Stillbirth and the Grief ProcessAuthor: JD Hoopes
Losing a child due to stillbirth is a very tragic experience for parents. This child was as much alive to them as any living child walking the earth. The Mother felt the infant grow in her womb, move, kick, and become the love of her life before she ever laid eyes on her child. The Father daydreamed and planned for its future and waited in anticipation to hold it in his arms and protect it. The excruciating pain parents feel when their baby is stillborn is unspeakable.
At some point, after the shock of being in this horrible situation wears off, parents must deal with their grief. Each parent will grieve in their own unique way, but still go through a process of grieving at their own pace.
The way you see the world will never be the same. This tragic experience will change you and drive your life down an unexpected path. Eventually you will feel "normal" again. After the pain subsides a bit and the grieving process has taken its course, your life will be shaped into a new kind of "normal." You will be lead back to finding your sense of self again, reshaped by your experience.
During the grief process, there are many ways to find the support you need. Many families join an infant or pregnancy loss support group. In a group like this you have the opportunity to talk with others who are going through a similar experience. A group leader may have advice and counsel to give during the meetings. If nothing else, these groups help parents to feel less alone in their grief. Other parents prefer to seek professional help from a therapist. Some couples go together and some go separately. Sometimes only one spouse feels the need for therapy. It is important to support your spouse in all their needs and to recognize that they may grieve differently than you and therefore their needs are different in during the grief process.
There are many common reactions that you may or may not experience during your grieving process. You may feel lonely even when surrounded by friends and family. You may be irritable or angry and not fully understand why. As parents you may feel guilt or feel responsible for the stillbirth, even though this is not your fault. You may feel an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, especially since your child's birth did not happen the way you wanted it to. Losses of appetite and sleep disturbances are also common reactions. You may have difficulty concentrating on anything or remembering information as your mind is preoccupied with thoughts related to your loss. Some parents find themselves with a great need to talk about their child and what happened. The list goes on. Just remember, whatever your reaction, it is all a part of your unique grieving process.
The grieving process is a four step journey. Each step will take different amounts of time for each parent. First, you will probably experience shock and denial. You may feel like you are in a "Twilight Zone" of sorts and that the loss of your child is not really happening. If the Mother has been very healthy through the pregnancy, she may be in shock and disbelief that this could ever happen to her. Second, you may feel anger and guilt; anger for this unfair thing that happened and guilt if the anger is turned inward at yourself. Third, you will feel intense sadness and depression. You may not have the energy to get out of bed in the mornings or even participate in society. You may spend most of your time crying. Fourth, you begin to feel some sort of acceptance for your loss and hope for the future. This does not mean forgetting, but accepting the loss of your child as a part of your life. Then, you will be able to move forward with hope for the future.
When coping with the loss of your child to stillbirth, there are many ways to ease the grieving process. Make sure to choose carefully whom you share your feelings with. For instance, only seek comfort in those who are willing and able to give comfort back. Also, don't make social calls that you are not ready to make, especially in regards to baby showers, new birthdays, or even children's events. Be straight forward with family and friends whose comforting does not work for you. Be polite and tell them that what they have to say does not help you. Also, men and women typically grieve differently and you may not be emotionally available for each other. Try and find other sources for emotional support when you need it. Take extra good care of yourself. This can be especially difficult when going through depression or sadness in the grieving process. Try your best to eat well, be dressed, and get some exercise.
Keeping mementos of your baby is a great comfort to many parents. Believe it or not, this concept is fairly new. The baby boomer generation experienced stillbirth at a hospital very differently than we do now. Thirty years ago, stillborn babies were quickly whisked away without letting the mother hold her baby or properly say goodbye. Now, most hospitals encourage the parents to take pictures when possible, hold their child, and properly say goodbye. A lot of the time support groups will be notified by the hospital, with the parents' permission, and come to put together a beautiful box of mementos. Sometimes they take moldings of your baby's hands and feet, they dress your baby in beautiful clothes and blankets, and they take pictures that you can cherish forever. Having such mementos seems to help parents cope better.
Going through the grief process is hard work and can be exhausting. Healing will occur in time. Find what comfort you can in your spouse or closest family member if you are a single parent. In a crisis like the loss of a child, communication is paramount. Do not let it tear your family apart. Let it naturally bring you closer.
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