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Coping with losing a baby

Coping with losing a baby
A shocking one in four babies is lost in pregnancy or during birth. Kerri Virani looks at the secret and lonely world of baby loss.

How do you cope with the pain of losing a much-wanted baby, especially when the people around you don’t always seem to know what to say? If you’re in this situation, you’re not on your own, there are many couples out there suffering with the pain of losing a baby. I know how this feels as it’s happened to me and my husband – we have never experienced emotional pain like it.

Coping with the aftermath of losing a baby

When you lose a baby there is a physical and emotional aftermath. Some women have to go through labour knowing their baby has died, some women’s milk will come in and they may be bleeding for weeks, all of which is painful and uncomfortable. The emotional scars take much longer to heal, however. Whatever stage you lose your baby at, the loss of a much-wanted pregnancy is catastrophic.

I have never felt such raging grief as when we lost our baby, it was very hard to cope and I felt like I was on the edge of collapsing.

Looking back I don’t know how I carried on, my emotions would swing and I felt alienated from most people. This raw pain went on for months, gradually the grief ebbed and flowed and I started to have more good days than bad. We were offered counselling by the hospital and this really helped us to come to terms with our situation and communicate about how we were feeling.

Baby loss as a taboo

Baby loss is a taboo subject – across all cultures and races – many people don’t like to talk about it and can appear dismissive and insensitive. What people don’t always realise is that to you, however far along you were, your baby was a very real person who you had hopes and dreams for.

When we lost our baby we were fortunate to have a lot of support, also my husband really looked after me and supported me, even when he was finding things difficult himself. But we were also stunned by the insensitive things some people said and by the people who ignored our loss.

This stigma adds layers of anger to the shock and grief you are already experiencing and can make you feel alienated and lonely as a couple. It can be hard to find an outlet for these complex emotions. This is when counselling, online forums or support groups can really help, so make sure to take advantage of any support you can.

Men and baby loss

The two sexes tend to grieve the loss of a baby differently. Men often find it easier to be practical and supportive; they may feel that they have to be the strong one as they have not only lost a baby but are watching their partner suffer physically and emotionally.

This can sometimes make the woman feel like the man is less upset than her. The woman has carried the baby, gone through the morning sickness and the physical aspects of the loss which means their experience is different to the man’s.

It is important to remember that the man has also lost his child, even though he may express his grief differently – a very important thing we learned is to keep talking about how you both feel.

Anniversaries

Anniversaries are difficult, especially your due date and the dates of your baby’s loss and funeral. Special times like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas can also trigger off your grief. We always plan something for a special date, whether that’s lighting a candle, visiting the baby garden where our baby’s ashes were scattered or hanging a bauble with his name on our Christmas tree.

Give yourself time

It will take a long time to come to terms with your loss. The pain will never go away but in time you will learn to live alongside the loss of your baby. Try to accept help and support and keep talking about how you are feeling. Remind yourself how well you are doing – it will take a long time to mourn your child. Many people call life after baby loss ‘the new normal’.

For friends and family:

If a loved one has lost a baby, you may not know what to say. You could start by:

  • Acknowledging their loss. If you don’t know what to say tell them: ‘I am so sorry to hear about your loss, I don’t know the right words to say, but I am here for you.’ Let them know you are happy to talk about their baby.
  • Ask whether they named their baby – bereaved parents very rarely hear their baby’s name spoken.
  • You could ask whether they would like to show you a photo of their baby – many parents who have lost a baby later on in the pregnancy will be able to cuddle and dress their baby and may cherish the opportunity to show someone a photograph. If their loss was early, maybe they have a scan photo they could show you. A photo of a baby who has died is usually not too different to a photo of a sleeping baby and they will probably be wrapped in a blanket.
  • Things to avoid saying: ‘At least you know you can get pregnant’, ‘You will have another’, ‘At least it was early in the pregnancy’, ‘It was God’s will’, ‘Shouldn’t you be over it by now’ or ‘It wasn’t meant to be’. The parents wanted this baby and loved it however far along the pregnancy. In their grief, even the thought of another baby won’t comfort them.

Support

Tommys
SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity)
Miscarriage Association
Arc (Antenatal Results and Choices

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Kerri has worked as a Health Trainer at Terrence Higgins Trust and is now their editor. She is particularly interested in the advances being made in HIV treatment and prevention. She also loves football, knitting and baking.

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