Miscarriage, termination and infant loss
"I don't think most people truly understand how much is lost when a baby dies. You don't just lose a baby; you also lose the 1 and 2 and 10 and 16-year-old she would have become. You lose Christmas mornings, loose teeth, and first days of school. You just lose it all." ~Stephanie Paige Cole
Infant loss (through miscarriage or termination) is an indescribable experience that each family will cope with in their own way. Some of the words used to describe losing a baby include shock, disbelief, heartbreak and devastation. Many people who have been through this experience feel that no one truly understands what they are going through and as a result it can be a very lonely time.
Sadly, in our culture the topic of miscarriage or termination are considered quite taboo; a private event that is not really spoken about. It will be discussed in the media if well-known celebrities go public with an experience like this (think of the recent Chrissie Teagan and Meghan Markle’s public announcement of a miscarriage) however for the average person it is a private thing. This may be by choice but for many women and families there is little opportunity to talk about these losses in an open and honest way. Many friends and family members (no matter how well-meaning) are often uncomfortable, feel unsure about what to say and have difficulty supporting the bereaved through their own feelings about the loss. People around you may not even know that you had been pregnant. These losses then become a secret pain that the family feel they must grapple with alone.
We are also receiving messages about infant loss everyday. For example when a celebrity is open about an experience, for every message of support there is usually an equal number of critics who question the motives of speaking so publicly or who shame the family for using social media to talk about their experiences. While these might be directed at a certain person or event, these critics send the message to every woman that miscarriage or termination are not be spoken about, are to be kept hidden and dealt with quietly. Losing a child is painful in so many ways and discussing these cultural issues can help to identify the barriers women and men may face when getting support.
Getting support during your grief can be one of the key factors in managing after such a major event. Every person who experiences a pregnancy loss will have a range of feelings which will depend on their own unique circumstances. For some women it might signal the end of their path to becoming a parent, for others it might be a very difficult medical decision that led to this point. Either way, the process of healing from this immense grief will involve mixed feelings and a rollercoaster of good and bad days. In the beginning it can feel like the bad days will never end and the feelings of grief will consume you forever. While it won’t last forever there is no telling how long until you feel like yourself again… During this time, it is very important to take extra care for yourself and your partner (who will also experience a broad range of emotions which may not always match yours).
Here are some ideas (select the ones that you think will work for you):
Talk to someone you can trust about your experience- it might be friends and family, or a health professional.
Take care of your physical health with rest, good food and movement (if you can manage it).
Take care of your relationship with your partner who is also grieving. Try to share how you feel with each other without judgement. If you are finding you are in conflict or just not understanding each other, you can read resources on the topic (see https://www.pinkelephants.org.au/page/73/emotional-support )
Take your time as there is no appropriate timing for grief and loss. Don’t feel rushed to be ‘over it’ by a certain timeframe.
Consider how you will manage things that could be triggering (think social media pregnancy announcements, baby showers, birthday parties and special events like Christmas, when the birth date passes, or an anniversary of the loss). Take each situation as it occurs, consider how you are going at that time and if you really want to attend that social event.
Consider ways that you can mark the loss- whether it is a ceremony, a photo, a special tree or place that you can go to remember the loss. These rituals can help to memorialise not just the loss of the baby but the experience of grief and what it meant to you.
Think about your readiness to contemplate other pregnancies. For some people thinking about planning another pregnancy can be helpful while for others it is the last thing they want to think about.
These are general tips that may or may not be helpful in your unique experience. If you would like more information about pregnancy loss you can visit this website (https://www.pinkelephants.org.au/) or contact Mums Matter Psychology to arrange sessions with a perinatal psychologist.