“Even those that never fully blossom bring beauty into the world.” – Author Unknown
My precious infant niece, Ava Joyce, was with us for two days in 2017. My sister went to the hospital at 27 weeks of pregnancy due to complications with preeclampsia. When they went to do an ultrasound to check on Ava, there was no heartbeat initially. They checked again and found a faint one.The doctor immediately rushed my sister into an emergency C-section. Ava had gotten wrapped in the cord. They resuscitated Ava, and we all held on to the hope that it wasn’t too late. We spent two days anxiously waiting and praying that her brain would begin to respond.
I’ll never forget the memories of her in the NICU, with so many cords and tubes. She was two pounds of tiny perfection, with the smallest but most perfectly formed hands and feet you could imagine. But in the end, modern medicine couldn’t make up for the extended period of time she had gone without oxygen. She died on a Monday afternoon in October in my sister’s arms.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. There are thousands of babies that die each day in the United States alone. Most often, women lose their babies before they know they are pregnant or in the weeks that follow in the first trimester. This is a widespread, yet hidden form of loss and grief. But it is never not devastating to have an imagined future taken away suddenly.
Each person grieves differently, especially in the case of a lost baby. There is no right way to experience this grief, but it is important to acknowledge that grieving over a lost baby can be just as difficult as other forms of grief.
It can be really difficult to know how to grieve someone you have never gotten to meet or hold, or, for those who have lost infants due to SIDS or other health issues, a baby you have never really had a chance to know. There are not funny memories to share, possibly no pictures to look at. With miscarriages, there is no funeral or celebration of life.
Pregnancy and infant loss can be a lonely kind of grief, one that is indescribable to others, but it is important to grieve it all the same.
Did you know?
70 babies will be stillborn today.
1 in 160 pregnancies will end in stillbirth.
1 in 4 women will lose a baby during pregnancy, delivery, or infancy.
Twenty-five percent? That is high. Excruciatingly high, and it does not seem that abortions are included, which means the number is even higher. Chances are, you know at least one person, if not many, who know this loss. These numbers are heartbreaking, to say the least. In recent years, it seems that people are beginning to share their stories more often about the loss of a child, but many never share with another.
The Experience of Infant Loss
Pregnancy and infant loss can evoke a complicated web of emotions that is not easily detangled. There are ebbs and flows, sometimes a tug-of-war between doubt in God or one’s ability to conceive, fear one may never conceive again, fear of losing another baby, anger with God, a sense of “I did not deserve this”,, pride, humility, faith, trust, depression, anxiety, etc.
The emotions are ever-changing and tangled up. It is often very difficult to sort and work through them. There may be some confusion along with the grief and numbness, too. You may feel like you have a shattered heart or like a piece of you is gone. There is a physical ache in your chest and arms as you long to hold and cuddle that precious life.
The shame that often comes alongside this loss can be isolating, and the emotions that arise feel too complicated to invite another into at times. You may feel shame because you feel like it was your fault, like your body does not work correctly, or that you must have done something wrong. Many blame themselves.
The experience is different for every person (male and female) who have lived through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss. A constant that remains is a realization that you are grieving, and you are asking a lot of “why” questions that may never be answered.
This loss can be light, from which some can move on fairly easily. This loss can be heavy and dark, bringing a sense of hopelessness and even can lead to anxiety and depression, maybe even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder if the loss was traumatic.
If you are stuck in this grief and have not been able to move on, it may be helpful to consider asking yourself some questions. If these questions feel too hard for you to process on your own, it may be wise to seek professional counseling to be able to work through the pain of your loss.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- How has your loss affected you?
- What have you done to process your feelings?
- What thoughts continually have gone through your mind?
- Have you been able to feel joy again?
- Have you been able to share it with someone?
- How were they helpful or hurtful to you?
What if you took a chance and shared your loss with another? What if that vulnerability could lead to your own healing or someone else’s healing? It is scary to share this experience for some who are grieving because it has been the cultural norm to grieve quietly and privately in these losses. However, it can be a healing experience to share your story of loss with another, for both you and the person with whom you share the story
So often, in pregnancy and infancy loss, well-meaning people may attempt to make you feel better, but may actually make the situation worse. These people could be doctors, nurses, family members, and friends. Below are some examples of things to NOT say to someone after miscarriage, stillbirth, or SIDS (and other illnesses).
What NOT to say to someone who recently experienced pregnancy or infant loss:
- “At least it did not happen later in pregnancy or when your child was older.”
- “Miscarriage is so common! You will have another one in God’s time.”
- “At least it was not a baby yet.”
- “There was probably something wrong with it, so it is a blessing that it did not survive.”
- “Maybe it was God’s will.”
- “Oh, I had seven miscarriages before I finally got my first child.”
- “I wonder if you were drinking too much caffeine or exercising too much. Those things are too hard on the baby.”
- “If you were watching more carefully, your baby would not have died.”
- “This is just how God designed the body – to get rid of the things that are not viable.”
- “It is all in God’s timing.”
- “Maybe it is because you have been lifting your other child too often.”
Helpful statements to say when someone has lost a baby:
- “How can I pray for you?”
- “I am sorry for your loss.”
- “Can I bring you a meal?”
- “Tell me about what you are going through.”
- “You are not alone.”
- “May God bring you comfort and strength through this loss.”
- “How can I serve you?”
- “It’s not your fault.”
Helpful things to do if you know someone who has lost a baby:
- Visit her at home (but call first).
- If applicable, ask if you can help with her other children.
- Bring her a meal.
- Offer to help clean her house.
- Allow her to be sad around you without feeling like you need to give her advice in her grief.
- Always refer to her loss as a baby, not an “i
- Pray for her, and tell her when you do.
- Invite her out.
- Tell her what God has been doing in your life.
- Allow her to “do nothing” or “say nothing” in your presence.
- Remember her due date and Mother’s Day and send a card or encouraging text.
- Send flowers and a card.
If you are grieving or know someone who is, know that this grief is a lonely grief. If you are the one suffering the loss, know that it is good to reach out to a close few and ask them to pray for you and/or accept their attempts to help comfort you.
If you know someone who is grieving this loss, check on her. Ask her how she is doing. Bring her a meal, and make your space safe for her just to be, to feel, to say whatever she needs to. In those moments of genuine connection, healing begins.
If you are mourning the loss of a baby, and you are not able to move through it without a professional counselor, seek help immediately. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to know when you need help and to seek it out.
“Memorial Stone”, Courtesy of DisappearingDiamonds, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Tombstone”, Courtesy of Veit Hammer, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Grief”, Courtesy of Masha Raymers, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Candlelight”, Courtesy of Mike Labrum, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact one of our counselors for further information.