Recently my husband and two children went for a walk with our dog at Red Rocks Park in South Burlington. The path was littered with golden leaves, and more were still drifting slowly down from the treetops like a light snow. My 1 and 3 year old toddled ahead of us after our dog as my husband and I walked side by side. It was perfect. Then, I recalled another walk at Red Rocks with my husband in the spring of 2009. Our dog had trotted between us, in perfect step, sensing our heartbreak. We had just experienced the death of our first baby. She died when I was 22 weeks pregnant. An autopsy later revealed that the cause was a heart defect due to Turner’s Syndrome. At that time we walked through the woods with our dog a bereaved couple. Today we walked through the same woods with our dog and our two beautiful earth babies, plus the memory of our angel baby.
October is SIDS, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. It’s easier to share my story of pregnancy loss now that I
am on the other side of it. But back in 2009, when my first daughter, Delia, died it was hard to imagine a light at the end of the tunnel. The only other event in my life that was remotely comparable in terms of the grief I felt was when my father died when I was 10 years old. I did a lot of work to get myself through the grief of pregnancy loss and have some thoughts to share on how to cope if you, or someone you love, has experienced pregnancy loss.
Coping with your own loss:
1. Take time to grieve your baby, your loss was real. Pregnancy is such an exciting time and we start dreaming and planning for our lives and the life of our expected little one. The end of a pregnancy means a loss of those dreams too. Take as long as you need to deal with your loss.
2. Seek comfort with other women who have experienced pregnancy loss. I had a friend who experienced two miscarriages during the same 22 weeks that my pregnancy started and ended. Conversations with her were healing. We hadn’t experienced the same type of pregnancy loss, but we still shared a lot of the same emotions and pain. There are also lots of forums online about pregnancy loss if you don’t personally know anyone who has experienced a loss.
3. Talk with a therapist. A few weeks after delivering my stillborn I had a delayed postpartum hemorrhage. Talk about insult added to injury. I had been laid off from my job months earlier as well. I felt totally lost and adrift. I didn’t have a baby. I didn’t have a job. I had PTSD about my hemorrhage. I saw a therapist for several weeks to help me work through my trauma.
4. Have a remembrance ceremony for your baby. Delia’s ashes are buried with my father. We had a private gravesite service that was just us, a minister, and our immediate families. It brought us closure.
Coping with a Friend’s Loss
1. Give her time to grieve. Losing a pregnancy can be traumatic emotionally (and physically). Let your friend take however much time she needs to work out her feelings.
2. Read a little about pregnancy loss. If you haven’t experienced it yourself read a little bit online about pregnancy
loss and common emotions that women go through during the grieving process. Pregnancy loss can feel very isolating and it’s nice to know a little bit about what your friend is experiencing. It will help you understand her situation.
3. Express sympathy without judgement. Comments like “It was for the best [because of her disability],” or “It wasn’t meant to be” or “you can get pregnant again” are not helpful to someone who is grieving. Questions about the details of her loss may also not be appropriate. A simple “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I’m here if you want to talk or need anything” is a better way to go.
4. Realize that there may be no “right” words to say and that’s ok. Some people talk about their loss to help them process it, others don’t like to talk about it. It can be difficult to know what to say or even guess how your friend will react to things like a pregnancy announcement, a baby shower, or even hanging out with babies/young children. For me it was hard to hear about those things, but it was also hurtful if people purposefully excluded me because of my loss. Include/invite your friend in those types of announcements/events, but realize she may still decline an invitation. Her emotions may still be raw and there’s no way to completely avoid difficult situations.
5. Be patient. Your friend may well be on a roller coaster of emotions and not even know herself what she needs or wants you to say or do at any particular time. Try not to take it personally. Forgive her erratic emotions. Keep being her friend. In time she will get through her grief and be more like her old self.
Talking about loss with friends can be really hard, I don’t think our culture as a whole handles it well – thanks for sharing your story and ideas!
Sandra, thank you so much for sharing your story. Hope it brings encouragement to those who have experienced something similar