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Loss of a baby: Dealing with the grieving process

In 1988, United States President Ronald Reagan declared October as a month to recognize the tragic grief of bereaved parents and support families who have suffered such loss.

It was announced that October would be Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.

Roughly 15 to 20 percent of Canadian pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC). When experiencing pregnancy loss, you can have feelings of grief, guilt and remorse.

There are no words to describe the depth of despair that a parent goes through. It is difficult for one to understand the shift that occurs when all your hopes and dreams suddenly drop out from underneath you. Coping with grief after a miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss is very personal. It is one of the most devastating things that people will go through. Along with the usual symptoms and stages of grief, there are many issues that make parental bereavement particularly difficult to resolve.

During the early days of grieving, most parents experience excruciating and intense grief after losing a baby which can cause overwhelming emotional and physical reactions feeling that life will never be normal again. Many parents and individuals said that after losing their baby they could no longer think straight and felt unable to cope with day-to-day activities. The surmounting sorrow and sadness from their loss can take over their lives and leave them in a state of traumatic bereavement.

Coping with the death and loss of a child requires some of the hardest mental work one will ever have to do.

Whether a pregnancy is planned or unexpected, a special bond materializes as the parents think about their baby and the reality of becoming a mother or a father to this child. As humans, we are primed to invest, protect, and nurture. With a positive pregnancy test, parents can start imagining a deep connection with their child and a bond that will last a lifetime.

Isolation

Grief can make some people isolate themselves and request no visitors immediately after a child loss. It can leave them feeling shocked, numbed, and disconnected.

Some parents felt they could not leave home and dreaded having to explain to friends or colleagues where their baby was. The underlining message is that we should be understanding and supportive when a friend or family member is going through a devastating loss. They may need their space and time and that is okay. We are all human. Although nothing could ever replace the loss of your child, there are coping strategies that may make the death easier to bear. Just as grief feels different from person to person, coping with grief may be very difficult from one parent to another.

Even between parents of the same baby, what helps ease one parent’s grief may not be at all helpful to another. Use these coping tips and it’s OK to forget about the rest.

Tips to cope with a loss of a baby
Take it slow.

Focus on getting through each day – one day at a time. Waiting to make life changing decisions like changing jobs or making any major purchases may be best for a later time. Think of today and be prepared that some days will be better than others.

Create memories of your baby.

Comforting yourself during this time will allow you time to grief. Creating memories for the baby like naming your baby or engraving a personalized piece of jewelry in their memory. Others might prefer holding a memorial service in the baby’s honour or contacting professional photographers who specialize in working with families who have experienced pregnancy loss.

Take care of yourself.

Get adequate rest, eat a healthy diet, and include physical activity in your daily routine. Avoid depressants like alcohol to soothe the pain. Contact your physician if you feel severely depressed or anxious.

Talk with your partner.

Don’t expect your spouse or partner to cope with grief the same way you do. One of you might want to talk about the baby and express emotions, while the other might prefer to withdraw. Be open and honest with each other as you deal with your feelings.

Keep a journal.

Writing down your thoughts and feelings might be an effective outlet for your pain. You might also write letters, notes, or poems to the baby or about the baby.

Hope for the future.

Many women who experience pregnancy loss go on to have successful pregnancies. Once the pain of grief subsides, you and your partner can talk about whether to attempt another pregnancy and, if so, when you’d like to try again. Another pregnancy might yield feelings of sadness for your earlier loss — but it might also inspire hope for the future.

As pregnancy and infant loss awareness month comes to a close, know that we are thinking of you, not just now, but always.