How To Help Your Family Cope With Pregnancy or Infant Loss
How do I support those I love and care for when I don’t know how I will make it?
How do I support my loved ones when I can’t change the outcome for our family? How do we move forward?
You may have asked yourself similar questions unsure of how you and your family will move forward after enduring the loss of your precious baby. Grief provides no direction to help reconstruct life once pregnancy or infant loss enters and dismantles your plans for parenthood. There is no standard guide to grieve such a deep, extensive hurt. Losing your beloved baby impacts the family unit. Mothers, fathers, spouses, partners, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins feel the impact of loss. Still, each person will experience grief uniquely. This is an important fact to remember but easily overlooked.
The following considerations may aid you in managing your own grief, as well as respecting your loved ones’ grief journeys.
Grieving is an Individual Process
The path in grieving is arduous and made even more challenging in facing your loved ones’ hurt. While managing your emotions in loss, you may become focused on (or worried about) how others are managing grief. It’s not uncommon to wonder about your family members’ grief journeys.
However, with this outward focus, you may neglect self or compare your grief experiences. For example, you may question why your partner acts (or does not act) a certain way. Why is he spending so much time alone? Does he even care? Why doesn’t she cry when I can’t seem to stop? Or you may doubt your loved ones are grieving because you haven’t seen them express emotions.
Although your display of loss may not mirror your loved ones’, that doesn’t mean they do not feel the depth and severity of loss. During private moments, your loved ones may express their anger, sorrow, or confusion. Their lack of presentation may also be an attempt to protect you as some people believe they shouldn’t show emotions when serving in a supportive role. Overall, we can’t predict how we will respond to loss, so how can we expect others to know how they will mourn? Be patient and understand that grieving is a frightening and individual process that can’t be foreseen. With empathy, work to respect differences and be open to the possibility that deep grief work may be taking place—even beyond your view.
Remember, just as you are striving to move forward as best you can and make it to the end of the dark feelings of loss, so are your loved ones.
Healthy Communication is Vital
Clear and open communication are essential to a healthy relationship. Communicating your emotions in loss can be helpful to assist you and others in drawing closer together rather than growing apart. This depth in connection can work against emotions of shame and guilt that threaten many relationships after loss. The following prompts and statements may promote needed conversations and increase closeness with your loved ones:
- I feel ________.
- I need________.
- I will support you by ________.
- I’m here with you. I’m here for you.
So many feelings and beliefs remain unsaid in grieving if one is not intentional in creating purposeful dialogue with others. Consider the following questions for yourself and your loved ones to spark reflection and healthy communication. You may share these questions with others and allow them to share their responses when ready:
- How do I respond to loss? Do I block feelings and emotions?
- Is it hard for me to ask for help? If so, what stops me from seeking support?
- What triggers my different emotions in grieving?
- What do I need others to understand and know about my grief?
Children and Grief
Depending on the age of your older child(ren), the loss of their sibling may impact them differently. Some younger children may ask questions, confused about what the loss means for them and the family. Children older in age who understand concepts of death and pregnancy may be quiet, lacking the words to say and avoiding the change in the family. Nevertheless, children feel, grieve, and notice their parents’ grief.
As we experience countless losses in life and, at times, feel guilt and shame as a result of such deficits, it may be beneficial to explain to your child that this loss was not their fault. Using language appropriate for your child’s age is helpful in explaining that pregnancy and infant loss is a horrible occurrence that affects numerous families and often without cause.
Be patient with your child’s grief responses (or lack of) and means to manage grief. Normalize crying, as well as emotions of sadness or anger in grieving. Be sure to nurture and make your child feel loved and safe. Counselling may be helpful in assisting your child (and family overall) with processing and making meaning in loss. Additionally, creating family rituals in which your child honours their sibling are also effective in healthy grieving.
Grieving is personal work; however, we don’t grieve in isolation. Understanding that your family members will walk their own paths in loss—and you don’t have to navigate for them—may provide a measure of comfort. Please know, the most powerful support you can offer them is your love and respect for their unique progression in managing and transforming in loss.
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About the Author: Keisha Wells, LPC, NCC
Keisha Wells is a mom to twin angels, Kyle and Kendrick, and author of the book From Three Heartbeats to One: A Gentle Companion Offering Hope in Grieving Pregnancy and Infant Loss, soon to be released in the fall of 2019. Keisha is also a licensed professional counsellor and owner of Transformation Counseling Services in Columbus, Georgia. Her practice focuses on grief counselling and perinatal mental health services for mothers and their families impacted by neonatal loss, postpartum anxiety and depression, and traumatic birth experiences. Keisha is an avid reader and writer, contributing to articles in Our Mama Village, Essence Magazine, The New York Times, Bustle, and Elite Daily. Connect with and follow Keisha on Instagram at transformationcounselingforyou.