I know I know, these topics have been heavy lately – I can’t help what’s in my heart and head! But I can control what I do with it, which is why I choose to write. Enough about me. This topic of perinatal loss has been on my mind lately. I have people in my personal life who have gone through this as well as clients who are dealing with this. I want to talk about things that can help if you are the person or parents struggling with this type of loss as well as provide information for people on how to support friends or family members experiencing this.
It is so important for everyone to understand that the loss of a child – regardless of the gestational age – is incredibly significant.
The moment that parents find out they are pregnant, they dream. They can’t help it. Even the best of us (me), despite our attempts to not have expectations (also me), can’t help but picture what this new tiny human will be like and what life will be like with them.
In this day and age we know that miscarriage is a relatively common occurrence in women under 13 weeks pregnant. It is so common, in fact, that most of the women I know, including myself, waited with bated breath for that 12/13 week mark to breathe a sigh of relief.
The fact that miscarriage is a common occurrence is NEVER the right thing to say to someone who has just lost their infant. Death, after a certain age, is also a common experience but you don’t hear people saying “yea well you know, old people die all the time” when they are trying to comfort someone who has lost an elderly person dear to them.
The loss of a pregnancy should be treated as any loss is treated. The family should be allowed to grieve. They need to be taken care of. They need cards, flowers, whatever it is you would do if someone outside of their body had passed away.
Saying that they didn’t know the baby or that “at least it happened now and not later” is also not appropriate ( I know you may be like, duh, but really I am not making these up). In this parent’s mind they do know this child, no matter how far along they were. Remember, they have dreamt of this child.
Also, saying “don’t worry, you will get pregnant again” is not usually appreciated. These parents just lost a child. The thought of putting themselves in a position to go through that again may be horrifying to them.
I have had some conversations with two different beautiful souls at my practice regarding this – both were “early losses”. Both women were not given much time to grieve, in differing circumstances, and both have faced well-meaning friends and family that have not really known what to say. When I asked each of them to tell me about their babies they started with the bare bone facts, i.e. how they found out and how many weeks along they were when it happened.
I dug a little deeper. I asked them if they felt like it was a girl or a boy. Both had very clear feelings on what they were carrying and seemed almost shy in admitting that they had a feeling about what the gender was.
The next question gets me mixed reviews. I ask what they were calling the baby, if they had a name picked out in their head. Some do, and from then on out I refer to the baby by the name the mother picked or whatever name it is that they referred to the baby as (baby, sprout, bean, etc).
After all, this was a person that this parent is grieving and I want to make sure I am acknowledging them correctly.
We then go on to process what they imagined the baby to be like, what they thought life would be like with the baby, and what they thought the baby might look like. We talk about whether or not they did a memorial of some sort (both of my lovely ladies have) and what it was and what it meant and who knows and so on and so forth.
These questions that I have asked, and will continue to ask my ladies (and dads too) is something that I encourage family members and friends to do with parents that they know are suffering in grief from a loss in pregnancy – early or late.
Regardless of what we know, what the facts tell us – for mostly all of us who haven’t suffered a perinatal loss or a loss at birth – in our minds and society, pregnancy equals a live baby.
When this doesn’t happen, it makes people uncomfortable and they don’t know how to provide the right support, other than telling the parent something that may be hurtful or invalidating in the moment in the most well-intentioned way. People providing support may want the parents to hurry up and get over, it because of their own discomfort, which is not helpful.
Me writing this is not to say in anyway that all parents will feel this way when going through a miscarriage or that all people in a supportive role will screw it up. Everyone is unique and has their own unique experiences, however it is a theme that has come up a lot for me recently and I feel it needs some attention.
To all my moms and dads out there struggling with this I encourage you to grieve in whatever way you need. Take time off from work. Cry. Sleep. Talk, talk, talk about the pregnancy and the baby (or babies). Talk about every moment leading up to the loss. Talk about the loss itself. Memorialize your baby in whatever way feels natural to you, tattoos, gravesites, photo albums of ultrasounds or birth photos if you take them, or a simple remembrance on the due date/date of loss.
Be kind to yourself and your partner.
Remember that you may both grieve differently and that is ok.
Be patient with yourself and each other.
If you can, talk to a therapist who specializes in grief/loss or pregnancy and postpartum. I am totally biased but I really think it helps.
Lastly, please remember that there is no timeline to grief. Your loss and grief attached to it is determined by YOU – not anyone else.
For anyone wanting more information on this check out Hope After Loss – a wonderful resource for those grieving or for those wanting to support a loved one grieving.