In my first pregnancy after loss, I was terrified of losing another child. I couldn’t picture giving birth to a baby that lived. It was a paralyzing fear. Despite the fact that I was so eager to have and love that next baby with all my heart, that pregnancy was rough. It was a season full of anxiety. I write about this experience in my memoir, Expecting Sunshine, which was released April 2017 by She Writes Press. Even in my second pregnancy after loss, I was scared…
In Expecting Sunshine, I share about the conflicting emotions during pregnancy after loss, and all the things I did in the attempt to be calm and find peace. The one resounding message that I can share from that time:
Support is crucial in pregnancies after loss.
This may seem obvious, but it’s not. I remember my extended family feeling relieved that I was pregnant again. I had friends express that finally I was moving on. Unfortunately, all the struggles and pain of loss are not immediately cut off when you become pregnant again. They are carried forward – and amplified because of what is now at stake. Another child. Another life.
Here is why families need support in their pregnancies after loss:
- Grief does not go away with a subsequent pregnancy. It can actually get worse with the fear of another loss.
- Pregnant hormones can muddle and complicate emotions. This may become a magnifying glass, enlarging feelings of excitement but also foreboding and anxiety.
- Communication continues to be critical. It may be easy to assume that expectant parents are doing fine, but often the support they had after their loss diminishes now that they are pregnant again. They still need to hear, “How are you doing?” and be allowed to share their fears in a safe environment.
- Pregnancy will often bring up painful déjà vu situations. Some of these may include: the week the previous baby was discovered to have passed, the act of choosing a name, setting up the nursery and the delivery.
- No one returns to a naive pregnancy after loss. That experience transforms a person, never to be the same again. Trauma is a heavy burden to carry alone.
If you find yourself in a stressful pregnancy after loss, below is a helpful list to give to your support network. The 5 points will equip them to walk the PAL journey with you.
5 Ways to GIVE Support to PAL Parents
- Be patient. The bereaved and expecting mother and father may struggle with the same issues over and over again throughout the pregnancy. Their feelings may ebb and flow. Please be patient in these times. Frustration and impatience, the “just get over it” mentality, is not helpful.
- Listen. Sometimes silence may feel awkward, but allow time for the mother or father to process their thoughts and speak up. Don’t feel you have to commiserate by sharing a story from your own life. Comparisons often hurt the heart of the bereaved parent. Everyone’s experiences are so different. A listening ear shows you care.
- Do not judge. Bereaved parents are not weak. It is a confusing season for the mom and dad. Grief takes much longer than our rush-rush culture permits. Please don’t have expectations or try to hurry the person along. They are doing their best to get through the grief and subsequent pregnancy the only way they know how.
- Be present. Companionship can be more helpful than advice. Walk alongside the mother and father. Let them know they are not alone. It can be terrifying to have an ultrasound or go to the hospital. Pregnancy milestones, which otherwise are full of optimism, may be tough dates to bear. We need to lean on each other in the presence of these challenging times.
- Never assume. Assuming anything is what happens when there is a breakdown in communication. We don’t assume when we ask and hear the answer. It is incredibly helpful to hear the words, “What do you need?” Then you will be able to offer the right support at the best time.