October is Perinatal Loss Awareness Month. PrairieCare would like to shed light on this very complicated form of loss and let families know that there is help, hope and healing available.
A Perinatal loss can be one of the most traumatic experiences that a family can go through. It can be met with mixed and confusing feelings and often loved ones have no clue what to say or how to be supportive when this loss occurs. Our goal as providers this October is to validate the loss that families go through as well as educate loved ones in how to best support grieving families during such a difficult time.
In our society, we have a tendency to create a hierarchy for grief. We tend to behave as if a pregnancy lost prior to 12 weeks should not be difficult for a couple, however, the reality is that no matter when the loss of a child occurs, it can be a very devastating experience. We tend to behave as if a pregnancy loss is not as severe as a stillbirth or neonatal loss. All loss is significant! Creating a hierarchy can be invalidating and create shame.
The loss encompasses the hopes, dreams and visions that the parent(s) (and other family members) had for this child. Often times, from the moment a pregnancy is confirmed, you begin to envision the future with this child as well as what the child’s life will be like. When the loss occurs, you also mourn the loss of the hopes, dreams and visions. It is as if you lost the life that you already experienced in your heart and mind for the future.
Loss can also lead to vulnerability in which families are required to accept death as a part of our existence when this is a topic that we typically avoid. It is even more compounded when the death of a pregnancy/infant occurs and forces us to accept that we could outlive our children. The gravity of this reality can be difficult to maneuver and work through.
Vulnerability can also occur due to loss of identity or sense of self. Many who go through Perinatal Loss have to realign and rediscover who they are after this experience. This is now a part of their story, a part of their story that they did not foresee having to write. We have a natural tendency to forgot or ignore trauma, but this is a trauma that most people want desperately to hold on to the memory of as it is all that they have left of the baby. The idea of “moving on” can feel unbearable, almost as if staying in the mourning is the only way to maintain the memory of those that they’ve lost.
There can also be differences in how individuals grieve. For mother, they can often feel like their body has failed them or that they did something to cause this. For the partner, they can feel complex loss as they experience their own emotions as well as take on or witness the emotions that their partner is going through. Both types of grief are equally important and valid. Both have experienced something they never prepared or hoped for, but now find themselves wading through.
Often times this loss is minimized or even not recognized by others. People may make statements that demean the existence of the baby in the parents eyes such as “You can try again”, “This was God’s plan”, “It wasn’t really a baby yet”, or “At least you didn’t have to give birth to it”. Often, statements that we mean to be reassuring can be invalidating or hurtful to such a complex trauma as Perinatal Loss. When addressing a person’s loss, be reflective in what this experience is for them and make statements that honor the loss as well as the baby because regardless of when the loss occurred, this was the loss of a child to the couple.
It is very important to remember that trauma is in the eye of the beholder, meaning that we each get to determine what is traumatic for us and to what degree the trauma is experienced. It is not fair to tell another individual how they should experience their trauma, how long they should grieve for, to what extent they should grieve, or to invalidate any emotion that they are experiencing.
Recently a well-known celebrity was shamed on social media for publicly addressing the loss of her baby during the second trimester. She chose to allow the public to be a part of her loss by posting pictures and walking the public through her loss step by step. She was shamed for capturing her pain in the moment through photos. It is important to remember that this is how this particular individual, who is used to sharing her life publicly and expected to share her life publicly, chose to deal with her loss. Stories like this on social media helps bring a topic of private and intense pain to light for other couples who may be suffering in silence. Celebrities have a voice that can bring attention to a difficult topic like loss to light and encourage others to reach out and speak up.
So what can you do when someone you love has experienced a Perinatal Loss:
- Offer them support by simply listening to their story. Ask if they would like to share their experience with the pregnancy or baby. Retelling of the story allows their brain to process the information and move it from stuck trauma to processed trauma. It also shows that the story matters to you, that their pregnancy/infant mattered to you, the story matters.
- Ask them how you can help. Sometimes people aren’t sure what they need but offer can feel safe and secure to them. Don’t make assumptions about what would be helpful.
- Ask if you can give them a hug. Ask if you could take care of any sort of errand or task for them to allow them the space and time to focus on their grief. Often times people do not know what they need so if you see that they have a lot going on or a lot of responsibilities that prevent them from having space to grieve, you can offer to take some of that for them. This is different than assuming what they need as you are asking to do a specific task for them.
- Help the individual find a way to honor the memory of the lost pregnancy/infant; create a memory book/journal, get a tattoo in memoriam, buy a piece of jewelry that represents the pregnancy/infant.
What can you do if you have experienced a Perinatal Loss:
Speak up! We know that the brain processes trauma more effectively the more you retell the story.
Reach out! Seek help from those that you love and trust. Seek help from trained professionals in the mental health field who can relate to the trauma that you have been through and know how to help you process and navigate through this experience.
Connect! Connect with other families or moms who have experienced a similar loss. There is something very therapeutic about being in the company of those who have shared experiences. Join an online support group or a local support group through your church of loss organizations.
Know that you are not alone!
Finding a way to honor your loss can be very healing and allow you an opportunity to hold on to the memory in your heart and mind but in a healthy way rather than through grief.
If you or someone you love is struggling with a Perinatal Loss, please contact PrairieCare’s Perinatal Clinic and we will connect you with one of our trained and compassionate providers who can help you. This type of loss can feel very confusing and it can be a very private and painful loss that can evoke symptoms of depression or anxiety.
You can also seek additional support through Pregnancy and Postpartum Support MN at https://ppsupportmn.org