Supporting Parents Through Pregnancy Loss

Posted by: bailey on March 15th, 2014

88079Close to one in four women experience pregnancy loss. From early pregnancy loss to newborn deaths, the sadness and grief that parents experience with pregnancy and child loss can be devastating.

Outside of the actual loss, one of the biggest challenges for parents who have lost a child can be having their grief diminished or not recognized as significant in comparison to the loss of an older child or adult. There is a common misconception that pregnancy loss is less traumatic than the loss of an older child or adult, as though a parent is not as attached to an unborn child. For many people, attachment to a child starts before the child is even conceived.

When parents are not supported in their grief, the grief can become trivialized. This can mean that parents do not feel they have the right to fully grieve the loss of their child due, partly, to lack of understanding. Grieving is an essential part of healing from the losses we experience.

“Grieving allows us to heal, to remember with love rather than pain,” says Rachel Remen, the founder and director of the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness. “It is a sorting process. One by one you let go of things that are gone and you mourn them. One by one you take hold of the things that have become part of who you are and build again.” Social support gives a space for the grief. Often this support allows a person to work through their grief, thereby facilitating the healing process.

We can support those struggling with a loss, helping them to feel understood and, in turn, facilitating their grieving.

First, respect parents’ wishes regarding whether or not they want to talk about the loss. Parents often want to express their thoughts and feelings, but are unsure about how people will react. Be a good listener. Each pregnancy and child is unique and special. Parents have often named their child and have a lot to say about their experience. They have often gotten to know their pregnancy and child in certain ways. Listening to or asking about these special things can be helpful. If you do not know what to say or have feelings of sadness for the parents, it can help to let them know.

If parents do not want to discuss the loss, respect their boundaries. Talking about the loss will be emotional. Parents have wisdom about when it is appropriate for them to open up. Sometimes they’ll prefer not to discuss their loss because they feel it is a private matter. Following their lead lets them know that you care and are there if they choose to open up. It can be helpful to ask them what they need, although they might not yet know.

Remember that everyone’s experience with loss is different. Listen to the person’s unique story. Let the grieving person know that you have heard how they are feeling, and validate their feelings. This can make them feel understood. Some people may be dealing with intense emotions while others might have a “get on with life” approach.

When discussing the loss, it is important to remember that nothing you can say will change the outcome of the loss. This is difficult because many of us just want to make everything better. Saying “Sorry to hear about the loss” is often appreciated and may be the only thing you can do.

Finally, it can help to identify ways that parents might be supported in their grieving process. Outside of discussing the loss, parents have lots of other needs that can be supported. This may include preparing food, allowing time for rest, and providing love and care. Distraction from grieving may also be helpful at times. Other times, grieving parents may want you to support their process by being involved in a remembrance ceremony or funeral. One new resource for grieving parents is the Little Spirits Garden at Royal Oak Burial Park. Little Spirits is a space within the park where families and supporters can come to grieve pregnancy and child loss, or conduct memorial ceremonies.

It is sad when expecting parents experience the loss of a pregnancy, an awaited child, but we, as a community, can give care and understanding to these parents so that they can move through their grief to a place of love, healing and remembrance.

Vanessa Bailey is a Victoria nurse and counsellor who supports parents with reproductive health issues. She is passionate about the health and well-being of parents and families.

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