If you are currently reading this, then you have most likely experienced the loss of an infant or a miscarriage. You may be feeling a lot of different emotions, and you may even be feeling very alone right now. Let me just say that you are not alone. You have entered a ‘club’ with many other parents who have also experienced the loss of an infant, miscarriage, or stillbirth. Your emotions may even seem so great that you may be wondering how you can even survive this loss. I will cover ten things you can do to help you cope with this loss and hopefully to help move you towards healing.
- Acknowledge the child. Take the time to recognise the life of your child. No matter if your child was five weeks gestation or five months old, your baby mattered. Many parents have found that having a memorial service or funeral to be helpful. Some parents have created private memorials in their homes with pictures of their child in a special place in their home. You may find it useful to write a poem or a letter to your child. However, way you choose to acknowledge the life of your child, do what feels best for you and your family.
- Allow yourself to grieve. Take the time to grieve. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and there is no ‘normal’ time to grieve. If you feel like crying, let yourself be fine with crying. You are going through an unbearable loss, and it is important to feel your feelings and allow yourself to grieve. Don’t let others tell you when you should be ‘over’ grieving. There is no time limit for how long someone should grieve.
- Create rituals or traditions. You may find it helpful to have traditions or rituals to honour and remember the child you have lost. Some women have found it helpful to remember and honour your child’s birthday or expected birthday. Some parents do this by attaching letters for their child to a balloon and letting it fly off to ‘heaven’. Others have gone out with their living children and engaged in child-appropriate activities to honour and celebrate the child they had lost.
- Find support. Get and find social support. Having a strong social support system during this time is important. Talk with friends and family who understand what you are going through and who will support you during this time. There are also some support groups that are either web-based or in-person. These groups will either be peer-lead or professionally-lead, but most of these groups will have the common purpose of providing a safe and supportive environment to feel and cope with your grief with others who are also grieving the loss of a baby.
- Set boundaries. Be OK with setting and keeping boundaries. You will not, nor should you, be expected to be able to do everything while you are grieving. If there are parties or social gatherings that are coming up, decide which ones, if any, you will be able to attend. Be OK with setting boundaries and letting your family know if, or what events, you will or will not attend. If you need space, let your loved ones know you need your space and you will seek out their support when you are ready.
- Communicate with loved ones. Remember to communicate your needs and feelings with your loved ones. Your loved ones care about you, and they will want to know from you what you need. Talk to them about what you find helpful from them and what you do not find helpful. Sometimes, loved ones will say things such as ‘You are still young! You will get pregnant again.’ This is often not found to be helpful by parents but is said because family and friends do not know what else to say. Communicate with your loved ones what you find to be hurtful.
- Take care of yourself. Take care of yourself while you are grieving. Sometimes the grief can feel so heavy that you feel like you can’t even get out of bed. This is alright, but remember to take care of yourself. Take a bath or a shower even if you feel like you can barely get out of bed. Find things that you still enjoy even if that is reading a book or cuddling a beloved pet.
- Keep a journal or a blog. Some parents find it helpful to be able to write down their thoughts and feelings. This can be done by either maintaining a journal or a blog. A journal is good when you just want a space to write your thoughts and feelings down and then be able to return to it on your own. A blog is good when you wish to communicate your thoughts and feelings with other parents who may be grieving as well. This is not for everyone, but some parents have found it helpful to share not only all of the ‘messiness’ of their grief but all of the joys they experience.
- Talk with a professional. A therapist or counselor is there to listen and support you – often, in a way that family and friends are not able to. They will be non-judgemental and be able to give you the time that is just for you. They will be able to provide you the space to grieve in your own time without pushing their beliefs on to you. If you choose to speak with a professional, seek out someone who has experience with grief and loss or who has experience with perinatal loss.
- Give your child a name. Some parents lose their child before a name can be given. When this happens, it can feel even more so that your child never even existed. Some parents find it helpful to give their child a name as it helps them to give them as sense that their child lived and the life was important.
Many parents, when they lose a baby during infancy, through stillbirth, or miscarriage, often feel alone and invisible during their grief. If you are experiencing such a loss, remember that your child did indeed exist. You are a mum who is, unfortunately, grieving the loss of your baby. There are some things you can do to help you through this grief such as having a memorial for the child, having traditions or rituals to remember the child, gaining support from others such as at a support group, or sharing your strength and hope to other parents.
NB: The material presented here is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a psychological or psychiatric condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read online. Read the full disclaimer here.
Sarah Netzky is a Licensed Professional Counsellor and currently working in a private practice in Chicago, Illinois. Sarah particularly enjoys working with women’s issues including infertility, postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, and bereavement related to the loss of a child or infant. In addition to her work as a therapist, Sarah currently serves on the Board of the Illinois Group Psychotherapy Society and is pursuing doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology.