It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to help you navigate the journey of losing one too. If you’re reading this because you’ve unwillingly joined this “club” of bereaved parents suffering the loss of your baby, we’re sorry. This article is intended to help you “find your village” and get the support you need after experiencing the death of your baby.
Get started with these 8 ways to find emotional support:
1. Turn to Your Friends and Family
Your friends and family may be the best emotional support you can find after experiencing the death of your baby. Lean on your family and friends to help you through this time. Family and friends are the ones who know you best and love you the most. Hopefully, they’ll be able to support you in the way you need to move forward without your baby.
They may not know what to do or say, but they want to support you and love you through it. Let them. Pregnancy and infant loss have been taboo subjects for so long, so many may not know how to help. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you need. If you need a meal train or help with childcare or the laundry, ask them to create a Give InKind page for you to coordinate that support. Taking on those burdens so you can grieve will help immensely. Just even providing a shoulder to cry on is a great source of support.
2. Find a support group
“It’s a sort of kinship, is all I can say, as though there is a family tree of grief … When something terrible happens you discover all of a sudden that you have a new set of relatives, people with whom you can speak in the shorthand of cousins.” – Elizabeth McCracken
After loss, you feel so isolated and alone – even if there’s an outpouring of support from family and friends. It feels like you’re the only one who ever experienced such a devastating loss. Finding peer support is critical to healing.
Being part of a support group for bereaved parents – especially if that group is tailored to pregnancy and infant loss – is a relief. There’s a comfort you feel when you’re with people who just know the complicated grief that comes from losing a baby you barely knew, and of whom you have few memories. It allows you to relate to other parents and better help to understand why you’re feeling a certain way. They know why your baby’s due date is hard. They understand why the anniversary of your baby’s birth/death date is hard – year after year. They get that no matter how far you’ve come in your grief journey, a moment, a thought, or a smell can send you back into a very raw pain.
These parents know how hard it can be to see a pregnancy announcement. They know that at every family get-together or holiday season, you can’t help but focus on the baby who’s not there. They know the bittersweet feeling of seeing your living children growing up and reaching milestones your baby will never experience. They know how wonderful a chorus of laughter from your living children can feel, but at the same time how sad you can feel knowing there’s one laugh missing. They know there’s no closure or end date to this grief. They know a piece of you will be missing. Forever.
Peer support for pregnancy and infant loss has built up considerably over the last two decades. In addition to in-person support groups that may be available in your area, there are tons of online communities addressing pregnancy and infant loss, and many of those have subgroups for specific types of loss. Another benefit to an online support group is that there’s usually support found 24/7.
3. Find a Self-Care Activity
Finding an activity that will help the well-being of your mind, body, and spirit will also bring you the support you need to get through the death of your baby. There are many different self-care activities and rituals bereaved parents have engaged in to help them process their grief.
Many find comfort in their faith.
Joining a Bible study that is tailored to grief may be helpful, or speaking regularly to a member of the clergy may help you process your emotions. Your faith may help carry you through this difficult time. It’s also normal to be angry at your god or questioning your faith. You can reach out to trusted leaders of your house of worship to discuss those feelings as well.
The non-religious have found solace during grief in nature.
Taking hikes, swimming in lakes or the ocean, or simply watching a sunset or gazing at the stars can provide reflective space and a healing presence that helps focus the mind and calm the body.
Many bereaved parents have also turned to yoga and meditation activities to help them cope with their grief.
A surprising aspect of grief for many parents who’ve lost a child is the physical pain of grief. You can feel the pain deep in your bones and feel like your heart is actually breaking. Yoga is an activity that helps your body release the emotional and physical tightness carried by your body during the grieving process. The inclusion of mediation and deep breathing exercises help in that regard as well.
4. Find a therapist
Everyone grieves differently. It’s not a cliché, it’s true. Grief is so complicated and so personal that sometimes individualized support is the best way to help you move forward. Support groups are amazing to help you realize that you’re not so alone, but individual counseling is going to help you through this challenging time that is unique to you. In addition, in support group meetings, you can get caught up in someone else’s medical drama or mystery and start fearing it for yourself. And other times, when you need to be talked off the ledge, the group can push you closer to the edge by causing more trauma and sadness. That’s when a therapist can help. A therapist is objective and can bring you back to rational thought. They can help you identify strategies and behaviors to help you cope and slowly start to reengage in daily tasks. It’s also helpful to learn and understand the stages of grief, and know that your feelings are normal. A therapist will also allow you to go at your own pace.
For some loss parents, grieving the death of a baby is complicated because it doesn’t really feel real. Depending on the gestational age, it may be hard to view it as something you can and should grieve. You didn’t get to know the baby you lost in pregnancy and memories of your baby may only be in utero. Sometimes it feels like you shouldn’t grieve that baby because it doesn’t feel like the baby really existed. It can feel dreamlike and as if you made it all up. Unfortunately, at times, society can also reinforce those feelings. “At least you didn’t get to know her” is a common thing said to parents who’ve lost a baby, and one that dismisses the grief and further isolates parents. It also leads you to feel like you’re going crazy. A therapist or grief counselor can help validate your feelings and help you accept and honor the magnitude of the loss. The best thing my therapist told me after my baby died was “this was an enormous loss and of course you’re going to be sad.” That’s all it took to help me feel “normal.”
The death of a baby is not only sad, but also feels unnatural to parents who are supposed to outlive their kids. Oftentimes the experience of losing a baby is traumatic in a way that other deaths may not be. Grief and trauma go hand in hand in pregnancy loss and infant death. Professional therapy helps you find skills to cope with the complicated aftermath of pregnancy and infant loss. Friends, families, and peer support is great, but only a therapist can help with trauma.
5. Read Books on Loss
Some bereaved parents find solace in reading books on grief and loss. There are also many books specific to pregnancy and infant loss. Some read like “guidebooks” for the bereaved parent of a baby who died. Deborah Davis wrote a book called Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby* that provides that guidance for the newly bereaved. Unspeakable Losses: Healing From Miscarriage, Abortion, and Other Pregnancy Loss by Kim Kluger-Bell is another type of self-help guide. Another title is Unexpecting: Real Talk on Pregnancy Loss by Rachel Lewis is a guide for anyone leaving the hospital without a baby in their arms (now available for pre-order).
If you crave more personal stories, there are many memoirs from bereaved parents sharing their own stories of pregnancy loss and infant death. From Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, which tells the story of her first son’s stillbirth, to Jayson Greene’s recent memoir, Once More We Saw Stars, which tells the story of the death of his young daughter in a tragic accident, there are many stories to help you realize you’re not alone. Spend some time looking in the library or searching the internet to find a book that’s right for you.
6. Listen to a Podcast on Loss
Another avenue to find support is to listen to a podcast on grief or loss. Again, there are so many different podcasts that address the topic. A favorite for many is Terrible, Thanks for Asking hosted by Nora McInerny. Episodes cover many different forms of grief, but there are many episodes devoted to stories on pregnancy loss and infant death. McInerny herself is a loss mom having suffered a miscarriage during her second pregnancy. Sisters in Loss host a podcast as well sharing the stories of Black women who have been through miscarriage, pregnancy loss, and infertility. What’s Your Grief podcast is “grief support for those who like to listen” and is hosted by two mental health professionals, Eleanor Haley and Litsa Williams. Their episodes act like a guide for the bereaved covering complicated emotions during the grief process, finding your coping style, surviving holidays, navigating social media, and parenting while grieving just to name a few. Again, there are so many podcasts covering grief, you’ll surely find one that’s helpful to you.
7. Start Journaling
Journaling is incredibly therapeutic after pregnancy and infant loss. The act of writing out your baby’s birth story or pregnancy is helpful in processing your grief and trauma, and also serves as a way to preserve the memory of your baby. You can also use this to get in touch with thoughts, feelings, and emotions that you don’t feel comfortable saying out loud or to help work through feelings you can’t quite process yet. You don’t need to filter yourself in writing in your journal. You’re free to say what you want without needed to censor yourself or apologize for your feelings. If you can find time during the day to devote to journaling, it also helps you “find time” for your grief once life gets back to “normal.” You can journal during your lunch hour at work, or in the morning before work or at night before bed. It’s a designated time and space to let grief wash over you at a time when you may not feel like you can grieve all day every day.
8. Give Back to the Loss Community
“I love when people who have been through hell, walk out of the flames carrying buckets of water for those still consumed by the fire.” – Stephanie Sparkles
Many parents find that after they’ve gone through the raw part of grief and healing, the only thing they want to do is to help make that experience easier for fellow bereaved parents. When you’re ready, you may find comfort and peace in helping others through their own pregnancy and infant loss. Sharing your story will undoubtedly help another bereaved parent and is a beautiful tribute to your baby.
Grief lasts a lifetime, and as life moves forward, you may need to revisit these tools to help you through whatever triggers are making things harder at that particular moment. Pregnancy after loss is one of those times, and these suggestions also help you navigate that emotionally complex journey. The good news is that there is so much more out there now than there was for our parents and grandparents. We have a village, we just need to find it.
- How to cope with the death of your baby
- What to Expect When Your Baby Dies
- Coping With Grief: What to Actually Do
- 11 Ways to Honor Your Baby who Died on their Loss Anniversary
- Writing as Catharsis after Loss
- Miscarriage, Stillbirth, Infant Loss, and Pregnancy After Loss: It Takes a Village, and a Sisterhood
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