Coping with Grief and Pregnancy Loss
Grief after stillbirth, miscarriage, pregnancy, and infant loss can seem insurmountable. The world seemingly halted all around you in one moment in time as you were blissfully cherishing your child and the next moment feeling unexplainable loss. You cannot fathom why you should have to go through this at this point and time in life. And while your child may have never taken a breath, they left you completely breathless. In this loss, you can quickly realize that love exposes us to loss.
What is Grief?
Grief is Love.
Grief is a peculiar thing. We realize that where there is great loss it is accompanied by deep grief. But grief is just your love. It is all the love you want to give but cannot. All of your love gathers in the corner of your eyes and in the hollow part of your chest. It is simply just love with no place to go. Our grief never ends, but it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of your weakness nor a lack of your faith. It is just the price of your love.
What is Different about Pregnancy Loss?
1. Grief of a Child Is So Different.
Many will not comprehend your loss of an unborn child to be so great. However, the difference of this loss is that when a loved one dies, you can usually reminisce about the memories. A smile can break through the tears when you remember a shared delight or shared experience. It involves all your senses. You can see the person’s smile, hear their laugh, and even smell their sweet scent. You can feel their embrace and you can recall the emotions invoked by those special experiences. When you go through pregnancy loss, you do not have memories to embrace. It is the loss of those very memories that invoke more of your grief. It is normal to think of your child and what they would have worn on their wedding day. It is normal to think of what they would have been doing, even in years to come.
2. Grief in Pregnancy Loss is Also Accompanied by Physical Healing
If you were carrying your child that you lost, at first, some of your grief emotional healing capacity will be more difficult as you also try and deal with the physical healing of your own body. Here are some other things you may experience.
i. Hormonal Changes: your body hormonally is largely ready to give birth at just 8 weeks of pregnancy. This means we also have a crash of hormones.
ii. Night Sweats- with the change in hormones your core body temperature will change bringing night sweats.
iii. Post-partum blues: even though grief brings its own set of sadness, post-partum blues can also be a compounded factor due to the hormone changes
iv. Milk Let Down: Milk may set in and your chest may hurt from your body trying to produce milk.
v. Physical Healing from delivery or surgical procedures.
vi. Difficulty with Sleep Patterns. You may sleep a ton, you may not be able to sleep.
3. Grief Can be Accompanied by Searching for Answers
And we all seek to understand. You may seek to find the answers to what has happened and why it has happened to you. You will yearn for closure of such an open wound in your heart and in your mind. You may find yourself searching on threads, online, support groups to see if there is an answer of why this happened and if it will happen again. Know that most pregnancy losses do not have an answer.
4. Grief Can be Accompanied by Blame and Self-Guilt
In pregnancy loss, you may find yourself blaming yourself. You may wonder if it was something you ate, something you did, or stress that you had. You may retrace your steps to see if it was something you caused. You may also have fear and doubt about if your body can sustain a pregnancy and why your body failed you.
5. Grief Is a Dichotomy of Emotions of a Broken Heart and a Heart Full of Love.
Child loss has this abounding love for your child and at the same time this deep ache of being heart broken. You may be mad, angry and have deep sorrow at the same time of having love and yearning for your child.
6. Grief Brings Fear and Uncertainty
When you lose someone who has had many fulfilling years on this Earth, you can see some of the celebration in their life. Losing a child, you may have fear and uncertainty about having more children, fear of losing your spouse or children you may already have, and fear about what your future as you planned out for your family looks like.
7. Grief During Pregnancy is Often Out of Context.
Most of our friends and family are celebrating weddings, honeymoons, new baby announcements. It is hard to lean on friends that may be celebrating joyous occasions. The events around you may remind you of everyone else’s celebrations and happy endings. Expect events to resurface your grief. Your own events as well, such as due dates, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and your baby’s angelversary (the date often referred to as they day they passed). Expect these dates to bring back emotions like when grief first occurs.
How Long Does Grief Last?
- Grief Has No Timeline and is a Process.
Grief is so individual. No one that has gone through a pregnancy loss has the same story, the same circumstances, or the same ways they handle grief as you. Your grief process is unique to you and has no set time frames on when it will change. Grief is not something you get over. It is something that you learn to live with and you will learn to carry the weight of your loss in a different way. Your coping strategies, reliance on a faith if you have one, and your life experiences will shape your grief. Grief is a process and does not end. It is a long and arduous journey. Grief only gets formed by the small steps forward each day and you will then find yourself in a much different place than you started.
- Grief Ebbs and Flows.
Grief will take a different shape, often from moment to moment. Some moments will be filled with anger, sorrow, numbness, pain. Some will be filled with joy and peace. And sometimes, the loss is so great, that you cannot open your heart to the grief yet. You may need to protect your heart until you are ready by not letting the pain in. It will happen, just give it space and time. So rather than take it day by day, hour by hour, sometimes in grief you need to take it minute by minute.
How To Cope with Grief In Pregnancy Loss of Stillbirth, Miscarriage, and Infant Loss
1) Give yourself the gift of grace. Be gentle on yourself. It is most likely uncharted territory for you and each loss is different and can bring up old emotions, new emotions, traumas, triggers, and things you need to process. You may grieve not embracing your pregnancy enough or not cherishing the time you had with them. Give yourself grace and acknowledge the pain you are going through right now.
2) Give yourself the gift of time. It all takes time. You may want to rush through it, but you cannot. There is no short cut through grief except to sit with it and process little bits at a time as you are ready.
3) Take care of your physical and emotional needs first. Even with others in the house you must find a way to take care of you. You cannot give from an empty cup and your cup just spilled over. Take all the time you need to physically mend and emotionally process. Grief is an exhausting and all-encompassing process and it is ok if you feel tired all the time.
4) Talk as much or as little as you need. You may be a verbal processor and need to get it off your chest. You may need to just sit and think about how you are feeling. Small talk and the clamor of the world around you may not be something you can process or tolerate right now. Give yourself space to do whatever it is that helps you. You can tell people of your loss at your own pace.
5) Give others the benefit of the doubt. Even what they say may be hurtful, give them grace that they are trying to support you in the best way they can and still voice if something is not helpful in your grief journey. Tell them what you need and how they can help support you.
6) Journal. 20 minutes daily of just writing can be effective in helping process your emotions and has shown to reduce the trauma related to our experiences. Read our Journeying by Journaling through Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Pregnancy Loss section for more ideas.
7) Outlet your emotions as you need. Cry, laugh, scream. Crying has been proven to reduce our stress cortisol levels. Let the tears flow, no matter where you are or what you are doing in the moment. Your loss is your priority right now, not how others feel about your loss or your emotions.
8) Connect with your partner. If in a relationship with a partner, make sure to connect. Realize your partner may be grieving in different ways and need something unique to their grief process. Partners, when not going through the physical healing, may suppress what they need for their own. Ask what is beneficial for them. Make decisions along the way together of remembrance services, naming your child, and other things that you may or may not need to decide along your journey.
9) Surround yourself with a support system. Make sure that you feel supported, heard, and validated in your loss in the relationships you seek. If they are listening, more than guiding or trying to correct, they may be a good support network for you to lean on. You may find yourself comfort in several relationships and may benefit from a team to help you navigate your loss:
a. Friends that understand
c. Online groups
d. Church groups
e. Local groups at the hospital
f. Community groups locally in your community
g. Seek counseling by a grief counselor, psychologist, or mental health therapist.
h. Ask your doctor, doula, midwife, pelvic floor physical therapist, cemetery, or reproductive medicine clinic for resources.
i. Read through the 2-minute stories on our website for positive encouragement of others
j. See additional places on our Resource Page.
If you are experiencing any thoughts of feeling like life isn’t worth living or your grief hasn’t changed in a few weeks, it is time to seek consultation of a mental health expert. If you have a plan of ending your life, call 9-1-1 or have a family member bring you to the emergency room in your area because you are loved.
10) Find ways to celebrate your child’s life. You might start little family traditions in honor of your child, create a scrapbook, make something in their honor. Plant a tree you can watch grow. Write them a letter. Find something that feels meaningful for you.
What are Ways To Celebrate My Child’s Life after Loss?
An angel-versary is a beautiful way to honor your child. Deciding what feels right for you on this day, is only a choice you can do. It can be helpful to consider creating a lifetime of cherished traditions. Think about:
a. Do you need a place of remembrance?
b. How do you give and receive love? There may be things that resonate with your heart to do to feel the love between you and your child
c. Search for their significance with your head and with your heart
d. Do you want it to be a joyous celebration with others? Do you enjoy solitude for self reflection?
e. Do you have songs and poems you would like to read each year?
f. Is there a special walk? A special place you would like to go to as a reminder and celebration of their life?
g. Is there a charity you would like to pour energy into in their honor?