It is entirely normal for parents preparing for the birth of a baby after pregnancy, infant, or child loss to have anxiety about the upcoming birth. Having been through the loss of a child, at whatever gestation or age, makes life feel more fragile. Memories of previous birth experiences complicate the anticipation and experience of the birth of another child, whether the memories are related to miscarriage, stillbirth, or the birth of a living child who later passed away. Preparation for the process of labor and birth after loss can feel even more important because of the previous experiences.

Read below for tips about preparing for labor and birth after experiencing a previous loss.

Unique aspects of preparation may apply to parents preparing for a Cesarean birth or the birth of a child through a gestational carrier, although many of the tips below could be important in all of these situations.

1. Prepare for the aspects of labor and birth that may be triggering for you. 

Labor and birth can be so triggering of our previous experiences with birth and loss. In preparing yourself for another birth experience, it is important to be aware of what may trigger anxiety and sadness for you. The specifics of your past experiences will affect what parts will be most important for you to prepare for. You may not be able to prepare for every trigger of your previous trauma, but giving it some thought ahead of time can help you have a plan for managing the emotions that may come up.

If you don’t know what may trigger your most traumatic memories, talking through your past experience may be helpful. Consider seeking counseling with a licensed mental health professional or scheduling a birth processing session with someone trained in this. Talking to your partner or other loss parents may also be useful. For my partner and I, taking a hospital tour for the birth of our rainbow was more helpful than we could have anticipated. It exposed us to triggers that we hadn’t realized, such as walking past the physical space that had difficult memories from our losses and the possibility of being in the same room as our stillbirth. Awareness of the specific triggers of our trauma helped us prepare for them mentally and allowed us to advocate for our needs when it came to labor and birth.

2. Consider whether you want a doula or additional support person present.

Many parents who are expecting a baby find a doula very helpful. Some loss parents choose to have a doula for the birth of a rainbow or baby born after loss for the additional support, from a person knowledgeable about birth, especially given how triggering the birth experience can be. This is often something to consider partway through pregnancy, but it never hurts to reach out if you think about it closer to birth. Having extra supporters, especially those well versed in childbirth and trained to provide support, may be useful.

3. Talk to your provider about how you are feeling

Talk to your medical providers about how you are feeling as you get closer to the end of pregnancy. It is normal for anxiety to rise about your baby as time goes on, especially if you are nearing or passing milestones of previous losses. Ask your provider to explain to you exactly when to call with concerns and what to be watching for. Getting permission to call or come in to be seen for reassurance about the baby’s safety is incredibly important. For me, the explicit permission that I am supposed to call my providers whenever I need to, even if it might be “just anxiety” has been so important in my pregnancies after loss.

Talk to your provider about your fears, expectations, and hopes for labor and birth. Ask questions about anything you are wondering about or worried about so you feel like you understand as much as you can going into it. While every labor situation may unfold differently, you can get a good understanding of what your provider’s plan would be in specific scenarios you may be curious about. Having providers you trust and who trust and listen to you is vital and especially important when navigating pregnancy and birth after loss.

4. Consider getting education on childbirth. 

If you didn’t take a childbirth class before you lost your previous baby, enrolling in one will be especially helpful. Even if you went through labor and delivery, feeling more prepared and knowledgeable this time can be an important aspect of feeling more prepared than before. You may find, however, that the hospital birth class may not be right for you. Many loss parents look for a smaller class that is more in depth and in which the provider knows and understands your loss experience is more helpful. There are many things to consider when searching for a childbirth class after loss.

If you have already had a childbirth class or a class setting doesn’t feel right for you, scheduling a one-on-one meeting with a childbirth educator may be useful. This may allow an opportunity for you and your partner to discuss your previous experience and explore what you need to prepare given your specific situation. Other options such as books, podcasts, and online courses may feel better to you as well. Look for the right fit for you to be authentic about your experiences and empowered about your options as you approach another labor and birth.

5. Discuss your needs with your partner or other labor support person. 

As you reflect on your past birth experiences, consider what your wishes are and what support you need from your partner. Ask them to do the same for themselves. Discuss together what you will need from each other. You each may have different triggers that need to be attended to. Your partner or other labor supporter may be able to communicate your wants and needs at moments in labor when you cannot clearly do so. Ensure they know what you need and want from them and what you may need or want from your medical providers.

6. Prepare a labor coping or birth plan.

Birth plans or labor coping plans can come in different forms. For some loss parents, the idea of a “birth plan” may feel ridiculous as they know how easily things can go not according to plan. Other loss parents know there are specific things they want to communicate to medical staff about their history and their wishes. If you are considering something like this, here are some reasons to do so and suggestions on what to include. Personally, I have found that having a document just for my partner and me that includes my pain coping options, things that I want to be told and don’t want to be told in labor, and ways that I may need him to advocate for me with medical staff if I am unable has been beneficial. My coping plans have also included things I want to make sure to express to my nurses and other professionals early on so they are aware of what we may need and want. You may be clear on some of this now, but having a concrete plan/document in front of you and your partner when it comes to labor day can make it much more accessible to you at the moment that you both need it.

7. Pack and prepare in the ways you want to, when you need to.

When it comes to getting ready to go to the hospital and getting your house ready for welcoming home a new baby, do it all in the way that works for you. If you aren’t ready to pack a bag, another loss mama friend suggested that it is helpful to have a “go bag” prepared, with just the essentials. Many of us have memories of being in the hospital unexpectedly without having much time to prepare or knowing what to prepare. Think about what you want to make sure you have no matter what happens – things like glasses, contacts, and comfortable clothing are on our list. In my hospital bag I know I want a blanket for my baby so that they have something that is theirs, even if we had a bad outcome. Because of your previous experience, you may feel more motivated to pack a bag sooner so you have what you need regardless of when you have to head to the hospital. The same is true for preparing at home. You may be excited to get the nursery ready and buy things for your baby, and if you are, do it!  If you aren’t, just plan for the things that you absolutely need right away and make a plan for who can help you get the rest ready later.

8. Remember that you have more power than you may feel in the process of labor and birth.

Find ways to own the power that you have in your labor and birth experience. Often, our loss experiences are disempowering. Just being a patient in a hospital can, perhaps unintentionally, take away your power and autonomy. Remember that you have more say than you may think you have. Educate yourself on the process of labor and birth so you are informed about the choices you have. Surround yourself with providers and support people who empower you. This is your body, your child, and your experience. It is important to have providers you can trust, and it is important to know you can ask questions and advocate for your needs. If you don’t want to wear the hospital gown, you often don’t have to. If you are nervous about interventions, ask questions about the process and the risks involved in intervening and waiting. Remember that you get a say in what happens. Feeling empowered to advocate for yourself and your needs can help you feel more confident and comfortable with your experience.

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