02 Nov Pregnancy and Infancy Loss: How Will I Get Through This?
I would like to start off by expressing how sorry I am about your loss and write this blog with the best and most sincere intentions as you begin your journey to heal. Words cannot describe this feeling and I in no way plan to find those words as this is a unique experience for each individual. The bonding between parent and child begins within seconds of learning about the pregnancy. It is a powerful and life-changing moment. The loss of a pregnancy and infant is an unexplainable experience that no parent should face. This is an invisible pain that a parent endures as they are navigating a very complex wave of emotions. One may wonder “How Will I Get Through This?” Healing and taking time to grieve is of the utmost importance during this challenging time. With this said, finding the support that you need and that feels right for you is crucial.
October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. This is a month dedicated to honoring those who have experienced a loss during pregnancy or infancy. President Reagan stated on October 25th, 1988,
“When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them.”
October is dedicated to honoring parents who are grieving a loss; however, the grieving process does not stop there. This blog provides background information on the stages of grief and the importance of finding support that feels right for you.
Stages of Grief
According to an article from the American Pregnancy Association, the grieving process steps include: Shock/Denial, Anger/Guilt, Depression, Acceptance.
It is important to acknowledge that there are many feelings and emotions that come with a loss. Below is a brief summary of the stages of grief originally developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
I would like to note that this is merely a summary, not a step-by-step guide on how to grieve. It provides an outline of where the complex feelings of emotions may fall. Grief is a unique experience that takes time and patience to heal according to each individual. There may be many more emotions associated with a pregnancy and infancy loss such as anxiety and yearning.
Denial is often accompanied by the shock which is the response to a loss represented as a defense mechanism serving to protect and numb us from our emotions. This feeling surfaces as one is experiencing a whirlwind of thoughts and reactions. Our minds lead us to think “How Will I Get Through This?” Our unconscious mind is serving to initially protect us as we start the process of healing.
The pain associated with this experience may forcefully emerge as one is naturally trying to process a wide range of emotions. This is a natural and human feeling. It is important to recognize that it is okay to feel angry. Guilt may surface as the mind is attempting to control the painful experience. One may question if the loss was their fault. It is important to recognize that the loss is not in any way your fault. Furthermore, guilt can be a harmful emotion with its roots intended to seek control in uncertain times.
Research has indicated that anxiety and depression are often accompanied by the unexpected loss of a pregnancy and infant. Depression is represented as a feeling of sadness while the conscious and unconscious mind is working on understanding the separation experienced from a loss. Anxiety comes along as a way to create emotional distress about the experience and uncertainty about the future.
This is a stage where one is able to view the experience outside of anger and depression. When it comes to the stage of acceptance, some may choose to view this as an adjustment rather than acceptance as this loss can be difficult for one to ‘accept.’
Finding Support For Grief
There is no time frame for healing after a loss. It is a unique and individualistic experience. Additionally, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve. Moreover, finding support and resources is important. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), women still face a stigma of shame when it comes to pregnancy loss. As a result, they are discouraged from sharing their experience which leads to isolation and separation.
The WHO continues to discuss that this pain is unacceptable and encourages providers to follow guidelines around care that incorporate respect and empathy. Utilizing support and practicing self-care is detrimental as you begin your journey to heal as our difficult emotions can feel like a never-ending wave.
Learn more about self-care from our article: How to Practice Self-Care While Riding the Waves of Difficult Feelings
Support Groups/Therapy Groups
When one feels isolated and alone, symptoms of depression and anxiety tend to increase. Support groups and therapy groups are meant to provide a place to heal with those who also may share a similar experience. According to Postpartum Support International, the main differences between support groups and therapy groups include:
- The facilitator guides the group and intervenes when necessary
- Participants support each other and give feedback when requested creating a judgment-free space
- It is confidential
- It is open to new members
- The facilitator is a mental health professional or healthcare provider
- The group dynamics and the therapeutic process is the focus in this setting
- It is closed for specific times/period
- It is confidential
Groups can serve as a place to process your experience while you at the same time are also supporting others. When finding a support group that works for you, read about the support group’s mission and purpose through their websites. Postpartum Support International, (PSI), follows the belief that social support provides a setting that allows women to learn and understand that it is not their fault and through informed help, they will get better. Additionally, PSI discusses that utilizing social support is vital when assuring the mental health of women, men, children, and families during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
Additionally, talking to a representative or staff beforehand is also a way to help you determine if this is the right place for you. It is okay to try a group and decide later if this will be a long-term resource for you. Giving it multiple chances can help you in determining the best decision for you.
Seeking support from a therapist is a beneficial way to safely process your feelings and emotions. The focus is on you and your experience. Working with a therapist that you trust and feel comfortable with is crucial when choosing this route. Be sure to research the therapist’s background and experience to see if it best supports you. You can schedule a consultation before you begin therapy to ask the therapist further questions. Please contact us if you are interested in scheduling an appointment or consultation with one of our expert staff.
Wrapping one’s mind around this experience is often too difficult of a venture. Finding support that fits you is important, whether that includes social support, groups and/or individual counseling. Lastly, I would like to emphasize the importance of allowing yourself the time and patience to heal, because you are deserving of this yourself.
Resources provided by PSI:
Jeanine is a Licensed Professional Counselor who earned her Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Northeastern Illinois University. She also earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Jeanine has been working with children, teens, young adults, adults, and their families in a variety of settings, such as private practice, therapeutic day schools, and residential settings since 2015.