slowly but surely reassembling it all. My heart is still pretty raw and I feel everything very deeply these days, from a silly ad on the telly to an intense crime drama program where there are characters grieving. All of that can sometimes be too much for me.
It probably doesn't help that I am now 7 months pregnant again with another baby girl. This has definitely complicated the grief and has amplified it.
This experience has forced me to be present in my life, to take note of myself and my surroundings. I crave real connection with people. Pleasantries and acquaintances I can do without. I try to be kind with everyone because I know that infant loss is a minefield topic; however, I also set boundaries for myself and if I feel they are crossed I am honest about it. Above all the experience has taught me empathy. True empathy for the human condition which is suffering. I had no idea before. I thought I knew, but I didn't.
Nadia Obrigewitsch was born in Malaysia, grew up in Ireland and now lives in Victoria, BC with her two children and husband. In her spare time she likes singing and playing the ukulele and attending the odd burlesque show. She currently works at the University of Victoria as the Waste Reduction Coordinator.
This post is part of Grief Landscapes, an evolving art project documenting the unique terrain of people’s grief. Participants share an experience with bereavement, and I then photograph an object that evokes the person who died, transforming it into an abstract landscape inspired by the story. I’m looking for many more submissions and for a range of experiences, so please share widely! Learn more about the project and submit your story. - Mindy Stricke