Healing from Pregnancy & Infant Loss
In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, this week’s blog is dedicated for those that have loved children that they never got to meet and can no longer hold. Each person experiences grief and loss differently. The loss of a child, whether you spent many years with them, a small amount of precious time, or never got to meet them, is an especially unique kind of loss.
Some people appear to absorb and process the experience of losing a pregnancy or fully delivered child quicker than others and appear able to move on without lasting detrimental effects, while others more notably express a tremendous amount of pain and need assistance in working through very real and difficult emotions. No matter the nature or circumstances around your loss, try your best to acknowledge & accept your reactions for what they are in a nonjudgmental way. You may feel numb, angry, devastated, confused, guilty, relieved, or anxious; but holding compassion for yourself at this time and through time is essential for healing.
Whether you lost your child before, during, or shortly after birth, you are not alone, though it may feel as though no one else could fully understand your pain. A parent’s love seems unexplainable unless you are a parent yourself. Your heart and soul seem to be placed within another being and knowing that they are no longer in this world can feel like you’ve also lost a part of yourself forever. It can leave you feeling like the world is now empty and can never be set right again.
When Your Whole World Changes
It can become too easy to blame yourself for losing a pregnancy or for an infant’s passing. You may think: “There must be something wrong with me, otherwise this wouldn’t have happened.” “If only I were x...y...z…, then this wouldn’t be my reality right now.” These thoughts are really about self–protection. It’s your brain trying to help you think you had control over the situation, whereas in many cases, you didn’t. Oftentimes we find it far easier to blame ourselves then fully acknowledge that we may have been powerless in this intense loss.
Common reactions to pregnancy and infant loss:
- Numbness or dissociation
- Depression and or anxiety
- Intense guilt
- Fear of your body
- Feeling inadequate as a woman
- Physical stress symptoms like headache, upset stomach, etc
- Sleep problems
- Telling yourself you’re a bad parent
- Anger (at self and God)
This list is by no means exhaustive. Try your best to accept your reactions for what they are and not place any “shoulds” on them (accusations that you should be reacting in a different way then you are). It is normal to feel intense anger at the circumstances you are experiencing; you may even feel as though you now question or have fallen away from your spiritual or religious beliefs. As much as you may feel like isolating, connecting with others can help you to get you through this devastating time.
Honoring Your Child
You may have a nursery in your home that you just can’t bear to go in or you may find that you want to spend all your time sitting there. That’s ok. Leave things the way they are for as long as you need to, so long as having things unchanged isn’t causing you any more pain than you are already in. Everyone’s timeline for healing is different. As you move through your grief you may find yourself searching for ways to honor your child. Wanting some to express your feelings, have a part of them present and/or incorporate the memory of them into your ongoing life.
Ways to Honor & Remember Your Lost Child
- Writing them a letter or starting a journal of letters to them.
- If there is a special blanket or outfit that they wore, or you imagined them wearing, you can have this turned into:
- A memory bear (or other stuffed creature of your choosing)
- A fabric bouquet
- A pillow or wall hanging
- Placed in a special memory box with other precious items
- Initiating a ritual to honor their memory, like:
- Praying for them every day
- Visiting their gravesite regularly
- Making a donation in their name, etc
Remember, honoring your child does NOT mean depriving yourself of joy and feeling guilty when you begin to laugh or smile over little things again. Even if at this point it does not seem like you will ever experience happiness again, that day will come, and it doesn’t mean that you love your little one any less or that you’ve forgotten them. It simply means that despite how much we may try to find it, time moves forward and inevitably you are starting to live again.
How Could I Ever Try to Have a Child Again?
This is a tough one. And there is no right answer. Ideally, if you were to try again to have another child you would have first processed through your initial grief with the loss of this child. Talk things through with your partner, make sure you are both on the same page as a new pregnancy can trigger a different emotional reaction from each of you. Discuss the possibility of pregnancy with your OB/GYN so that they can help you explore the healthiest routes to take. There are many factors that impact the ability to get pregnant or sustain a pregnancy. It can be quite common to lose a pregnancy early on, even when there isn’t anything seriously “wrong” physically. Knowing that doesn’t make things much easier, though. And working with your doctor can help you plan to take any steps you are able to keep both you and a new potential pregnancy healthy.
It’s a very personal decision to try to get pregnant again after losing a child. It’s a decision that comes down to you and your family. People will always have their opinions about what you should or shouldn’t do, but you need to be authentic for yourself. What decision can you live with? Do take yourself and your mental health into account. If you never want to try to for another child for fear of going through this pain again, that is just as valid as wanting to try again whenever you are ready. True friends will not judge you for your decision but support you for making the choice that’s best for YOU. Its ok to be selective with who you have in your support system.
Talking to someone about your experience may seem like the very last thing you feel like doing, but it can really help in the long run after you’ve suffered such an awful loss. Bottling things up inside enhances the grieving process, keeps you stuck, and may lead you toward dealing with your pain in less than healthy ways. Consider talking to a counselor, doctor, fellow church member, support group, or trusted friend/family member about what you are going through. Professional counselors can help you cope with your grief in a way that makes sense for you. With counselors in New Castle, PA and Hermitage, PA we are available to support and help you through the loss of your child. Learn more about our counselors here. Make an appointment with Angelus today and start your journey toward healing.
Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University & therapist at Angelus Therapeutic Services