I’m happy to welcome back Christina Hibbert, PsyD, today for part two of her series on perinatal loss and grief:
Grief is part of pregnancy and postpartum loss, and can have a wide range of emotional, physical, and mental symptoms, including: sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, numbness, fatigue, tightness in chest/throat, sleep disturbance, changes in appetite, restlessness, confusion, inability to concentrate, poor memory, and even experiences like hearing or seeing the deceased.
In fact, experts estimate there are over 100 symptoms of grief. That’s why it can feel so hard. We become overwhelmed with a horde of emotions and symptoms that leave us wondering, “How do I deal with my grief?”
Perinatal grief, like that after miscarriage or stillbirth, can be even more complex and unique. It often involves a sense of biological failure and a loss of self. It can be tough to process because the loss is often minimized by others, leaving mothers, fathers, and families feeling vulnerable. Loss in pregnancy and postpartum can also be accompanied by a loss of innocence, a knowing that death and painful loss are real and do happen. This can increase anxiety, worry, and fears in mothers and their family members, and these fears often carry over into future pregnancies as well.
How to Cope with and Treat Perinatal Grief
So, how can a mother and her family cope with and treat perinatal grief? The answer is simple, though it’s far from easy: grief work. Grief work is just as its name says—work. It is hard and can be painful and may last for weeks or months, or sometimes, even years, depending on the significance of the loss.
“How do I grieve?” is actually the most common question I get from those going through loss. And the answer I give is simple: “You just do.” You let yourself feel what you feel, cry, talk, and experience the pain. Grief work is difficult, but so worth it in the end.
Specifically, however, there are some things you can do to help yourself process the emotions of grief. I created the TEARS method a few years back to help my clients (and myself) better understand what we can do to grieve. Here is what TEARS stands for:
- Talk about what you are going through with someone you trust. Talk over and over about your loss until the grief begins to lessen.
- Exercise or participate in physical activity to work the emotions of grief out of your body.
- Artistic Expression is helpful in processing the emotions of grief, including drawing, dance, and music. This is especially helpful for children. Have them draw pictures of the loss or create a memory project or even engage in play about it.
- Record or write your experiences down in a journal or notebook. Writing is one of the best ways to work through grief. It is cathartic.
- Sob. Yes, cry and sob until you can’t cry any more.
A few more things to remember about coping with and treating Perinatal Grief…
1) There is no set time frame for how long grief “should” last. However, actively working on grief in the ways described above or through counseling or other methods can help grief resolve more quickly.
2) Support one another as a couple and family. Be sure to turn toward one another in times of perinatal grief. Do the activities mentioned above as a family or as a couple, too. (see part 1 for more on families and perinatal grief)
3) Honor special anniversaries and occasions. It helps process your grief to remember the people and things you have lost. Involve family, friends, and your children.
4) Involve other adults if you feel unable to cope with parenting while you treat your grief. It can be tough for parents to maintain their parenting role in times of grief. If it gets to be too much, ask a family member or friend to step into a “parent” role for a while. This will give you time to heal yourself while insuring your other children are not left to cope alone.
5) Seek grief counseling and support. Working with a grief counselor or perinatal loss support group can be incredibly powerful. It helps to have someone to guide you through and to remember you are not alone.
~ Christina G. Hibbert, Psy.D.
Christina Hibbert is a clinical psychologist, author of the new book This is How We Grow, and founder of the AZ Postpartum Wellness Coalition. For more on “Dealing with Grief,” visit her website: http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/dealing-with-grief/.