Pregnancy and infant loss (perinatal loss) is a unique and difficult-to-navigate type of grief. For the parents affected, there are often many questions about how to grieve or find support. Our society is often unsure of how to respond to this type of loss.
You’re Not Alone
One in four pregnancies ends in loss. This statistic may show that this is a common experience, but it does not mean that it is not a significant loss. Many parents report feeling alone and isolated when going through this type of grief. Feeling unable to share due to stigma, guilt and lack of understanding from others can all impact the ability to grieve.
Invalidation Can Be Hurtful
Unfortunately, many people do not know how to respond to a perinatal loss. Feeling uncomfortable or unsure of how to respond will often lead unintentionally to a response that feels more hurtful and dismissive. It can be very frustrating and upsetting when others say hurtful things or do not know how to best support you. Pointing family and friends to educational resources can be helpful. Connecting with others who understand or have had similar experiences can be reassuring that you’re not alone.
Grief is More Than Sadness
Often grief is represented with sadness, yet the grief experience holds many more emotions that can seem opposite to sadness. There can be anger, resentment, anxiety, worry, shock, guilt, loss of control, confusion, loneliness, etc. Many will report a perinatal loss as a life-changing event; it might feel like who you were before the loss and who you are after are a completely different person. Feelings about your body, medical care, relationships, family planning, etc. that might feel very different than how you felt before. Finding a place of support to process these emotions is crucial in caring for your overall wellness.
Types of Support
There are multiple types of support out there; you might find that different types of support are better at certain times in your grief journey. There are hotlines, in-person or online support groups, online forums, local events, books, podcasts, social media accounts, etc. Different support types ask for varying levels of energy, engagement and vulnerability from you.
RTZ Hope, Star Legacy Foundation and Postpartum Support International are great resources for virtual support groups, workshops, peer companions or support lines. Local organizations, such as Trellis, offer individual counseling and group counseling for perinatal loss. There are multiple podcasts, books and social media accounts for perinatal loss, all with their own flavor. I’d encourage you to seek out some level of support at any point; this is a strong protective factor against the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder or other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
Expressions of Grief
When the loss of a pregnancy or infant has occurred, the mourning and expressing of grief can feel challenging. Our typical grieving rituals may not be an option, or the parents/family may feel differently about what is helpful or not. There are jewelry pieces that can be made, a personalized ornament, a special stuffed animal, planting a tree in their memory, a tattoo to honor them, planning a service, etc. There is no one right way to remember them. This is an important step in the healing process as you work through what it looks like to tell your story and connect with your baby.
Moving with Grief
Experiencing a significant loss such as this is often life-changing. We typically want to fight the change that grief has abruptly forced us into. However, attempts to control the grief often result in suffering and frustration. Learning to move with the grief can be a lifelong process. There are resources out there, people who understand and can support you when you need it the most. If you’ve experienced this loss, I hope that you will connect with helpful resources and find community wherever that may be. Remember, you’re not alone, and healing is possible.