If you are reading this article, I would assume that somehow your life has been touched by the loss of an infant or pregnancy. So the first thing I would like to say is that I am sorry. This is a burden no person should ever have to bear. However, it is a burden that many people do, so the second thing I want to acknowledge is that you are not alone. You are doing the right thing by taking some steps toward healing and my hope is that this blog offers you some useful information.
With that said, I want to acknowledge that everyone’s grief journey is different. The information I am about to offer is certainly not a comprehensive list of how to cope and not everything on this list will appeal or apply to you or your circumstances, and that’s OK. Simply take what you find helpful and feel free to leave the rest. Here are some tips for negotiating this process.
Recognize ALL your grief
Often when a pregnancy or young infant is lost, somehow the grief is “disenfranchised”, meaning it’s not recognized as being as difficult or traumatic because the life of that individual was so short. I can say for certain in my work I have seen this is not the case. Many mothers tell me that as soon as they become pregnant they start making plans and/or fantasizing about their life with this new baby. So the grief experienced is not just the loss of the short life this child had, it’s about the life you imagined for them. I’ve recently heard someone say that it was the death of their parenthood. Allow yourself the space to grieve all of this. The birthday parties, proms, graduations and weddings that will never happen for that child require your attention too, and you are allowed to grieve them.
Embrace what you had with your baby
This one is so difficult, because what you had with your baby will never feel like enough, but it is all you got with them, so when you are ready, try to embrace it. This may look like;
1. Giving baby a name. Even if your loss occurred early and you are unsure of the gender, feel free to assign one to the baby and give it a name.
2. Journal or scrapbook about your baby. Write out the story of your life together with him or her. Finding out you were pregnant, family celebrations that occurred during pregnancy, even the multiple middle of the night trips to the bathroom are the memories you have with your sweet baby, so document them.
3. Create a memory box: Find a box where you can store momentos from your baby’s life. Sonograms or other photos, cards, baby hat, blanket or footprints from the hospital, etc. are all examples of what you can put in your memory box. I often advise my clients to write a letter to their baby and add it to the box. You can return to the box as often as you want/need to. Even if you rarely do, having it is proof this life existed and was meaningful to you, and that in and of itself can be very powerful.
4. Find a way to memorialize your baby: If your loss was early or you chose not to have a funeral, finding a way to memorialize your baby’s life can be very helpful. You can plant a tree, make a donation to a charity in their honor, place a small stone or figure in your garden, participating in a pregnancy or infant loss charity walk, or have a space in your home where you keep a photo or trinket that acknowledges your baby. It does not have to be some large gesture, it may only be known to you, but again it symbolizes the significance of this baby in your life.
It may be very tempting to isolate during this time of grief. Personally and professionally I believe that being alone with your thoughts and feeling has some value, but it’s very easy to get stuck there. If you are struggling with interacting with others in the “real world”, it may be helpful to find a pregnancy and infant loss support group or a specially trained therapist to speak with. Luckily, as the secretive nature and stigma around pregnancy and infant loss is slowly declining, more resources are becoming available. Even online groups have shown to have positive impacts on participants. In fact studies have shown that even people who “lurk” in online support groups (as opposed to actively engaging in by posting or commenting) report better outcomes compared to those who aren’t in any support networks at all. A quick Google search will bring up multiple resources both national and local.
Again, this is a short list and there are certainly many other things you could engage in that might be helpful, but I encourage you to begin your healing journey by trying one of these suggestions. If you or your loved one are still struggling, please connect with me for more information or support.