A primary guide for parents who have
experienced the death of a child through miscarriage , stillbirth or other
Fourteen years ago I gave birth to a baby girl. Four hours later
she died because of an internal malformation that was undetectable during my pregnancy. During my short hospital stay, nurses
and doctors seemed to avoid me and my questions. What they did say was about the
same as what my friends and family were saying, "You're young. You'll have other
babies. Try to forget."
I didn't want any other baby, I wanted that one! Forget? How could
I forget? Instead I was overwhelmed with crushing, breathtaking grief. I
remember how empty I felt the day I left the hospital...an empty womb and empty
arms. I never really knew her but I missed her and ached for her so
Soon after I returned home, everyone acted as if they had already
forgotten her, as if they expected me to also forget. Someone had removed all
the baby items I had acquired before coming home, hoping to spare me the pain.
Instead, it felt like a further denial of her existence. When I tried to talk
about her everyone became very quiet, changed the subject or left the room.
Friends were very careful not to say anything that might remind me of my
experience. Baby shower invitations didn't come in the mail. Birth announcements
didn't come in the mail. Many stayed away because they simply did not know what
to say. My husband had three days to "get over it" before he was expected back at
work. The world kept on spinning as if nothing had happened. I remember thinking that I must have lost my mind. I thought that if my baby had lived for
a while, if people had gotten to know and love her, maybe then I would have been
given the affirmation to grieve the way I needed to. But I was the only one with
any memory of her, the only one who had a chance to love her. I had no one to
share that with, not even my husband. Most of his grief was for me and for the
dream we had shared for this child. I felt all alone as I began my mourning.
Over the years, after much healing, I have had the opportunity to
speak with other parents who have had experiences which are similar to mine. As
a result of that, and also as a result of my search for answers to all those
unanswered questions. I have compiled a list of several "truths and non-truths"
concerning the grieving process as it relates to perinatal bereavement.
This is not intended to be the absolute word on the subject, but
rathe a guage for the unexpected emotions felt by parents who have suffered this
type of loss. Most of the parents I have spoken to agreed that the uncertainty
of their grief was frightening and may have been alleviated had they know what
Friends and family may also benefit from reading this so they might
understand the special kind of pain and emotions involved in this type of loss
and allow them to be expressed
The Truth Is...
The truth isn't that you will feel "all better" in a
couple of days, weeks or even months.
The truth is that the days will be filled with an unending ache
and the nights will feel like one million sad years for a long while. Healing is
attained only after the slow but necessary progression through the stages of
grief and mourning.
The truth isn't that a new pregnancy will help you
The truth is that, while thoughts of a new pregnancy soon may
provide hope, a lost infant deserves to be mourned just as you would have with
anyone you loved. Grieving takes a lot of energy and can be both emotionally and
physically draining. This could have an impact upon your health during another
pregnancy. While the decision to try again is a very individualized one, being
pregnant while still actively grieving is very difficult.
The truth isn't that pills or alcohol will dull the
The truth is that they will merely postpone the reality you must
eventually face in order to begin healing. However, if your doctor feels that
medication is necessary to help maintain your health, use it intelligently and
according to his instructions.
The truth isn't that once this is over your life
will be the same.
The truh is that your upside-down world will slowly settle down,
hopefully leaving you a more sensitive, compassionate person, better prepared to
handle the hard times which everyone must deal with sooner or later. When you
consider that you have just experienced one of the worst things that can happen
to a family, you will become aware of how strong you are.
The truth isn't that grieving is morbid, or a sign
of weakness or mental instability.
The truth is that grieving is a work that must be done. Now is the
appropriate time. Allow yourself the time. Feel it, flow with it. Try not to
fight it too often. It will get easier if you expect that it is variable, that
some days are better than others. Be patient with yourself. There are no
shortcuts to healing. The active grieving will be over when all the work is
The truth isnt that grief is
The truth is that in the midst of the most agonizing time of your
life, there will be laughter. Dont feel guilty. Laugh if you want to. Just as
you must allow yourself the time to grieve, you must allow yourself time to
laugh. Viewing laughter as part of the healing process, just as
overwhelming sadness is now, will make the pain more bearable.
The truth isnt that one person can bear this
The truth is that while only you can make the choices necessary to
return to the mainstream of life a healed person, others in your life are also
grieving and feeling helpless. As unfair as it may be, the burden of remaining
in contact with family and friends often falls on you. They are afraid to butt
in, or they may be fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing. This makes them
feel even more helpless. They need to be told honestly what they can do to help.
They dont need to be told, Im doing fine when youre really NOT doing fine.
By allowing others to share in your pain and assist you with your needs, you
will be comforted and they will feel less helpless.
The truth isnt that G-d must be punishing you for
The truth is that sometimes these things happen. They have
happened to many people before you and, unfortunately, they will happen to many
people after you. This was not an act of G-ds punishment. Bad things happen to
good people all the time, though we cant understand G-ds master plan. Sad and
tragic occurrences are a part of life. It isnt fair to blame G-d, or
yourself, or anyone else. Try to understand that it is human nature to look
for a place to put the blame, especially when there are so few answers to the
question, Why? Sometimes there are answers. Most times there are not.
Believing that you are being punished will only get in the way of your healing.
Remind yourself that all of G-ds ways are good, yet as mere mortals, that good
may not be readily revealed to us. On the other hand, it is a time that may be
used for introspection.
The truth isnt that you will be unable to make any
choices or decisions during this time.
The truth is that while major decisions such as
moving or changing jobs are better off postponed for now, life goes on. It will
be difficult, but decisions dealing with the death of your baby (naming the
baby, arranging and/or attending a religious ritual, taking care of the nursery
items you have acquired) are all choices you can make for yourself. Well meaning
people will try to shelter you from the pain of this. However, many of us, who
have suffered similar losses, agree that these first decisions are very
important. They help to make the loss real. Our brains filter out much of the
pain early on as a way to protect us. Very soon after, we find ourselves
reliving the events over and over, trying to remember everything. This is
another way that we acknowledge the loss. Until the loss is real, grieving
cannot begin. Being involved at this early time will be a painful experience,
but it will help you deal with your grief better as you progress, by providing
comforting memories of having performed loving, caring acts for your baby.
The truth isnt that you will be delighted to hear
that a friend or other loved one has just given birth to a healthy
The truth is that you may find it very difficult to be around a
mother with young babies. You may be hurt, or angry or jealous. You may wonder
why you couldnt have had that joy. You may be resentful, or refuse to see
friends with new babies. You may experience negative thoughts towards your
friends new found happiness, yet feel guilty and wonder how you became such a
dreadful person. You arent. Youre human, and even the most loving people can
react strangely when they are actively grieving. If the situation were reversed
your friends would probably be feeling the same. Forgive yourself. Its Ok.
These feelings will eventually go away.
The truth isnt that all marriages survive this
The truth is that sometimes you might blame one another, resent
one another, or dislike being with one another. If you find this happening, get
help. There are self-help groups available and grief counselors who can help.
Dont ignore it or tuck it away assuming it will get better. It wont. Actively
grieving people cannot help one another. It is unrealistic, like having two
people who were blinded at the same time teach each other Braille. Talking it
out with others may help. It might even save your marriage.
The truth isnt that eventually you will accept the
loss of your baby and forget about this awful time.
The truth is that acceptance is a word reserved for the
understanding you come to when youve successfully grieved the loss of a parent,
a grandparent, or a beloved older relative. When you lose a child, your whole
future has been affected, not your past. No one can really accept this, but
there is a resolution in the form of healing and learning how to cope. You will
survive. Many of us who have gone through this type of grief are afraid we might
forget about our babies once we begin to heal. This wont happen. You will
always remember your precious baby because successful grieving carves a place in
your heart where he or she will live forever.