By Julie Bindeman, Psy-D
(first published for http://www.reconceivingloss.com in 2014)
In so many aspects of life, when we have uncertainty, we can simply turn to a guidebook for tried and true directions. Such books can help us know what to expect, situational particulars, and can give us a sense of what is “normal.” However, no such book exists that serves as a “how to” or gives us a clear-cut path around our emotions, especially when those feelings are around incidents of grief.
While there are scholarly works around general grief and loss, there are very few resources around pregnancy and infant loss for both professionals, but more importantly, for the parents and communities that are effected. Often times, couples are left on their own to figure out their grief path. There is no finite timeline, and what complicates the process even more is that frequently, men and women grieve in completely different ways on vastly different schedules.
Grief in general, is seen as retrospective. When we lose someone in our lives, others can share in the memories and the loss. Mourning is a communal event and one’s community offers solace and shares in the loss. With pregnancy and infant loss, the people directly effected decreases dramatically: mainly leaving the parents and immediate family.
With most pregnancy losses, women feel the burden of “knowing” the baby and carry this in isolation, as they were the ones that were literally and physically connected to the pregnancy. Pregnancy and infant losses are considered to be “prospective”—the loss revolves around ideas of what could of and should have been. It is a loss of the future as well as the expectations and dreams the parents had for this child.
Our normal support networks might not know what to say as a result of our losses. They might not offer any words of comfort or their words might feel biting. Despite the phrases of “comfort” coming from a good place, this is not how they are experienced by the bereaved. On the other hand, we might feel an intense connection to our community in the initial days, but this might wane as time passes.
When thinking about pregnancy and infant losses, it might be important to consider the following:
- It is important to allow for at least a full year to experience the peaks and valleys of grief. Getting through the seasons, as well as the milestones (estimated due date, the anniversary of loss, etc), allows people to experience time as ongoing.
- Grief is not linear. There is no beginning, middle, and end. Think of it more likes waves in the ocean that crest and fade.
- Women, generally speaking, tend to be more communicative with expressing their feelings, while men tend to want to be “fixers.” Men concentrate on what can be done and seemingly “move on” at a different pace than their partners might.
- There is no “correct” way to grieve, although often times, people try to bury the grief and run away from it.
- Grief around a reproductive loss does not have to define you as a person, despite it feeling like a life-defining event. Rather, it becomes a part of you.
- The pain of grief can change—it will not always feel as intense as it does in the early days.
- If your community isn’t helpful, seek out a new community. There are many (both virtually and in real life) that are comprised of other baby loss parents that inherently “get” what you are going through.
- Tell your story. Whether it is verbally, through creative expression, or through writing, let it out