By Dr. Dawn Kingston
The feelings of excitement. Perhaps you were expecting your first child. Maybe you were getting your child ready for a sibling. Letting your dog sniff around and get familiar with all the new baby gear. Probably baby shower invitations were sent out. A maternity shoot done with your favourite photographer. Nesting can be an incredibly exciting and positive time.
But then, the results come in.
This can be life shattering.
What is Pregnancy Loss?
But what is pregnancy loss anyway?
Sometimes referred to as a ‘reproductive loss,’ pregnancy loss is defined as going through the loss of a developing baby or new baby.
This can occur as a miscarriage, as a stillbirth, or 28 days after birth.
Losing a pregnancy or baby at any time can be devastating.
When the Help Ends
A few years ago, I gave a public lecture at our local women’s hospital. After the talk, two women shared that they had gone through pregnancy loss. While they received help in the early days, after the help ended, they were still struggling from the pain of their loss.
The trauma of going through a pregnancy loss had an ongoing impact on these women. Even though they received some help early on and made some progress, they started struggling again – with a fresh wave of pain triggered by a new pregnancy.
What made their current pregnancies so difficult were the feelings of anxiety, worry over another loss, feeling guilty for not enjoying their current pregnancies, reliving the guilt of a lost child and fears of the future.
I was surprised by the depth of these women’s struggles and how little help was available to them. The physicians and nurses who were giving them prenatal care hadn’t offered help or checked how they were managing their current pregnancy. It just wasn’t on their radar. As a result, these women, together with their partners, struggled mostly in silence.
Grieving in Silence
Pregnancy loss is not openly talked about in our society. We know about postpartum depression. Information on prenatal anxiety and depression are on the rise. But what about pregnancy loss? In the early days after a loss, people express their condolences and support. But, that fades all too quickly. It can also be hard for well-meaning family and friends to know how to offer support, even if they want to.
My team and I have learned that most women who suffer a pregnancy loss experience intense grief for 4-6 months, but the grieving process can last for years. And though the pain may fade over time, the loss of a child is not forgotten even many years later. So even though women may receive support at first, many are still in great need of ongoing support as they process their grief.
Many women who have suffered loss don’t know that it is normal for grief to last 6 months or longer. They feel confused. They think they should be moving on, but feel incapable of moving forward, frozen by their distress. They don’t realise that this is normal.