Grief, I’ve learned is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go. – Jamie Anderson
Grief is deep sorrow usually in response to the death of a loved one. It is complicated, painful, messy, and (depending on your cultural background) might be a private suffering. While grief is a universal human experience after any kind of loss (including loss of friendships, relationships, pets, or jobs), people grieve in their own individual ways. There is no one ‘right’ way to grieve. Given that October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, this can be a good time to remind ourselves about the process of grief and consider how we can understand our grief in a way that helps us to move through it.
For anyone who has experienced grief you might have felt (or are currently feeling) sad and tearful, numb, empty, lonely, or angry. You might have feelings of jealousy or guilt, or even be in shock, especially with a sudden and expected death. You might also have a few of these feelings at once, or cycle through them quickly throughout the day. As mentioned at the outset, there is no one, right way to experience grief and no timeline for how long these feelings will last. What we do know however, is that the feelings are there to be felt. The cycling of feelings is often likened to the waves in the ocean- sometimes they are big and scary and overwhelming, threatening to crash down on us forever. And then sometimes they feel calm and almost tolerable. Regardless of which feeling it is, it’s important to remember that all feelings change over time, even the intense and awful ones.
When thinking about pregnancy loss, it can be very difficult to describe the grief you might be feeling. It probably doesn’t fit neatly into any stages or models as often you are grieving a possible future with someone you won’t get to meet. Grieving a future birthdate, possible firsts, and likely futures, all while wondering what went wrong.
Many women blame themselves for pregnancy loss and feel anxious about any future pregnancies. Given that in Western societies we often delay announcing pregnancy until after 12 weeks there would be many women who do not get the chance to share their grief because people are unaware they were pregnant. Despite knowing that engaging with support is one of the things that we can do to get through grief, it becomes something that is experienced alone, or with a partner behind closed doors. This can complicate grief and make it feel wrong, or taboo to even have these feelings. An excellent resource from Pinkelephants.org reminds us that it is ok to feel devastated, jealous, angry, like a failure, like you want to hide away from people, to name a few.
If people are aware of your loss, at times they can be well-meaning but insensitive to what you are going through. When friends and family are unsure of what to say after a loss, they might revert to well-used platitudes that pop into their mind quickly but are unintentionally hurtful and dismissive, or that might make light of the situation. Especially after a pregnancy loss they might try to comfort with comments like “oh well, at least you can fall pregnant”, or “it obviously just wasn’t meant to be”. In some cases, people are so stumped for something to say that they don’t acknowledge the loss at all- avoiding all discussion about your baby or pregnancy all together. This too can feel dismissive and invalidating, almost as though your experience never happened.
Like in the quote at the start of this piece, grief is about love and we know that love is there forever. So, a part of the grief will always stay with us. We can learn to tolerate these difficult feelings over time, but we will still have thoughts of the loss that pop up unexpectedly. Throughout the year there will be reminders of the loss by anniversaries, passing birthdays, Mother’s Day and other events like Christmas and even bringing in a new year. Many people will find that they have similar feelings on these special days as when the loss happened- like you are right back there, experiencing the most painful part again. This too is normal.
If you have had a loss, here are some things you can do take care of yourself (adapted from the Emotional Wellbeing resources at Pink Elephants website- link below).
Talk to a trusted person about how you are feeling. This should be someone who is capable of supporting you during this time (like a trusted family member, friend or health professional).
Try to accept practical support if offered to you (for example, caring for other children, food deliveries, household help).
Give yourself permission to feel the full range of feelings that arise, without judgement or trying to extinguish them.
Ease yourself back into ‘normal’ life and decline social events if you are not feeling up to it, or you think there might be triggers for you (i.e. other pregnant women or babies).
Take care of yourself in as many ways as you can- especially eating, sleeping and gently moving your body.
For some people, having a ceremony of some kind to mark your loss can be helpful. Rituals and ceremonies can bring comfort, healing and a sense of connectedness during your grief.
While pregnancy loss is relatively common, your experience of grief will be your own. You will feel a range of things that might be similar or vastly different to another person in the same situation. There is no timeline for this process we call grief. Be gentle with yourself and remember that without love there is no grief.
For resources on dealing with pregnancy loss, or to support a loved one go to the Pink Elephant website www.pinkelephants.org.au