Pregnancy is one of the most special times in a woman’s life. Beyond the physical changes that take place, there’s an incredible amount of mental and emotional preparations under way.
The thoughts, the expectations, the dreams of bringing new life into the world all create a whirlwind of idealism. This can make it that much more difficult when reality sets in with pregnancy complications that lead to pregnancy loss.
The truth is that approximately one in four women experience pregnancy loss. That’s far above the 65 percent of people that believe pregnancy loss is rare. This also means if you experienced loss firsthand, you are in good company as there are multitudes of women in the world that will relate to you. If you haven’t experienced this, you will know at least one woman who has, so it’s important to know how to approach the sensitivity of the subject. Despite the scary and even controversial words associated with pregnancy loss, I’m going to suggest not focusing on how the loss occurred, but rather on offering support for the beautiful woman that endured the loss and look at ways friends and family can support for her during this time.
To the Mom-to-be:
Guess what!? You’re still a mom! Even though the best case scenario did not play out, you have still encountered the precious and unique gift of being a woman. Your hormones will surge as your body reacclimates to your individuality, so allow yourself to fully engage in the healing process during this time.
It’s a Process
Every loss creates a transition and every transition involves grieving. Grieving is a process that takes time as waves of emotions ebb and flow. Allow yourself to cry or be angry. Even if it’s at an inopportune time, excuse yourself and find a safe space. By processing your emotions, your tears will actually soothe the ache through releasing your sadness. Bottling it up only prolongs the healing journey.
Avoid Minimizing & Reasoning
Depending on how far along you were, it may be easier to attempt minimizing your experience or feelings. While the topic is never fun, denial is even more detrimental. Pretending like the pregnancy or the loss didn’t occur can filter fear into the future and create barriers around the topic. It may even instigate depression or perpetuate anxiety which can have an affect on conceiving in the future.
On the flip side, don’t let your thought life run away from you. Looking for a reason for the loss or someone to blame can fuel bitterness or resentment. The fact is that the causes of loss from a physiological standpoint remains elusive even to our medical community. So rehashing every step you made during the early stages won’t ultimately bring you answers that will calm your heart. Instead focus on getting yourself into a healthy state - exercise, eat well, take yoga, journal your feelings or write letters - all of which will create forward motion and keep you from getting “stuck” in a less-than-joyous moment of your life.
You are not alone! This news should lift your heart! There are more resources available today than ever before. From after-loss support groups to one:one counseling, there are many non-judgmental, supportive organizations whose mission is to come alongside women and couples moving through pregnancy loss. Some non-profits like AVAiL in New York offer services free of charge. The most important thing is plugging in and engaging. Hearing other women who have experienced loss talk about their lives can sometimes help you process thoughts you didn’t even realize you had. When your awareness increases, you experience more freedom in mind and heart and your healing becomes more expansive and complete.
To Friends and Family:
Your presence in your friend’s life can be the biggest gift you offer. As the adage goes, being a shoulder for her to cry on can enhance her emotional release and assist the healing process. The ups and downs will come, but your presence during any stage of the process will be appreciated beyond words. A simple, “I’m so sorry for your loss” accompanied by a hug can be just the soul support she needs.
Avoid Minimizing & Reasoning
When you speak to your friend, you may wish to keep things positive and future focused but that may not be what’s needed right now. Avoid telling your friend things like: “On the bright side, you were early in the pregnancy,” “You will have other children,” “It just wasn’t meant to be.” You friend may be still reveling in the shock of loss, so allowing her to be exactly where she is will speak volumes in compassionate understanding. Ultimately looking for a reason for the loss will not change the outcome, so steer clear of logical reasoning or deduction. Be sincere and sensitive to her needs while respecting her space. Be observant of her behavioral changes, keep her from being isolated, and offer your listening ear more than your well-intended words.
Offer Continued Connection
Pregnancy loss is not a one-time event; it’s an experience that is carried throughout a woman’s life. Your friend may conceive and give birth to another child, but know that another child does not replace the sting of loss by the first. That’s why it’s crucial to stay connected - not just in the immediate weeks and months - but in the years to follow. Be aware that pregnancy loss can trigger depression, anxiety, shame, guilt, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, panic attacks, eating disorders, substance abuse, and in some cases suicidal thoughts which needs immediate addressing by professional care. One study showed that 15% of women experience depression/anxiety for up to 3 years after loss. Therefore connection is key!! Make coffee or lunch dates. Bring her home-cooked meals or freshly baked desserts. Offer practical support to ease the burden she may be feeling. Being a gentle and loving support will help her move through this experience with grace and strength.