Pregnancy and Postpartum Loss, Grief & Family Healing – Part 1

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coping with griefLoss in pregnancy and postpartum is common. When most people think of perinatal loss, they think of miscarriage or stillbirth—the loss of a baby. Certainly losing a baby is one of the hardest postpartum losses to bear. There are many other types of loss families may experience in pregnancy and postpartum, however, including: infertility, dealing with multiples, high-risk pregnancy, adoption, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, disability or death in the family, career/job loss, and the loss of a significant relationship or divorce.

Pregnancy and postpartum loss not only affects mothers; it can have a significant impact on the father/partner, the couple’s relationship, other children, and the entire family system. Loss and grief have long been considered an individual process, but families who turn together in times of perinatal grief will not only heal as individuals, they will strengthen their family, too.

Postpartum Grief: Professional & Personal Experience

As a clinical psychologist I was already specializing in postpartum mental health and grief/loss. I had already helped many families through postpartum grief—miscarriages, stillbirths, adoptions, and postpartum depression—when my most intense postpartum grief experience hit.

In 2007, my sister and brother-in-law died just before I gave birth to our fourth child. We inherited our two young nephews, and three weeks later I had our baby, going from three to six kids just like that. I had already experienced postpartum depression and anxiety with my previous births, and I knew, in light of all the death and loss we had just experienced, I was at even higher risk.

In the months and years to follow, grief hit hard—for myself, my husband and our six kids. Between trying to create a new family, dealing with troublesome family members, adopting our nephews, and simply trying to help us all heal—I was overloaded. It was difficult to distinguish postpartum depression and fatigue from pure and simple grief. As time went on, however, I learned it didn’t matter so much what my exact diagnosis was. What mattered was that I found a way for myself, and my family, to heal.

One of the most important things I learned through this experience, and what I write about in my new memoir, This is How We Grow, is this: “Families that feel together heal together.”

Pregnancy and Postpartum Grief & The Family

Through my personal and professional experiences with perinatal loss, I can say with certainty that whether the loss of a baby, the loss involved with perinatal mood disorders or adoption, or a death in the family during the postpartum period, each loss must be grieved. Yet, letting ourselves feel the emotions of grief can be a challenge. And it can especially be challenging for families to grieve together.

Each of us will experience the loss and grieve in our own unique way. Mothers can feel alone in their grief process—like no one understands or they carry the weight of grief for the family. Fathers/partners may isolate into work or activities to cope with grief, making it difficult for couples to come together and work through grief as a team. Siblings or other children are often forgotten in the grief process because parents are so overcome by their own grief. Thus, families often bear the stress of grief symptoms, with family members feeling isolated or like the family is pulling apart.

So, what is a family to do in times of perinatal loss and grief?

1)   First, know that your loss is real. It matters. And it is real and matters for your family members, too. Even if they feel or express their sense of loss in a different way, know that it matters to each of you.

2)   Grief is the body and mind’s healthy response to perinatal loss, and grief work is necessary to move forward. You must grieve your losses, and your family members must as well. Help children, partners, and other family members understand their need to grieve and give permission for family members to talk about or work through grief openly.

3)   Remember it is normal for each of us to experience and work through grief in our own way. Try to respect your family member’s methods of grieving, but also try to turn together and bridge the gaps.

4)   Grieve together. Grieving individually is important to help you process and experience your own grief reactions. But turning together and grieving as a family is powerful and can protect and strengthen family relationships. Mark the loss with a memorial or creative project, talk about it, cry together, ask, “How are you feeling today” and listen. Families who can do these things will not only heal; they can and will grow stronger through perinatal loss and grief.

~ Christina G. Hibbert, Psy.D.

Christina Hibbert is a clinical psychologist, author of the new book, This is How We Grow, and founder or the AZ Postpartum Wellness Coalition. You can also find her blogging at www.DrChristinaHibbert.com.

Photo credit: © creative soul – Fotolia.com

 

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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  1. salemcrawford@gmail.com says:

    Everyone,is not sensitive about my feelings . This was my only child now everyones talking about babys and showing off theyres and it hurts worse . Because I dont wanna here or see other babys bc of iyla . Its not helping me get better its making me think about her more. I told people I cant see newborns,right now but no one cares or understands it hurt . That was my onlu child!

  2. salemcrawford@gmail.com says:

    Now im starting to hate coming out of my room bc everyone seems like theyre rubbing it in my face. They dont understand how bad this hurts. Please write me back someone. Im starting to hate everyone bc theyre so thoughtless about what im going throw.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t even begin to imagine how much it hurts. Have you thought about reaching out to an organization that supports moms who are struggling through this? It might help to be able to talk to other moms who know exactly how you are feeling. These are all organizations that can help:

      Unspoken Grief – A support community for those who’ve been touched directly or indirectly by miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal loss. At this site, anyone can share their stories and learn from others. In addition to the forum, site creator Devan McGuinness educates readers on everything from the symptoms of grief to the causes and risk factors of miscarriage.
      Glow In the Woods – A blog dedicated to providing support to “babylost parents,” this site features beautiful writing by some bloggers you may recognize, including Kate Inglis of Sweet Salty and Bon Stewart, who formerly blogged at Crib Chronicles, as well as a few discussion boards.
      Silent Grief – Silent Grief offers weekly emails of encouragement to grieving parents, lists of reading materials, and an articles archive to help guide parents through topics like getting through Mother’s Day or answering the question, “How many children do you have?”
      First Candle – First Candle is dedicated to safe pregnancies and the survival of babies through the first years of life. Their current priority is to eliminate Stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUID). They have a specific section on their site for grieving families.
      Hygeia Foundation – They offer a bereavement resource lending library, funeral assistance to low-income parents, and educational programs to raise awareness among medical and other professionals of the effects of pregnancy and infant loss on families.
      Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support – Share offers a list of support groups around the country, information on parents’ rights when a baby dies, information on legislation related to infant loss and more.
      Bereaved Parents USA – The organization has chapters around the United States that hold local support group meetings for bereaved parents.