“The loss of a child during pregnancy is experienced as a death and brings with it feelings of emptiness, loss and despair.”
This article will help you understand the grief associated with pregnancy loss and offers suggestions for those wishing to effectively help and support someone in that situation.
Pregnancy loss is a painful and often lonely experience; one that may be played down or even totally overlooked. However, the loss of a child during pregnancy is experienced as a death and brings with it feelings of emptiness, loss and despair.
The grief that follows is related to a disruption of the body and mind’s preparation for motherhood. Miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, IVF losses, abortion and stillbirth all disrupt this preparation, leaving the woman in a state of physical and emotional readiness for a baby that will never be.
Society’s attitude is often based on the implicit message “Don’t talk about that; it’s too upsetting”. However, this is exactly what locks us up with our grief and suspends it, making it hard to move on and re-negotiate life.
Grief is a natural process – one that is bound by no exact time frames and experienced in a unique way by each individual. It involves finding ways of living with memories and the pain associated with the loss.
Supporting a grieving person does not mean that you can cure the grief. You can’t! However, by being more aware you may be able to make the load associated with the loss a little lighter. We can show support by:
- Listening – The person you are supporting may need to tell their story repeatedly. You may think listening is not a particularly active thing to do but most grieving people rate listening very highly on their list of needs. Show you care by your attentiveness, gestures and eye contact
- Being prepared to talk about the baby. It is important to refer to the baby in a personal way using the baby’s name. The mother has shared her body with the baby for a time and she may feel as if she has lost a part of herself also. Isolation and loneliness will be reinforced if the loss is played down. These feelings often exist after an abortion also
- Knowing when to be silent; being there often is sufficient in itself. There are no clever words to say. However, some words are less helpful. For instance cliches such as “You’re only young, you’ll have more children” are very minimising and inappropriate. Similarly, rationalising an abortion e.g. “you couldn’t have had the baby because of .. (finances, career, being on your own, etc)” may block the expression of the loss that may be felt afterwards
- Being aware that grief has its physical reactions also – poor appetite, disturbed sleep patterns, restlessness, low energy, aches and pains etc are common. When we hurt emotionally our bodies are affected. Depression is so often a part of grieving – talking to a compassionate friend can lighten the load. Other symptoms such as feelings of panic, persistent fears, general nervousness and nightmares may feature in pregnancy loss grief
- Encouraging the grieving person to talk and cry freely in order to relieve the stress and pain. Verbalising anger, fear, guilt, sadness, doubt, frustration and loneliness allows the normal process of grief and healing to take its natural course
- Understanding that each person will grieve in their own unique way and at their own pace. There is no set time for recovery nor a right or wrong way to go about it. Some reactions may be complex, bewildering or even threatening to others. The freedom to express a wide range of emotions is essential, as is the tolerance of whatever form they may take
- Reassuring the grieving person that their feelings and reactions are normal and necessary for healing and readjustment. So often the grieving person believes that what is happening is abnormal. This is because grief may cause new and frightening reactions. Feelings of being out of control may be accompanied by a sense of “I must be going crazy”. To know that these feelings are totally normal is often a great relief
- Remembering that specific dates and events may trigger an emotional response. The anniversary of the loss or the expected due date of the baby’s birth may act as a catalyst for fresh grief. Often the person may not be particularly aware of the reason behind an upsurge in grief symptoms
Support is not …
- About giving advice
- Using platitudes and cliches – “It was God’s will” or “You’ve already got 2 healthy children” (miscarriage) or “You couldn’t have done anything else” (abortion)
- Criticising what you have heard
- Restricting expression or changing the subject in order to protect from feelings of grief
- Minimising the event e.g.: “Never mind, at least you were only 2 1/2 months”
- Taking over with your own story of loss. Some identification may be helpful but keep it to a minimum
- Fixing it – you can’t take the grief away
- Taking over completely – this may increase feelings of helplessness and powerlessness
- Restricting the expression of certain emotions such as guilt, shame or anger
- Avoiding proper terms for the loss e.g.: miscarriage, abortion, your baby died etc. This may lead to non-acceptance of reality and therefore delay acceptance and recovery
Books to recommend
- STUCK FOR WORDS, What to say to someone who is grieving. Doris Zagdanski. Hill of Content. 1994
- GOOD GRIEF, Granger E. Westberg. Augsburg Fortress Publishers. 1992
- MISCARRIAGE A Shattered Dream. Sheroke Ilse/Linda Hammer Burns Wintergreen Press. 1989
- EMPTY ARMS – Coping with Miscarriage, Stillbirth & Infant Death. Sheroke Isle. Wintergreen Press. 1990.
- THE MOURNING AFTER. Help for the Post Abortion Syndrome. Terry L. Selby. Baker Book House U.S.A. 1990.
- COPING WITH GRIEF, Mal McKissock. Australian Broadcasting Commission
Resource Kit for Clergy/Celebrants/Others wishing to conduct a Remembrance Service for Pregnancy Loss – ideal for anyone ministering to those experiencing the grief of pregnancy loss. Available from Open Doors Counselling.
LOVING AND REMEMBERING ecumenical remembrance service for pregnancy loss arranged by Open Doors Counselling.
For anyone grieving over an ectopic pregnancy, IVF losses, miscarriage, abortion or stillbirth.
RACHEL’S VINEYARD RETREAT FOR POST ABORTION HEALING – a weekend spiritual healing journey after abortion. For women, men, teens and couples facilitated by Open Doors Counselling.
These are only general suggestions. You should always seek outside help if you are unsure what to do.
On the Contact Form tell us your phone number (Australia only), the best day and time for us to call you, and let us know if it’s ok to leave a message should you not be able to answer the phone. A counsellor will call by the next business day during Centre opening hours (Mon: 9.30-8.00pm; Tues, Wed, Thur: 9.30-3.00pm. Closed public holidays.) You can also request an appointment for face to face counselling or just ask a question.
OPEN DOORS COUNSELLING
5 Greenwood Ave Ringwood 3134 Victoria Australia
Ph: (03) 9870 7044
Freecall outside Melbourne 1800 647 995