Grief After Loss
Sharing Personal Stories
Jane got pregnant that summer with her first child. She was surrounded by her many pregnant friends, coworkers and neighbors. Together, they supported each other at pregnancy fitness courses and sent around envelopes filled with magazine clippings containing invaluable pregnancy articles. Adrian, Jane's husband, looked forward to the birth of their child and at night, they discussed the hopes and expectations they held for their growing baby.
It was a warm summer and Jane felt nauseous and exhausted. This was compounded by the discomforts of the long, hot summer nights. She endured those slight discomforts because she recognized that they signaled the bundle of joy that would arrive in a few months. She looked after herself and shared in the happiness that the news of her pregnancy had brought in her friends and family.
Jane made a prenatal care appointment and Adrian took time from work to accompany her. At an ultrasound in her 12th week of pregnancy, she heard the words that changed everything. Jane was told there was no fetal heartbeat, that there was no sound coming from her womb. She would remember that moment for a long time to come.
The Difficulties of Loss
Losing a child can be devastating for a couple. The grief you experience after miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth, pregnancy termination or neonatal death is different from any other kind of grief, and each couple will grieve differently. Grief after loss is not a sign of weakness or fault; it is normal to feel sadness. It is usual to notice yourself withdrawing or feeling moody, to experience difficulty sleeping and concentrating and to feel grief for weeks or months afterward.
Each loss story is different. While some women miscarry early in their pregnancy, other women will have a second trimester miscarriage. Pregnancy loss at 28 weeks or after is considered a stillbirth. This loss can be especially painful, as a second trimester pregnancy loss (after 20 weeks) requires the woman to deliver the dead or aborted fetus.
There are certain factors that can make loss especially hard to deal with. In cases such as Jane's, it is hard to imagine facing pregnant friends after your loss. If they complain about pregnancy discomforts, you'll feel the unfairness of your own lost opportunity. If they keep mum about their pregnancies, you may feel that you're the reason behind this silence and awkwardness. Sometimes, you'll feel like there's no winning. This is a sign that you need to deal with the pain you are feeling. While the dynamics behind mourning and coping are different for each couple, there are coping methods that work better than others.
How do you cope emotionally with your loss? The answer is different for each woman, but the key lies in not suppressing the emotions you are feeling. Instead, work through these emotions as this exploration will help you better deal with your sadness.
How Your Partner Can Help You
It's likely that your partner is sharing your sadness. Make open communication with him about your thoughts and emotions as well as what steps you can take together to get over the pain. Coordinate time off work so that you can spend time together.
Men Grieving Perinatal Loss
Oftentimes, men may not show the depth of sadness they feel. It is thought that men may find it more difficult to express their emotions of grief. A man will often turn to work in order to avoid thinking of the sad event. They will often feel powerless and helpless in the face of this experience. A partner should be sensitive to this and offer an open environment for discussion. Neglected grief can rankle until it becomes a greater problem. Because they deal with pain in isolation, a man's grief may often be misinterpreted as unsympathetic or distant. This can cause problems for a woman who wants to seek comfort in her partner. Let your partner know the importance of sharing his feelings.
Talking to Your Friends
Beat the urge to withdraw from social company and rely on the support of your friends. Talk to people - you'll be surprised how many people will share their own stories of miscarriage. Realizing that other people have experienced these same emotions and finding out how they've dealt with their pain can help you.
It's important to articulate the pain and emotions you are feeling. Understanding your current state will enable your friends to help you through this tough time.
Also, let your friends know how you want the topic of pregnancy or pregnancy loss to be dealt with in the future; setting some loose rules on the topic can help you feel comfortable if the subject arises. For example, some women may feel more uncomfortable if women guardedly avoid the topic in their presence; if this is the case, let your friends know it's fine to talk about it.
Don't Blame Yourself
Remember that miscarriages are fairly common and so a miscarriage won't mean that you did something wrong or that you're at fault. In fact, during the first two weeks of pregnancy, the likelihood of miscarriage is 75%. However, these miscarriages occur before the woman is aware of her pregnancy, and thus aren't grieved. The likelihood drops to 10% between the third and sixth week of pregnancy, and down to 5% between the sixth and 12th week.
A miscarriage does not mean that your next pregnancy will be problematic. In fact, most women are able to have a successful pregnancy subsequent to miscarrying.
Get Time Off From Work
It's important to spend time away from extra pressures that could aggravate your emotions. Take it easy for a while, even after going back to work.
There are two ways of looking back at a devastating experience. Ruminating on the experience or reflecting upon it. It has been shown in psychological studies that there is a huge difference in how these two coping strategies work to make you feel better.
Ruminating is characterized by frequent recurring thoughts that spring into your mind; you cannot control whether these thoughts occur or not. When they do appear, they are negative and brooding. Rumination is an unconstructive coping strategy.
Reflection, on the other hand, is the healthy and willed contemplation of the upsetting event. Engaging in reflection will help keep ruminating thoughts away and will ease your pain.
The way you cope with your pain shapes who you are as a person. A journal will help you reflect on your loss and the consequent emotions. Research shows that individuals affected by loss who write in their journals are quicker to recover from their sadness.
The old adage "time heals all" really is accurate. It might be best then to buy a journal that has marked the days, so that you can consider each page flipped over as getting nearer the day of recovery. Don't feel pressured to write in it everyday, but do write honestly about your sorrow, feelings and about your future plans and dreams. Try to imagine what will be happening in your life a year to the day from now. Remember that while time heals all, the way you deal with your pain will ultimately dictate how well you have healed.
It's not just the mother and father who were involved in the pregnancy, as there is also the memory of the baby. A parent needs to deal with the loss of that baby to help heal the pain. There are many ways to remember the death of a child due to miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. Many parents plant memorial gardens in honor of their lost child. There are also many websites devoted to the farewells of mourning mothers and fathers.
How Does Jane's Story End?
Miscarriage came as a blow to Jane. The moment her doctor said the words "there's no fetal heartbeat," Jane's own heart was broken. It was difficult at first to express to her friends and family the countless emotions that held her down. As the days slowly wore on, she was able to sort through her feelings and began visiting with friends again. She became more capable of dealing with the hurt, anger, guilt, sadness and anxiety that plagued her following her loss.
Adrian brought up the question of a subsequent pregnancy. Although they planned to wait until they were ready, a few months later, a home pregnancy-test confirmed the welcomed news: they were pregnant again.
Jane felt a jumble of feelings upon hearing the news. She was overwhelmed with joy, but anxious at the same time of another miscarriage. Because she was worried about the impact of her anxiety on her child, she met with geneticists and took their assurance of her baby's health to heart. Jane went on to deliver a healthy baby girl.
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