Grief makes us all children again — destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Since my miscarriage, I hear people say, “It’s probably for the best. Don’t worry, you’ll get pregnant again.” They mean well, but it makes me so mad. No one gets it. I feel so alone.
- Shortly after he was born, our baby died. Everyone is concerned about my wife, but he was my baby too. What about my loss?
- We lost our baby in the sixth month. Now my partner seems like a workaholic. Doesn’t s/he grieve?
- My oldest child asks me about the baby. I don’t know what to tell her. How do you explain a miscarriage to a five-year-old?
- I had to undergo labor only to deliver a dead baby. It’s so cruel and unfair.
- I’ve always wanted a baby so badly and now had my second miscarriage. Why is this happening to me?
- I want to have a baby so much, but after my baby died, I am terrified of trying to get pregnant again.
Having a healthy baby is a dream most people take for granted. For some, the dream of a child starts even before the conception. Others become more conscious of their growing attachment when they feel the baby’s movements or see each ultrasound. No one plans for or can anticipate the loss of a longed-for child. Losing a baby at any stage of pregnancy can create immense grief. It’s an experience that has a unique meaning for each woman and her partner.
“Miscarriage” is defined as the loss of a fetus before the 20th week. The majority of miscarriages occur within the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Though many people erroneously believe that miscarriage is a rather rare occurrence, roughly 15-20 percent of all pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage, and for women in their late 30s, the rate increases to 30-40 percent.
Perhaps you have experienced more than one miscarriage, which might make it even more difficult to hope that you can have a healthy baby. Unfortunately, both the medical community and well-intended family and friends often deny the emotional significance of a miscarriage and minimize the grief that follows. The prevailing misconception that miscarriage is a “non-event” could contribute to your feelings of isolation and loneliness in your grieving process. But, you don’t have to go through this painful ordeal alone. I am committed to help and support you and your partner to get through this loss.
Stillbirth and Neonatal Death
“Stillbirth” is defined as a death of a fetus between the 20th week of pregnancy and birth. The death could be diagnosed before the delivery or could unexpectedly occur during labor, adding additional trauma to the shocked parents. “Neonatal death” refers to the death of a baby in the first 28 days of life after birth.
In The Aftermath of a Miscarriage and Baby Loss
In the weeks and months following a pregnancy loss, you and your partner may be experiencing an emotional rollercoaster through a wide range of feelings. In general, it is common to feel a certain degree of shock and dismay, along with feelings of confusion and personal chaos. Many people feel out of control, vulnerable, unable to cope with daily responsibilities and even traumatized. There are some emotional experiences that are common to women and their partners following the loss of a baby that you might be able to relate to:
- Waves of unexpected and overwhelming emotions
- Tension in relationships
- Persistent feelings of guilt and unrelenting “what if…” thoughts
- Difficulty explaining the loss to your older children
- Overwhelming numbness
- Fears and ambivalence about subsequent pregnancies
- A sense of emptiness and despair about ever having a healthy baby
- Conflict with your partner about plans for another pregnancy
- Lingering traumatic loss that affects your subsequent pregnancy
- Grief that develops into relentless and debilitating depression
- Existential and spiritual crisis that colors your world view
Grief after pregnancy and neonatal loss is complicated by the fact that you know very little about who you are grieving. In many ways, you are grieving loss of a dream for a child, the dream of being a parent to that child and the sense of control over your life. Like a tidal wave, the grief can overwhelm your body and spirit, touching on every aspect of your life. You cannot force yourself through grief nor to make it go away. Grief has to take its course. Time helps, but it is sharing your loss, making sense of your experience and expressing your feelings and all that the loss had stirred up in you that could eventually help you move through it. It’s especially important to allow yourself and your partner to grieve and recover before getting ready for the next pregnancy. It is important to remember that each person’s experience of pregnancy loss is different, and there is no “wrong” way to grieve. Pregnancy loss counseling can help you through the grieving process, find healing and a regain a sense of hope.
Pregnancy Loss and Your Relationship
The bond between a pregnant woman and the baby growing inside of her is unique. During the loss of a baby, the woman undergoes not only an emotional trauma, but also a physical trauma, including her body’s adjustment to no longer being pregnant (e.g., starting to lactate). For the partners, bonding usually starts as s/he experiences physical signs of the baby, such as seeing an ultrasound picture or feeling the baby kick. Therefore, losing a baby is often a different experience for a birth mother than it is for her partner.
If your partner seems to be taking on a “business as usual” attitude, you may feel angry or disappointed with the apparent lack of grief. But, it doesn’t mean your partner is not grieving. It is important to remember s/he, too, form an attachment to the unborn children and dream of becoming a parent.
For many couples, pregnancy loss puts some strain on the relationship, sometimes with far-reaching implications. It’s incredibly difficult to meet each other’s needs when you have both experienced the loss, feel particularly vulnerable and need support and attention. While it may seem difficult to imagine now, with the help of psychotherapy, many couples are able to utilize this crisis as means of coming closer together and strengthening their relationship.
Grief and Healing
There is no one way to grieve, but support is essential. As a psychologist specializing in counseling for pregnancy related issues, I can help you move through your sadness and grief. For the last 25 years, I have been providing therapy to many women and couples who have experienced a neonatal death, miscarriage or stillbirth to better understand their respective grieving process and better communicate their need for emotional support. With compassion and care, I can help you find ways to hold and honor the memory of your child while also gradually moving forward in your life.
Therapy and support for pregnancy loss can effectively help you to:
- Prepare for situations that may bring up painful reminders of your baby (e.g., your due date, your first period or the anniversary of the loss).
- Discover how to communicate with your partner and support each other.
- Address the meaning of your loss in a greater context of your life history and dreams.
- Resolve any feelings of guilt and “what if…” thinking.
- Regain the strength to embrace a new pregnancy if you desire to try again.
You Can Find Support and Healing After Losing a Baby
Many women and couples have survived the grief of losing a baby, and I believe that, in time, you can as well. If you are looking for a psychologist in Los Angeles with expertise in grief counseling for miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal loss, please feel free to email or call me at 310-277-4305. I’m available to answer any questions you might have.