The devastation of pregnancy loss – through miscarriage or stillbirth – sends most parents reeling, desperate for answers.
One in every four pregnancies results in miscarriage and the cause is not usually found; with 80% of miscarriages occurring in the first trimester.
Stillbirth is defined as a baby born over 24 weeks gestation (or 400g), with no signs of life. It is often unexpected and a third will have no obvious cause. Reduced fetal movements are one of the few indicators for late stillbirth. Six babies are stillborn in Australia every day; for every one SIDS death, 35 babies are stillborn.
Although the exact cause of both miscarriage and stillbirth is often unknown, contributing factors include infection, genetic problems, maternal health problems, environmental toxins and ante-natal bleeding.
The Loss of a Baby
It is normal to feel a range of intense emotions that are difficult and painful; pregnancy loss leaves parents feeling vulnerable, withdrawn and generally not wanting to participate in the normal rhythm of life. Nothing feels real for a while and overwhelm or physical exhaustion are common responses to the shock and grief of loss.
Whilst there are many ways to cope and move forward, these few suggestions seem to embrace the most common issues:
- Engage with others to gain support through friends, family and professionals. Talking about what happened can be difficult, but helps with overcoming the isolation. Significant others may find it hard to know how to support and comfort you, so initiating honest communication can help.
- Accepting your feelings. There are no wrong feelings – it is normal to feel angry at the world, even those closest to you, and especially those who are enjoying a healthy pregnancy. Whilst it is common to blame yourself and replay events looking for what you could have done differently, it is unhelpful to stay in self blame. Gather facts from health professionals and challenge blame-talk with rehearsed statements such as “there is no evidence it was my fault” or “sometimes there are no explanations and I will allow myself time to grieve”.
- Share how you are feeling with your partner. Sharing feelings and how you are both coping can be a way of supporting one another. You are likely to be grieving in different ways; men are usually less ‘out there’ with their feelings. Don’t judge each other’s way of processing or expressing grief.
- Time. Don’t push yourself to stop feeling sad. Remarks such as “You can try for another baby” or “get on with your life” are unhelpful – you will mend at your own pace. It may take some time before you feel you can pick up the pieces of your life again. Sadness will take you by surprise, especially around significant dates such as when baby was due or first birthday or Christmas.
- Work. You may be entitled to paid maternity leave or sick leave. Time off for both of you, from your usual routines, can help you cope and come to terms with your loss. Self care, time to rest, process and discuss your loss will be aspects of the time you spend away from your usual working environment.
Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for people who are grieving, including those who have experienced pregnancy loss. Here are some idea for coping with the so-called festive season:
- Go away for the holidays – rent a cabin, hotel room, camping – and get away from normal family traditions.
- Let the pain out- talking, writing, drawing, physical exertion, craft, tears.
- Place an announcement in the paper.
- Create a dedicated Facebook page and journal events, feelings and ideas – or keep a private journal with photos, poems, stories and feelings.
- Donate a gift in your child/family’s name.
- Share your story.
- Dedicate a gift to baby – eg a photo frame in which to place a memento.
- Create a felting, embroidery or quilt that tells the story of your baby’s life and short journey and what his/her life meant to you.
- Make a Christmas ornament/ angel with your live children.
- Ask others to acknowledge your child.
- Consider setting up a fundraiser to donate money to a kids’ hospital or stillbirth foundation.
- Participate in a voluntary capacity to help others at Christmas.
- Mark your baby’s name in or on; tree, sand or a stone.
- Name a star after your child.
- Paint a picture.
- Release a lantern, or balloon.
There are many ways to grieve and express your loss and the time it takes will vary. Hopefully this article has given you some strategies to consider. It is important to hydrate, eat small frequent meals, rest, exercise and stay connected to your support systems.
If after a few months you don’t seem to be getting back into the rhythm or coping with daily life, please feel free to make an appointment to see me (I can work with clients face-to-face in Loganholme, or by Skype or phone for those further afield). Emotional support, together with some psychological first aid and practical coping strategies, is invaluable for your mental health.
Author: Julie Fickel, RN, PG Cert Health Science, PG Dip Midwifery, Cert 4 T & A, Cert 4 Pastoral Care.
With over 20 years’ experience in family health, Julie Fickel has developed skills around communication and supporting individuals and their families to cope with change, grief and loss; fostering resilience during times of crisis or distress, and more recently trauma therapy.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129
Please note: Julie Fickel is currently not practising
This article is dedicated to LUCAS 24/05/2013.