Trigger warning: The following post is one which discusses pre-term and neonatal loss and the process that many women and families go through when they have lost a baby. If you are feeling vulnerable at this time and this post does not speak to your experience, consider not reading it as it may cause you distress at a time when you are trying to regain strength.
Losing a baby though miscarriage, elective termination, stillbirth, childbirth, after a NICU stay, SIDS, or any other time is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult experiences that a parent will ever endure. There are no words to explain the depth of despair that a parent goes through when attempting to understand the shift that occurs when all hopes and expectations suddenly drop out from underneath anything stable. It is an experience that many will never need to make sense of and also one that many others will swim through unexpectedly. It is tragic and drastic and totally and completely unfair and yet thousands upon thousands of families find themselves in this position each year.
Here is what we know:
- Approximately 15-20% of confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage
- In the US, the rate of stillbirth is documented as 1 in 160-200 pregnancies
- In the US, the rates of SIDS affects between 5,000-7,000 infants every year
- In the US, approximately 11,300 infants die within 24 hours of their birth each year
I give these statistics not to scare you, but because it is important for those mothers who have lost their children to know that they are not alone; to know that there are many others out there who are needing to navigate this loss too.
I have worked with countless women in my office as they try to manage the unfamiliar emotions that surround loss, and I have learned a great deal from these phenomenal moms. I also have a dear friend and colleague who lost her daughter hours after birth and she, too, has honored me with her insight, pain, and eventual healing. With the information gathered from both my clients and my dear friend (who is now a clinician in San Francisco specializing in perinatal loss), this post today is written for all of the moms out there who are trying to navigate the unfamiliar postpartum experience while also grieving the loss of a child that never made it home or past that first year mark. For these moms, postpartum distress is complicated by the process of grief, and sometimes it is hard to make sense of what goes where in this unimaginable puzzle.
So, if you are one of these women, here is what I want you to know:
- Some women who lose babies through miscarriage are able to move through this loss freely, while others feel deep despair at this loss. There are no “shoulds” in this. No right way to feel. If you feel strong and grounded and ready to move forward after a miscarriage that is totally valid. If you feel deep loss and grief then that, too, is appropriate. No one gets to tell you how you feel except you.
- Any time a body goes from being pregnant to not being pregnant, there is a significant shift in hormones that can affect brain chemistry. Postpartum depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders can affect a mom regardless of the point at which a baby is delivered. You are likely in a position where you need to process through grief while also having a vulnerable brain chemistry. This can make the experience of healing feel impossible for many.
- Grief is a normal process and includes a shifting of emotions such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Grief felt after the loss of a baby is not necessarily depression and while there may be some overlap, it should not be treated as such. If you feel angry one day and dissociated from your loss the next, this is normal.
- If you are not aware of a shifting through the stages of grief and continue to feel debilitated by your suffering, there may be an element of clinical depression or anxiety that needs to be addressed. “Healthy” grief moves, but sometimes it can develop into relentless depression that requires more specific treatment. Many moms will experience depression that includes feelings of guilt, shame, self-doubt and sometimes suicidal ideation. Regaining a sense of self, hope, and trust is important to one’s healing after a loss such as this. [Read more...]