10 Reasons That Make Pregnancy and Baby Loss a Unique Grief
Pregnancy and baby loss is a unique grief, unlike any other. Here are ten reasons why.
1. It’s out of order.
None of us like to think about the losses that surely await us in our future: we’ll lose grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, family friends, teachers, and mentors. And while these losses are excruciating, we expect to bury those who have aged first. So we try to prepare our hearts as best we can.
But a parent losing a child is out of order. It goes against everything that feels natural and right about life itself. A baby should live and grow old and one day put our bodies to rest. Never the other way around.
2. It’s unexpected.
When you hear the words “there’s no heartbeat,” when you go to an ultrasound where you should be able to see your baby but instead see either an emptied womb or a still baby, when you hear from the doctor that your baby still squirming around inside you is not going to make it, when you push out your loved baby and your baby never takes a breath, when you give birth too early and medicine just isn’t enough to save the life of your child, when your healthy infant dies suddenly… you are absolutely blind-sided. There is no way to prepare yourself for the emotional impact of this unique grief.
Related: The Unexpected Waves of Grief
3. It’s harder to find comfort in memories because there are so few.
I’ve experienced the absence of a child I raised and the loss of babies in pregnancy. Both wrecked me. But with our son, I had beautiful memories, photos, and videos to comfort me. Not with our pregnancy losses. I never heard the laughs or saw smiles of these babies, never experienced all their “firsts, never got photos and mementos to hold onto. I only had a few memories: seeing the two pink lines, announcing to friends and family, feeling nausea, planning for a future we would never have. Those memories are treasured, but they also serve as a reminder for all we never got to have.
4. You feel alone.
Usually, when someone passes, there’s a whole community who has known that person and who loves them and misses them with you. You make time to reminisce together as a way of building bridges to the past and to connect with each other’s grief. But with pregnancy loss, few communal memories are made. Everyone was waiting to meet the baby. And now, they’re saying goodbye before they ever got to say hello.
5. Our culture doesn’t understand.
People want to be supportive. It’s just that they may hold less-than-supportive beliefs, such as:
- A baby in utero is the potential for life, not life itself.
- You can’t grieve a person you never met.
- There is a “safe” zone in pregnancy.
- Families should deal with a first-trimester loss alone, and should not make an announcement of the pregnancy or loss.
- Losing a baby who didn’t take a breath is not as hard as losing a baby who did.
- Babies who die in utero were simply not “meant to be.”
- Being sad about the babies you let go means you are not grateful for the children in your arms.
- God needed more angels.
- All losses are God’s will.
- Grief is a lack of faith, a dwelling on the negative, and a privilege afforded to a select few for a very small amount of time.
If this is just a small sampling of false beliefs about grief and pregnancy loss, is there any wonder most of us feel alone?
6. The loss may be intangible.
I believe all loss is a form of birth. But some pregnancy losses can feel less visceral than other losses. At the time of their loss, many parents do not have tiny feet to kiss or get imprints of. Many are denied birth or death certificates. Too many had to flush without ceremony and couldn’t have a proper burial. Some were not able to see their baby on ultrasound or hold their baby after birth. Others never felt kicks. Some only have a positive pregnancy test to confirm that they were expecting a baby. Intangible losses deny bereaved parents the helpful grief rituals and support most people expect after a death. Even when the baby and birth are very real to you, they may remain intangible to those around you, making it more of a challenge to for them to offer support.
7. Grief is not the only challenging issue.
Bereaved mothers face raging hormones, giving birth, and postpartum healing. Many experience trauma in conjunction with the loss and may suffer PTSD, postpartum depression, or postpartum anxiety. The physical and mental challenges complicate the grief.
8. It’s the loss of a future, not a past.
When we lose an older person, we simultaneously wish we could relive the past when our loved one was with us and grieve the time we thought they’d be with us. But the loss of a baby is to erase their entire future, not just what remained of it. It is the loss of a person in addition to the loss of their potential in this world. Their hopes, dreams, visions, accomplishments. Their families and future generations. Our child’s future was not just cut short — It was cut off entirely.
9. Our own (false) feelings of failure.
As parents, we believe we are to keep our children safe. Grieving mothers are particularly vulnerable to the false belief that they or their bodies are at fault. While a loss is no one’s “fault,” parents often report feelings of guilt, shame, or failure. If the loss has no explanation, as is quite common, a mom may resort to blaming herself.
Related: Grief with a Heaping Side of Guilt
10. It can radically change our worldview.
When a loss is sudden, unexpected, out of the natural order of things, when it creates false feelings of guilt or shame, it can absolutely shift our worldview. We realize that life does not play by the rules when our baby dies. This world no longer feels safe. And that shift in our worldview is an entirely new loss to grieve.
What about you?
What do you wish people understood about the unique grief that comes with baby and pregnancy loss?