It is my hope that this blog post will offer validation, solace, and hope to the strong, resilient women who find themselves pregnant after experiencing the devastating loss of a baby due to miscarriage or stillbirth.
Unfortunately, the conversation regarding pregnancy loss is still taboo in our culture. Despite the fact that up to twenty percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, women and their partners often feel isolated in their grief, suffering immeasurable pain in silence. These feelings may become even more complicated during a subsequent pregnancy.
Pregnancy after miscarriage or stillbirth can be painful and frightening. You may alternate between conflicting feelings of joy and sadness as you expect new life while mourning another. You may be overwhelmed with worry that you will lose again, finding it difficult to connect with your pregnancy. All of these feelings are normal. Adapted from Lindsey Henke’s ideas, see below, I offer the following ‘permissions’ to women experiencing pregnancy after loss:
10 Permissions for Pregnancy After Loss
- It is okay to feel detached from this pregnancy. This is your way of maintaining a safe emotional distance. The idea of becoming attached and losing again is unbearable.
- Be kind to yourself. Offer yourself the same compassion and nurturance you would to someone else who just lost a loved one.
- Surround yourself with an empathic support system including family, friends, other bereaved mothers, mental health providers, and your pregnancy care team.
- Choose to announce and celebrate this pregnancy or not. Trust your intuition when deciding whether or not a celebration is right for you.
- If you need, decline invitations to baby showers, birthday parties, or other events that may be triggering to you. It is not rude; it is a form of self-care.
- If you need, take a break from social media. It can be incredibly painful to see photo after photo of pregnant friends and babies.
- Give yourself permission to grieve and connect with feelings of sadness, anger, and fear.
- Allow yourself to feel joy and hope for the new life you carry. Connecting with this baby does not mean you have to forget about the one you lost.
- Do whatever YOU have to do to seek healing. This may mean honoring your loss through a ritual—such as planting a tree, writing a letter, or lighting a candle—or choosing to do nothing. For some, a ritual might be too painful. Do what is right for you.
- Remember this is a different pregnancy, with a different baby, and a different outcome.
You have experienced unimaginable pain, and it has likely left you raw and vulnerable. Yet in this tender, opened-up state, you will connect with those who offer love and support in a profoundly healing way. Furthermore, you have gained empathy for others who have known suffering and loss. This openness and understanding will prepare you for parenthood and the vulnerability involved in wholeheartedly loving your child.
In Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ words: “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.”
I was recently honored to connect with Lindsey Henke and Kiley Hanish, both of whom founded organizations to help reduce the stigma of pregnancy loss and stillbirth while raising awareness and instilling hope in bereaved mothers. Below I have provided links to their resources for healing after loss.
Lindsey Henke is the founder and Executive Director of Pregnancy After Loss Support (PALS). After giving birth to her stillborn daughter, Nora, she founded PALS in order to support women during the painful and complex experience of pregnancy after loss. She is also the author of Stillborn and Still Breathing, a blog about her journey through grief after child loss.
Kiley Hanish is the founder of the Return to Zero Center for Healing, which provides outreach, education, and research to instill hope and initiate healing after the death of a baby. Kiley and her husband Sean created the Emmy-nominated film, Return to Zero, based on their personal experience of giving birth to their stillborn son, Norbert. Kiley also developed the Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death Directory, which connects bereaved families with local resources.