Losing a pregnancy or child is one of the most painful experiences a person can go through in life. Pregnancy loss is often followed by a period of grief where a range of emotions can be felt, including guilt, anger, or even depression.
If you or someone you know has experienced the loss of a child, know that you are not alone. Here are some statistics that show how common loss is:
- 1 in 4 mothers report experiencing perinatal loss, however, the number may be as high as 50% (Jaffe& Diamond, 2011)
- Approximately 24,000 mothers will experience a stillborn, or loss after 20 weeks gestation.
- According to the CDC, an additional 23,000 mothers a year will experience infant loss during the first 28 days of their child’s life (MacDorman &Gregory, 2015).
There are no clear steps on how to navigate a loss, as each woman’s journey to healing is unique. Losing a child brings about difficult feelings and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is no typical time period that it takes, it’s different for every family. It’s important to allow yourself or anyone who is experiencing a loss time to feel the loss and go through the grieving process. Often family members will grieve in different ways and it’s important to honor each person’s way of grieving, without judgement or expectation.
Moving forward after the loss of a child can feel impossible. Often mothers and partners may feel stuck with no end in sight to their pain. Couples should be supported in their choices to start trying for a baby again, or choosing to take some time before trying. Some couples may want to try to conceive soon after their loss. For them, it may be a way of helping them ease the pain or shorten the grief period. While other couples may choose not to try.
Regardless of how the couple processes their loss, it’s important to acknowledge that some form of support is necessary to facilitate healing. Most people will find comfort in getting support to cope with the emotions that accompany the grieving process. Support can come in many forms. It may be seeking help from a mental health professional, a support group, a spiritual community or a trusted friend. Professional help is a proven way to work through the emotions that come with pregnancy loss. For those that are hesitant to get professional help, it’s recommended they talk to someone in their life and find comfort in sharing what they are experiencing.
Here are some examples of those you can turn to for help and support after a loss
- A close friend
- Partner/ spouse
- Family member
- Spiritual leader
- Support Groups
It is common for mothers to blame themselves for the loss. They may experience feelings of guilt and shame for not doing things that could have “prevented” the loss from happening. These feelings may cause the mother or family member to retreat, isolate, and not seek support from others around them. This will likely intensify the feelings of loss and grief, by spending time alone without support it may be more difficult to process your pain or find comfort.
Seeking help and sharing your pain is not easy to do. But the path toward healing includes working through your emotions and learning to process your grief in a healthy way. For some people, family, cultural norms, or your beliefs may prevent you from asking for help. However, seeking help is the best step you can take in coping with your loss and grief. Speaking to someone about your emotions may help in making sense of the loss and having your feelings validated. Support during this time will help lessen the feelings of guilt and help to comfort you. Remembering that you do not have to face the loss alone allows you to open up to receive support.
When working through loss and grief it is so important to prioritize self care. Taking care of your body is as important as taking care of your mental and emotional health. A healthy body can help promote balanced emotions and a healthy mind. Taking care of yourself does not mean that you are forgetting about the loss of your child. You are healing yourself and the memory of your child will always live within your heart.
Here are some examples to support your self care:
- Eating a healthy, nutrient-dense diet
- Going for a walk outside
- Getting enough sleep
For those supporting a family member or loved one who has experienced loss there are many ways that you can help. Here are a few tips:
- Arrange for a meal delivery
- Refer to them as parents (acknowledge them on Mother’s Day and Father’s day)
- Ask them if they want to tell you their story
- Be present sit with them and listen
- Ask them what you can do to be helpful or to help them heal
- If they have living children ask if you can help babysit or take them on an outing.
- When they feel ready, join them in one of their favorite activities
Looking for help may be challenging when you may not know where to begin.
Here’s a list of resources:
- Forever footprints www.foreverfootprints.org
- Miscarriage Hope Desk www.miscarriagehopedesk.com
- Return to Zero: HOPE www.rtzhope.org
- The compassionate friends www.thecompassionatefriendsoc.com
- New Hope Grief Community www.newhopegrief.org
- Mourning start www.mourningstar.org
- Empty Cradle www.emptycradle.org
- Bereaved Parents of the USA www.bereavedparentsusa.org
- A Child in grief www.achildingrief.com
This October, reach out to a mother or family that has experienced loss. Ask how you can support them in their healing. If you personally find yourself grieving the loss of your child, please know that you are not alone in this journey. Help is available all around you and you will heal on your own time.