Coping with Pregnancy Loss
Nearly a third of conceptions end in some sort of pregnancy loss, 80% of which occur in the first trimester. 14% of pregnancy loss occur during the second trimester, and 6% occur in the third trimester. These statistics of course mean very little when you have lost your baby. Pregnancy loss brings about a variety of feelings around grief, the most immediate reactions usually being intense sadness and emptiness. Since some causes of pregnancy loss can be determined, it is vital to discuss the loss with your healthcare provider because it can enable you to better understand the loss and plan for the future.
The Emotional Roller Coaster of Grief
There are many similarities of the grief experience among those suffering from pregnancy loss; however, the grief experience often looks different depending on when the loss occurred during pregnancy. The following are grief reactions that sometimes occur:
-Feelings of anger towards the medical staff
-Feelings of betrayal and anger by your body
-Asking yourself “why me?”
-Shock and numbness
-Crying spells, some of which may seem to come out of the blue
The mother and father’s grief experience often looks different. However, if you find that your grief is persisting for months without improvement, please know that help is out there.
The Mother’s Experience
Women have a tendency to be more open with grief, talking about it with family and friends. Expressing feelings in a supportive environment can enable the woman to process and understand her feelings, and move towards a sense of healing and acceptance. It is not uncommon for women to blame themselves for the pregnancy loss (“I shouldn’t have kept jogging during pregnancy,” “I shouldn’t have been working so hard,” etc.). Keep in mind that physical activity rarely if creates pregnancy loss, yet finding someone to blame, even if it’s yourself, is a normal grief reaction. Many women also feel like failures and struggle with their identity as a woman afterwards, even though the pregnancy loss has no correlation with who they are as a person, but more often related to genetic or hormonal issues. Other bereaved mothers may have unusual sensations such as aching arms, or feeling kicks from the womb. Again, this is not outside of normal experience for bereaved mothers.
A woman’s grieving experience is also impacted by the physical changes that the pregnancy loss created in her body due to the dramatic changes in hormone levels. Crying spells and feeling blue are normal emotional reactions, and many women may experience first trimester symptoms, such as fatigue or morning sickness. Keep in mind that it is best to discuss with your provider any physical limitations you may need to abide by while recovering from the miscarriage (ie, refraining from strenuous physical activity or heavy lifting).
The Father’s Experience
The father is often the forgotten member of the grief process. Societal and family pressures will often urge the father to be the “strong” member of the family during this difficult time and often feel forgotten or misunderstood. Feelings of anger, sadness and helplessness are common. Many fathers often try to conceal their grief from their partners, fearing that if they show these emotions it’ll make the mother feel worse. This is rarely the case and in fact the opposite is true: my expressing your feelings of bereavement to your partner, this can lead to a place of support, healing and understanding.
The Couple’s Grief Experience
Incongruent grief means that the grief experience is different for each individual. Once couples can understand incongruent grief, they can be more patient and understanding of the other person’s varying levels of sadness and grief. The grief can impact many aspects of the relationship: when to have sex again, redefining intimacy, what method of birth control to use, and if/when they should try to conceive again. Keeping communication open can be extremely helpful. If you’re healthcare provider is well trained in pregnancy loss, he/she can provide you with referrals to therapists, social workers or support groups.
Honoring Your Baby
Pregnancy loss is often an invisible loss in our culture. It is often essential for human beings so have some sort of ritual or ceremony to acknowledge the baby and say good bye to begin the process of healing and acceptance. Creating a symbol of your baby, keeping mementos of the baby (ie, ultrasound pictures or pieces of clothing) and naming the baby can all be very powerful rituals. If you are religious, it is encouraged to consult with the religious leader of your community about having a ritual or ceremony in honor of your baby congruent with your religious beliefs.
Helping Children Cope with Loss
Parents often struggle with how to address the loss with their children. Should I tell them? Should we pretend it didn’t happen? Children are sensitive to their parents’ mood and will wonder why they are so sad; this will make them more upset. The most helpful approach is to give a simple, honest and consistent explanation that reassures the child’s safety, and validates their feelings. Children should be given the option to participate in any ritual or ceremony.
Reactions of Families and Friends
Well meaning families and friends many not know how to comfort you. They may avoid discussing it with the fear that it will make you feel worse. You may have to start conversations of what is most helpful for you during your bereavement, whether it’s bringing meals to your family or just being present with you. Some people may say things like “you can have another baby” or “everything happens for a reason.” Though these people are usually trying to help, it does nothing to validate your grief. You may just want to respond to these statements by saying how much you wanted the baby and you are feeling very sad about your loss.
The first year following the loss is often the most challenging, but the feelings of sadness can last much longer. Significant dates, such as the arrival of your due date or the date of your baby’s birth (if the baby died at birth) or death can serve as significant reminders that will bring up a myriad of feelings and reactions. Holidays, as well, can trigger these feelings. Try to arrange for additional support in anticipation of these dates.
The memory of your pregnancy loss will last forever, but with time the pain created by the grief will decrease. Everyone needs to grieve in their own way, in their own time. Once you have found a way to integrate this story into the fabric of your life, meaning, hope and healing can be found. Please know that support is available in the form of individual therapy or support groups.