Experiencing a baby loss has got to be one of the hardest life events any parent can experience.
There is no monopoly on grief, there is no sliding scale. No matter what stage a baby comes in to existence, whether a few weeks in to a pregnancy or following birth, every baby matters.
How we cope with the loss of a baby is a very individual and personal response and can be a combination of both physical and emotional. For most parents it is an extremely emotionally intense time, and we can feel overwhelmed by grief, which can be quite frightening. It can lead to developing a thought that you will never feel “normal” again.
Grief is very natural, albeit painful, and is a recognised part of the healing and recovery process. The stages of grief are relatively well known; Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. As individuals we all experience each stage differently and in a different order, very often fluctuating between stages. There is no one right way to grieve, and even at times it might surprise you.
Many of the mums who have shared their stories with me would also add guilt in to the emotional turmoil. They often feel that they were somehow to blame; that the loss of their baby is her fault. Their role as a mum has come into question, and for many their identity too. Society often expects women to become successfully pregnant and birth a healthy baby, and some women may feel that their body has failed them. As mentioned above, there are a whole range of emotions that a person could feel, these could be:
* Sad and tearful – perhaps suddenly bursting into tears without any obvious trigger
* Shocked and confused – especially if there were no signs that anything was wrong
* Numb – you don’t seem to have any feelings at all
* Angry – at fate, at hospital staff, or at others’ pregnancy announcements
* Jealous – especially when seeing other pregnant women and babies
* Lonely – especially if there is a feeling that others don’t understand.
* Panicky and out of control – feeling unable to cope with everyday life.
But emotional responses aren’t the only reaction that some individuals may have, mum might experience a physical response too. This could be feeling that you can hear the sound of a baby cry or seeing things which can’t be explained. They could still feel the baby kicking and wriggling around, placing their hands on their bump, and hoping that the doctors have got it all wrong. There could be a physical ache in their arms; with the weight of emptiness of no baby.
Biologically, in women, grief will also be combined by the natural mood changes caused by the dropping hormone levels after having a baby. These hormonal changes, which previously changed to sustain the pregnancy, will lead to emotional and physical changes which can be a painful reinforcement of baby loss.
Dads are often forgotten in baby loss. They will hurt too but feel a sense of duty to remain strong and to take on a protective role. Talking to a Dad recently, I was told that, they didn’t want to share their emotions with their partner because they were worried that it might upset them. They bury and suppress their grief emotions; it’s so important to remember that Dads grieve too.
As a midwife I have had the privilege of being with parents, to share the earth shattering news that their baby has died and supporting them during the birthing process. It is an emotionally intimate and distressing time, but I consider myself very lucky to have been allowed to be part of a grieving parents journey.