The holiday season can be a tricky time of year for moms who are pregnant after losing a baby. During the final months of the year, families tend to focus on togetherness, which can be painful for a mother who should be with all of her babies, but isn’t.
Yes, there is hope for how a new pregnancy might play out. But there is also heartache resulting from the loss of her previous pregnancy. The holidays are supposed to be a magical time of year. Pregnancy is supposed to be a magical time of life. But when loss is involved, the magic tends to fizzle out. At least for the woman who has experienced it.
The circumstances and emotions surrounding a subsequent pregnancy can be confusing—especially during the holidays when joy and gratitude are at the forefront of the season—and not just for the woman who is pregnant, but for those around her too. It’s easy for onlookers to expect a pregnant woman to act a certain way. And it’s easy for them to focus solely on the current pregnancy and celebrate it while failing to acknowledge the lingering grief.
If you have a loved one who is pregnant after loss in the midst of holiday expectations, you can support her by giving her permission to do the following things she may generally feel she isn’t supposed to do.
To be clear, she doesn’t actually need your permission. But speaking from experience, there’s a good chance it will facilitate her ability to give herself permission to navigate a season of life after loss in a way the best suits her needs, without feeling guilty about it.
Permission to grieve.
While a subsequent pregnancy is cause for celebration, remember that this pregnancy is directly related to the loss of one, which means grief and gratitude are intertwined. Give your loved one permission to grieve during a season focused solely on gratitude and joy. Trust me, she’s grateful for the life growing within her, but that doesn’t erase the grief she feels for the baby who died. She is allowed to feel both. Treat her with compassion and understand that there is no timeline for grief, even when life seems good.
Permission to celebrate the lives of all her children.
While you and the mom pregnant after loss discuss all things new baby, give her permission to talk about the baby who died too. Remember that even though that baby existed for a short time, a child’s life is always precious to its mother. If she wants to celebrate the life of her baby who died, encourage her to do so. Allow her to light a candle, hang an ornament, or purchase a toy in her child’s name without judgment. You might also consider joining her in such activities if she is comfortable with it.
Permission to refrain from discussing her current pregnancy.
When a woman is expecting a baby, all things pregnancy related tend to be hot discussion points. People love talking about new babies. There are endless questions to ask the mom who’s pregnant after loss such as: Is the nursery ready? Are you having a baby shower? Do you have a name picked out? Are you going to find out the baby’s sex? And the inevitable question that might be the hardest for the mom who’s pregnant after loss to answer—Are you excited? There’s a good chance she’s not as excited about her pregnancy as others expect her to be. With a history of loss, she might be more scared than excited. And it might simply be too difficult to discuss a pregnancy that might end in loss. If she doesn’t want to talk about it, accept that and move on. If she seems uncomfortable discussing it, change the subject.
Permission to feel all the complicated feelings.
The truth is, the mom who is pregnant after loss probably is excited. At least on some level. But with a history of loss, her feelings surrounding another pregnancy are complicated. It’s likely that she’s suffering from PTSD, whether diagnosed or not, because the experience of pregnancy loss can be incredibly traumatic. She probably has vivid memories of the details of her loss and is afraid it will happen again. Now that she knows firsthand that pregnancy doesn’t always result in bringing a baby home, the uncertainty can cause paralyzing bouts of anxiety. She might be uncomfortable acknowledging the baby she is carrying because she’s afraid to get attached to a baby who might die. And remember, she’s still grieving the baby who did die. Go easy on her and validate whatever she is feeling, regardless of how you think she should feel.
Permission to stay home.
There never seems to be a shortage of holiday events to attend; family gatherings, work parties, and children’s programs, to name a few. While it’s wonderful to celebrate the holidays with family and friends, such things are full of potential triggers. New babies. Children around the age that a loss mom’s deceased baby should be. Blissfully happy pregnant women who haven’t experienced loss. Memories of being pregnant during the previous holiday season. And the list goes on. The bottom line is, holiday gatherings can be difficult for expectant mothers who are also grieving. If her pregnancy is noticeable, she might not be ready to show off her bump to crowds of people—and she might not be up for the awkward conversations that can sometimes occur in such situations such as discussion around how many children she has or if she’s ready for the pregnancy to be over already. If your loved one needs to stay in and rest her weary heart, let her know that it’s okay to do so. Assure her that there is no pressure to attend anything she doesn’t feel comfortable with.
Holidays can be heavy for a mom who’s pregnant after loss, but if you can support her in taking care of her heart and mind, you’ll no doubt help to lighten her load. Giving her permission to take care of herself might just be the best gift you can give.