“There is a unique pain that comes from preparing a place in your heart for a child that never comes.” – David Platt
When we lose a loved one, our faiths and cultural traditions typically offer rituals to guide us through the early stages of grieving. We hold wakes, funerals and memorial services. We sit Shiva. We engrave headstones. These acts rally friends and family around us, can provide closure and allow us time to reflect, process, cry, connect, and gather the strength to move forward.
But when a mother loses an unborn baby, that loss is often deeply private. The joy and excitement of carrying a new life is unceremoniously replaced by profound sorrow. Whether it’s a miscarriage that happens when only the mother-to-be knew of the life growing inside her, or a stillbirth after a name has been chosen and a nursery decorated – the loss of a child is devastating – and frequently invisible to the outside world.
There is no widely-accepted way to commemorate the life of an unborn baby, which may be why moving on after pregnancy loss can be particularly agonizing and lonely. Parents may feel they have less right to grieve because the baby was not yet born. The loss may not seem as significant or painful to outsiders, especially if they have never lost a child. And parents may feel pressure to move on before they’re truly ready. But in all experiences of loss, it is honestly grieving and taking the time to process our feelings and honor the memory of the deceased that helps us heal. Here are some ideas for coping with the loss of a life never lived, but deeply treasured.
Your Loss Is Real – Let Others Help
- Designate a point person. If you’ve already told people about your pregnancy, it can be very difficult to tell them you’ve lost the baby. Ask a trusted friend or relative to update anyone you’ve told, and provide them with any other information you want to share (for example, whether or not you’re ready to talk about it, or the date of a memorial service you’re planning).
- Talk about your feelings. You are likely feeling deep sadness, anger, guilt or any number of other emotions. Don’t bottle them up! Talk about what you’re going through, whether with your partner, a trusted friend, family member, or someone else.
- Look after yourself. Grief can make it harder to focus on taking care of yourself and your family, but that’s an important part of healing. Remember to eat well, get some fresh air, rest when you can, and try not to isolate yourself. All of this may be difficult, but it will make a difference in how you feel and heal.
- Ask for help. If you’re struggling with the daily grind, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Your friends and family may already be wondering what they can do to help ease your pain and will be more than happy to help with errands, cooking, or spending time with any other children you may have. You may also want to talk to a mental health professional if you feel overwhelmed.
- Join a support group. Consider joining a support group for people who have experienced pregnancy loss. Connecting with others who have been through the same struggle can make you feel less alone and give you a safe space to talk about what you’re going through.
- Acknowledge your partner’s grief. Keep in mind that everyone handles grief differently. Understanding that can help you and your partner support each other in the ways you need to grieve.
Find Ways To Openly Express Your Grief and Love
- Hold a Ceremony. One way to combat the isolation of your grief and mark the significance of your loss is to plan a public ritual of some sort. You may choose a funeral service and burial, a memorial service, or a less formal private gathering to honor your child and say goodbye. Clergy of all faiths have grown more sensitive to the need for these rituals, and there are many online sources that can also help you plan.
- Create a physical reminder or tribute. If your baby was stillborn, you may have an ultrasound photo or baby blanket to keep. You may even have had the chance to hold him, take a picture, or get an imprint of her hand or foot. If your loss occurred early in your pregnancy, you might not have those sorts of physical reminders, but you can still create something in your baby’s honor. For example:
- Create an online memorial. Write about the hopes and dreams you had for your child, post pictures of the people, places, books and activities you looked forward to sharing. Recruiting family members and friends to join in can help them express their own sorrow, and remind all of you that you are not alone in your grief.
- Plant a memorial tree or garden.
- Make a donation to your favorite charity in your child’s name.
- Write a letter to your unborn baby.
- Create a memory box to fill with presents you may have received including photos, footprints, rattles, and books.