Pregnancy and Infant Loss- What Helps and What Hurts

By Jessica Martin-Weber
This post has been made possible by the generous partnership of Tula Baby Carriers, Ameda, Inc., and Earth Mama Angel Baby.

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The way we respond to someone’s grief and suffering usually is about making ourselves more comfortable even if the intent is to comfort them. The key to offering true support is empathy, and to cultivate empathy we must first listen and sit with the pain. It is only then that we can come to understand that caring isn’t about fixing but rather, comforting. There is no way to take the hurt away, we can only be there through the hurt.

October is Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month, a time set aside to educate on these issues. When that month ends, though, our awareness should continue as it does for those who carry the awareness of their loss(es) throughout the year. For those mourning loss, there is more than a month of processing their grief and while we may question our time and emotional bandwidth to be available, when someone we know and care for has journeyed the road of loss, we have an opportunity to make a difference and confirm that they and their loss matters.

Awareness is always just the first step, the second is action. To help us move our awareness into action, we are sharing what parents who have experienced loss say are the most and least helpful ways to act and respond to loss. You don’t have to have experienced similar loss to offer empathetic support and care, we’re all capable even if we’re unsure as to how.

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Understanding

In his book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, J. William Worden explains that miscarriage is seen as a socially negated loss, that for some to even view such a loss as death can bring on guilt. Devan McGuinness, Founder of perinatal loss support website, UnspokenGrief.com and a loss mother herself, on the impact that discovering a friend grieved their own loss saying it: “helped me process my grief by talking with someone who understood and I felt that my grief was more “normal” – meaning that I wasn’t overreacting in feeling such loss and sadness.”

The loss of an infant is also a taboo subject, the fear of causing pain leads to silence and often loneliness in the mourning process. Worden’s Grief Theory describes grief as a U shape. The mourning processes takes us down into deep part of the U, a place that can be lonely and it is better if we can make the journey with others. We have to resist the urge to build a shoddy rope bridge across to avoid going down through the grief. Such an action only disconnects us.

Kari Bundy, founder of the infant loss support organization, Mason’s Cause which offers empathetic grief support with other grieving parents as well as practical information such as how to plan a funeral, shares that she and her husband felt alone when their son Mason died of SIDS at 4 months old and finding practical informative support as well as the emotional space to mourn was overwhelming.

Melinda Olson, founder of BabyLossComfort.com and founder, owner of Earth Mama Angel Baby, labor and delivery nurse, mother and grandmother, has spent decades now supporting families through loss: “It’s hard to know what to say to someone who has lost a baby. Bodies can be healed, but as with all other major wounds,  a scar remains. The same is true for grief. We don’t try to take that pain away, but to hold her hand through it. It’s never easy, but it’s always an honor.” Melinda offers a concise list on what to say to grieving families here.

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What Helps – Remember Them

Jessica: Remember the child. Let the parents know you think of him or her. Trust me, you aren’t reminding them of their loss, it’s on their minds already anyway, but it’s nice to know someone else thinks of your child.

Leah: Don’t forget. Mark the date of loss on your calendar for years to come. What a glowing feeling it would bring me if just SOMEONE remembered my daughter’s birthday.

Kina: It really hurt that my hubby didn’t remember the due date or the date of the miscarriage. It made me feel like I was the only one who cared about my baby.

Tiffany: Speak my daughter’s name, it may bring a tear to my eye but you didn’t remind me she died. (I could never forget) but you saying her name means you remember she lived and that means the world to me. I fear the day when I’m long gone that her memory will be forgotten.

Vivian: Respect my ways of honoring and join me in them. Gifts are nice but your presence matters more.

Bridgette: I have a few friends who light a candle every year on my son’s birthday and send me a picture of their candle in his honor. It means more than I can say that others care for my son too.

 

Question, Wait, and Be Present – Don’t give advice, give availability

Tori: It meant the world when a friend came to sit with me/help take care of my son so I wouldn’t be alone while waiting out a miscarriage.

Anna: I really appreciated those who just listened. I needed to talk about it without any advice or words of comfort… There ARE no words of comfort.

Kara Glenn: Having friends and family check in, bring dinner, invite us over… all of these things make us feel loved, and keep us from feeling isolated.

Dykibra: My advice: ask people what they want. My mother was great and gave me the space I needed.

Dawnn: Helpful? Food. It’s the last thing I wanted to think about.

Amber: The best things was supportive hugs. Having someone call me daily to tell me they loved me.

Alyssa: The most helpful was my best friend helping with the details of planning my daughter’s funeral and understanding my anger about the investigation by the authorities. (SIDS usually requires an investigation.) She let me cry and vent whenever I needed to.

Marinas: It was helpful to hear that It’s okay to be angry right now. There’s nothing fair about your baby dying.

Samone: I lost two pregnancies at 20 weeks. What was not helpful was people saying that I was lucky because the baby would have been born with a deformity. Seriously, I just wish people had said that they were sorry.

“It’s hard to know what to say to someone who has lost a baby. Bodies can be healed, but as with all other major wounds, a scar remains. The same is true for grief. We don’t try to take that pain away, but to hold her hand through it. It’s never easy, but it’s always an honor.” 
~Melinda Olson

What Hurts

There’s no perfect way to support through such grief but there are ways that are hurtful that a little bit of awareness can help us avoid. Loss parents shared some things that are NOT helpful to say:

Sometimes it’s just not meant to be.

It must have been God’s plan.

At least you can have children/At least you already have a child(ren).

Oh yes I know how you feel, my friend had the same thing…

Well it was probably deformed.

You’re not the only person it happens to (because somehow that means I shouldn’t be upset).

Don’t dwell on it.

Charissa pointed out: I don’t need a distraction, telling me I need to keep busy so I was distracted made me feel like it was wrong for me to be sad.

Kara Glenn, mom and Tula Baby Carriers team member talked with me about the loss of her son, Oliver, her daughter’s twin, at 4 months old. You can read her powerful and moving story more in depth here (including loss after infertility). A true empath, Kara shared the conflicting range of emotions she experiences in grieving one child while being present with another. She’s very understanding of the struggle others face when trying to offer comfort.

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Kara’s twins, Avery and Oliver together before Oliver’s passing.

“I do know that people mean well. The death of a baby is a hard thing for people to talk about. It makes people say awkward things. I really try my best to shake it off when something rubs me the wrong way. I just don’t have the emotional capacity right now to focus on it.”

Still, she says, there are some statements that make it harder.

“When they say: ‘At least you have Avery.’ I know they mean well, but by saying that, it makes me feel that I’m not already thankful and grateful that I have my sweet baby girl. Like it’s not possible to both grieve and mourn the death of my precious four-month-old boy, and love his twin sister with every ounce of my being. Another comment that can be hurtful is when people say, ‘I don’t know how you are functioning, I’d be a mess.’ This automatically makes me feel guilty for functioning… for just surviving. Believe me, I don’t know how I’m doing it either. To assume that someone isn’t struggling just because you see them doing something normal like grocery shopping is just plain insensitive and hurtful. There are days when putting one foot in front of the other is the hardest thing in the world. On those days, you likely won’t see me. On those days, the groceries can wait.”

Whether you’ve experienced pregnancy or infant loss personally or want to be able to support others grieving their child, there is no expectation that comfort be offered perfectly. Trying means a lot and doing so with sensitivity and awareness makes a difference. Journey into the deepest part of the U with others by listening and empathizing as you go and you can be a part of making a difference. You don’t have to fix it, just offer comfort through it.

An extensive list of resources for information and support through infant and pregnancy loss a can be found here and for ideas to create pathways of remembrance, see here.

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Jessica Martin-Weber

Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and creator and author of the children’s book and community of What Love Tastes Like, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book.

 

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Paths of Remembrance That Honor Pregnancy and Infant Loss

By Jessica Martin-Weber

This post made possible by the support of My Baby’s Heartbeat Bear

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Content Note: infant and pregnancy loss discussed.


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Loss is profound and deep, that’s part of what makes it loss. The loss of a child amplifies that profound depth of pain in ways that are nearly tangible as loving as deeply as the extraordinary ordinary love a parent has for their children makes them vulnerable to extraordinary pain. Love is always a risk. A beautiful, breathtaking, agonizing risk. One worth taking, as terrifying as it is.

There is no balm for the rawness left after losing a child, no set of steps to follow to make things right again. Grief may have some known stages but each individual journey is unique and the path isn’t always clear. How one experiences grief and processes loss may look drastically different from another’s. The manner in which we move through grief and process loss isn’t a reflection of how real or deep our grief or our love is, it is a reflection of how we personally process, our personalities, and our needs. There isn’t right or wrong, good or bad, or more or less “real” ways to journey through such pain. It is all real and it is all personal. After 4 pregnancy losses, I have experienced how different it can be from one to the next.

Individual paths of remembrance may vary greatly. For some, the ways they remember will be internal with little external manifestation. For others, the external honoring helps center the internal grief, an extension of the love, joy, grief, and pain of their loss. What matters most is the significance to those for whom the memorials provide connection and comfort and while some would never visit such a memorial, others will find healing in something they can touch and see.

Throughout history people have intrinsically understood the need for memorials, external physical representations of the significant losses in our society be it through war, natural disaster, or other tragedy. We build memorials, commission sculptures, fashion fountains, mount plaques, and more to preserve the memory of and respect significant loss in our societies. These memorials provide connections, anchoring points not only for our grief but also for our collective memories, drawing our communities together reminding us not only of those lost but also the importance of having such connections in spite of the risk of great pain. Such memorials honor love and life as well those we’ve risked loving in this life.

So it is with personal loss. Without even realizing it we construct memorials for ourselves even on a psychological level. There is a reason we can feel the anniversary of a loved one’s death approaching without even checking the calendar, our bodies remember. For some creating a tangible expression can be a powerful step in healing, a sort of remembrance path to travel, not to get over their loss but rather to connect with it and embrace the significance. In embracing our emotions and very real loss we can fully grieve, releasing ourselves.

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7 Remembrance paths that honor pregnancy and infant loss

Naming. If your child’s name wasn’t already known to you, consider selecting a name to honor their life and connect you with them as a person. Having a name for the one you’re grieving connects us with the realness of our grief and with the personhood lost. Whether you choose to display and publicly share your child’s name or to keep it to yourself, your heart will hold the name close in comfort and the reality of your loss won’t go unnamed.

Sharing. Society’s discomfort with personal grief tends to silence those that speak of pregnancy and infant loss, it was years before I learned that I had a great aunt and great uncle twins that died in infancy because nobody ever spoke of them. When I asked my grandmother about it she told me nobody ever wanted to talk about them but she thought of them often, just kept her thoughts to herself. We sat together that afternoon and memorialized the relatives I never knew who held a special place in my grandma’s heart. Speaking of those we’ve lost is a powerful way to honor and remember them. Sharing our stories of loss connects us with others and comforts both those sharing and those receiving.

Images. With pregnancy and infant loss we may not have very may still images or video given the short time our children were with us but any images we do have or ones we create are not only a cathartic connecting point for us as their parents, these images can invite others to connect as well and celebrate the joy that was, honoring the pain that is. Sonograms, bump photos, pregnancy announcements, birth photos, whatever we do have may be  Be they kept in a private place or displayed in a special place in your home or a unique framing, the images of the children we have lost can give us a focal point in our grieving and remembering.

Audio. As with images, we may not have much by way of audio of the children gone too soon but the sounds of those we love are amongst the most difficult memories to hold onto. Any audio we do have, a recording of the first heartbeat doppler or ultrasound, the sounds of our own voices sharing our happy expecting news, first cries, newborn gurgles and coos, whatever it is we have, these sounds may be comforting evidence of the life of one we love. With today’s technology we can memorialize those precious sounds in special picture frames, card, or even a stuffed animal to hear whenever we need to.

Green and Growing. One of my dear friends lost a child she never got to hold other than in her womb. After a grueling delivery experience, she and her partner decided to plant a tree with a garden stone bearing their child’s name and the date as well as words that she had associated with the pregnancy up until the time of loss. That was 7 years ago. Today this beautiful tree has grown solid and tall, a climbing tree for the other children in the family and neighborhood. Under the tree planted in their child’s honor picnics, parties, life and love unfold regularly. “Riley’s Tree” has become a special connecting anchor not only for my friend but for their community, a beautiful tribute to Riley.

Rituals. Lighting a candle at certain times, touching a special stone, telling certain stories on certain dates, playing a specific song, and wearing certain articles give a sense of security much like the environmental ritual of seasons.

Personalized. During pregnancy I select an animal for my baby. Everything I purchase and make for them with that animal is theirs and what I intend to save as heirlooms. For the pregnancies I’ve lost they become talking points with my surviving children. The stuffed puppy, the little robin, they were bought with love for a baby that we never got to play with.

No matter how you honor the memory of a child you have loved gone from this world too soon, the greatest memorial that can ever be is to live fully, honoring those we have loved and lost by living well, daring to go on risking our hearts by connecting, loving, and remembering.

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Jessica Martin-Weber

Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and creator and author of the children’s book and community of What Love Tastes Like, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book.

 

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Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: When No One Knows

by Kileah McIlvain

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains experiences of depression and anxiety and loss and may be triggering to certain individuals. Please read with care.

postpartum depression postpartum anxiety, monster within.

photo: urban bay photography

I sat there. On the park bench in the middle of Laurelhurst a year ago today. He sat on the other end. I felt like a NOTHING. A Void. A Black hole from which and out of which nothing good could come. I wanted to hurl myself into the quiet duckpond while the local shakespeare players were acting out a scene from Macbeth on the other side of the trees. The feelings of exploding, of darkness, of drowning, of feeling like nothing but a walking corpse never felt more present. What was the point? Why the hell was I put on this earth if God was going to play russian roulette with my life? What the hell was I supposed to do with this gnawing grief of  a past miscarriage and the overwhelming demands of  trying to meet my family’s needs? Why couldn’t I just be kind? Why couldn’t I be strong and be good and just BE who my kids and my husband needed me to be? The questions that had taken root in the dark and walled-up places of my heart began to erupt. The rotten rags that I’d used to stuff up all of the leaks and holes riddling my soul began to surface from these murky depths. I was thrashing around in the gaping maw of my own personal monster. I couldn’t move anymore. I was going to sink. I wanted to sink…and be nothing. It was terrifying.

I. Wanted. To. Die. 

The strange thing is. No one tells you. Either because they don’t know what to say or they don’t even KNOW. It’s easy to smile and nod, and pretend you’ve got it together. Because that’s what you do. It’s invisible, this monster. It chews at your mind and sucks your soul until you feel hulled out…like a painted eggshell that looks great to everyone around you…but you’re hollow and fragile. And no one has a clue. They don’t know that you want to run away. They don’t know that it terrifies you to say anything because you’re sure that if you do, someone will call CPS or SPCC and take your children away. You’re convinced you’re a bad mom. That you aren’t capable of caring for these little humans you gave birth to. The yelling, the blackouts where 15 minutes later you don’t know what was done or what was said. The deeply-ridden shame and anxiety and the panic attacks triggered by the hot water in the shower. I remember the earliest days of my darkness when I laid my son down two weeks after becoming a new mother and cringing because the thought of touching him repulsed me. Because I didn’t want him to touch me. His crying and my exhaustion and me feeling like I couldn’t do anything right (including breastfeeding challenges)…it was overwhelming. And it didn’t stop. With each new life I birthed into this world, my darkness found new depths and more desolate places to dwell. This happened to me. This silent inner monster had blackened everything…and it didn’t go away.

I reached that breaking point a year ago today. I realized that I was unwell. That it wasn’t normal to want to die. That it wasn’t normal to be experiencing panic attacks and blackouts and physical pain because you didn’t want to move or deal or face anyone or anything. That running away from bonding emotionally through touch wasn’t normal.

I’ll tell you what didn’t help.

  • The very cautious ventures into the world of mental health and community before my breaking point had so far amounted to bible verses being shoved down my raw throat (If you just do ABC, God will make it all better!) and people frustrated with my questions because “How could you think this about God? It just isn’t true, and you have to figure that out!”
  • I was told “You’re breastfeeding! There should be tons of lovey warm hormones flowing through you. That isn’t possible!”
  • I was told “Well I got over it, I just had to make up my mind to pull myself up out of this funk.” To which I said “Really? Because I’ve been trying for 5 years and 3 more kids now…and it isn’t working.”
  • I was told “It’s just the baby blues. You just need  YOU-time.” And while that may be the healing ticket someone needs to start getting better…it wasn’t mine. It was only a small number in the equation that was my situation.

What did I do? Well, nothing huge to start with. But talking to someone about it helped. (for me, that was my partner.) No, he wasn’t perfect, but he sat there. And listened. I told him that I was terrified. All the time. I was angry. Angry that God allowed my life to experience what I have. That it wasn’t necessary. That everyone’s life would be better off without me in it. That I wasn’t what anyone needed and I wasn’t healthy for anyone to deal with. I was scared of repeating the harm and emotional and relational damage that was done to me in my own childhood. That started my own journey to health. Reaching out, finding resources, wanting better.

I found a few resources online to point me in the right direction. I was currently breastfeeding my 4th little one and didn’t even know if there were medication options available for me. I didn’t know WHAT I needed, exactly. I just knew that up to that point? Nothing was working. And it needed to change. This had been going on for 5 years. FIVE. YEARS. I didn’t even know what normal meant for me anymore…I only knew THIS. I found a therapist through my state’s mental health resources. I was connected with people that didn’t look down on me like I was some unfit mother…but as a valuable human being who had a condition and in need of help navigating through my depression and anxiety so that I could be healthy again.

Postpartum depression and anxiety isn’t just in your head. It isn’t imagined or something you can just will away or pretend it doesn’t exist.

Postpartum depression and anxiety IS real.

Postpartum depression and anxiety IS a monster.

But it’s a monster you DON’T have to try slaying on your own.

photo: urban bay photography

photo: urban bay photography

Am I there yet? No. But some days I am better.

Sometimes I can look up now and notice that the way the wind moves through the trees is beautiful. I can catch glimpses of hope in my eyes when I look in the mirror. Some days are dark. Really dark. But they are not ALL dark, now. I am not alone. I know now that it’s ok to reach out to the people in my life who are helping me through this. My husband. My therapist. My councilor.  My mind…is better. Medication,therapy, counseling, therapeutic touch, acupuncture, babywearing, herbal supplements, meals…those are a few things that are helping me.  The biggest catalyst for me? Speaking up. Spreading awareness of just what postpartum depression and anxiety feels like and what it can do and resources that are out there to help mothers struggling. Because I am there. WE are there. And things CAN get better. WE are not alone.

Photo: Urban Bay Photography

Photo: Urban Bay Photography

Speak. Don’t stay silent.

Your voice may shake. Your knees may buckle. The monster inside may scream at you. But know you are enough. There IS help. The world IS more beautiful because you are in it. Courage, dear heart. You are enough. And this heart of yours is being forged into a masterpiece. You. Are. LOVED.

Some resources that helped me understand my postpartum depression and anxiety:

Artistic infographics on what it feels like to live with depression and anxiety. Good for people who want to help but don’t know what to do.

A helpful collection of comic strips because a different perspective and sense of humor can help.

A great checklist and resource page that helped me in recognizing PPD and PPA.

 

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