To commemorate Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month this May, author and grief specialist Lianna Champ shares some words on navigating pregnancy loss and how to manage the heartbreaking, often isolating grief that comes with it.
The moment we decide to have a baby or we discover that we are pregnant, a very special emotional bond begins to weave itself around our hearts and our relationship with baby begins. The physical and emotional changes that take place during pregnancy also serve to strengthen this bond.
No matter what stage of your pregnancy the loss occurs, the length does not increase nor does it decrease the intensity of your pain. You are a parent. You are still a parent and your emotional relationship with your baby is there and will be forever.
The intensity of the loss following baby loss is extremely personal, devastating and overwhelming. It can also be compounded by the fact that those around you may not have known that you were pregnant, and therefore may not understand or recognise that you are grieving a loss – a loss which is just as real as any other death. Our arms may ache to hold their tiny bodies, as we love our children well before they are born. We still love them even though we never met them. And even though we never met them, we know them with every fibre of our being. They are woven into our veins.
Baby loss is a lonely experience as people don’t always know what to say. If we don’t know the reason for the loss, this can leave us in a ‘no-man’s-land’ of grief and may create apprehension for a future pregnancy. This is why we need to create a special ritual that will create a spiritual bond with our child. so we can move forward together. We have rituals for everything and we need rituals to provide healing through our losses too. Rituals allow us to find comfort. They support and soothe us even if they don’t take away our grief.
Acknowledgement in words within your family and community is an important first step. By sharing your loss with others and telling them how you feel, you are creating a support network for when it gets too much. You are also giving your baby an identity and a place in life. This is how you start to build your relationship, by involving others. That way your baby will be woven into them too. This is the beginning of giving yourself permission to create rituals of remembrance. You will grieve milestones in your heart as you imagine stages in your lives together. Those around you may not be aware of these approaching milestones and there is nothing wrong in vocalising that there is something coming up that you may struggle with.
Don’t let those closest to you railroad you into doing things you don’t want to do. Give yourself time to really think about something special you can create between you and your baby. Open your heart and your imagination. Try planting some spring bulbs for your baby which will bud and bloom around Mother’s Day or light a special candle and play gentle music. Find what works for you, something that will validate your baby’s existence.
Once we begin to put our feeling into words and actions, we actually begin to unravel something within us. It also helps to find the right words to use when we talk about our feelings. What we do or say does not need approval from others nor does it have to make sense. The pain has to wash over us so we can come through to the other side. It’ is a period of temporary insanity. A wilderness. Knowing this can help us fall into it. We have to – this is the only way we can move forward to finding a way for us to carry our baby.
Men may face different challenges in baby loss and there can be an expectation to support their partner and be the strong one. It’s heartbreaking to watch their partner’s life shatter whilst at the same time their life has been shattered. But the truth is you cannot be anything for anyone, all you can be is honest about how you feel and to share this with the truth. Even though you are both grieving the same loss, your reactions and grief will be totally unique to you. It is important to understand that we each feel differently and to allow each other to express whatever feelings come up, without comparison. Comparisons just minimise the importance of the other’s feelings. Whatever you feel is right for you. Every bond of love we share is totally unique and therefore, so are our reactions and feelings.
Being with others and hearing about their experiences of baby loss can be a great support – www.sayinggoodbye.org is a fabulous website for info.
Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience as a grief and funeral care specialist and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ.