SHARE Atlanta (SA)
Grief's Continued Path & Healing after a Pregnancy or Newborn Loss...
After the First Three Months...
This piece is a result of concerns expressed by parents who are past the first 3 months in their grief work. Most parents discover that as they move down their path, new information, ideas, experiences, and concepts do add to their grief work. We have to assimilate these new findings into our walk. It helps if we can better understand how they might influence us. They are a part of our grief walk.
As always there are no answers or decisions because we each come to our own conclusions. These are my collective thoughts and opinions based on what I have personally experienced and have seen in SA's group and extensive website. (Marcia McGinnis, 7.2011)
Grief Past The Third Month?
Most people think that grief work lasts several weeks. Therefore, we think something is wrong if we are still grieving after three months. It helps to learn that the average grief walk takes around 6 months to a year and sometimes longer. The time frame depends upon the issues involved and the needs of the person who is grieving. This is normal. A parent's ongoing pain is real and needs to be expressed for healing to continue. Thankfully, there are many resources for support. As new understandings and coping skills are explored, healing can happen. Resolutions can be found.
There is usually a fundamental wish to have another baby. After all, if our baby had lived we would have a living child. THAT was THE plan. There would be no issue to deal with if our life had gone as planned. For most parents, it is not a quick and easy decision to make. SA devotes an entire group topic, "Grief and Future Choices" to this issue. This decision comes as we work through our grief.
Healing and Medication:
After a tragic loss, there are some very REAL REASONS for our sadness and anxiety. Our emotions are NOT genetically or chemically caused. Our baby died, and we are grieving. Medication should not be the first method for easing our pain. We do not always have to take medication to heal. We can work through our intense feelings and reactions with support from various resources. Hopefully, we are offered these potential resources as soon as we experience our loss. Then, we know that they are available as we need them.
Of course, there are some situations that involve past history or a personal need where medication is required. In these situations, medication may reduce the symptoms for a period of time, and be a very helpful as well as a necessary resource. Grief work should still be completed to deal with the reasons for the symptoms. Healing with healthy coping ideas is the ultimate goal for every parent.
Today, many moms are encouraged to take anti-depressants before they even leave the hospital. (Ironically, some medical personnel will embrace drugs before handing out resource materials from SA or a group like ours!) There seems to be a desire to remove the normal grief reactions that parents feel when their baby dies. These reactions, grief, cause a parent to seek help. So, if they are taken away, a parent may not look for the emotional support they need to heal. I, also, have seen moms "hooked" on pills, and they find it very difficult to get off of them.
An added concern comes when medication becomes a factor in making a decision about trying again. A mother who is taking medication might worry that it may not be healthy for a subsequent baby. She must discuss her desire to have another baby with her doctor. Together, they need to work through where she is on her path of healing and her course of medical treatment.
Taking any medication should be compounded with true efforts to work through the issues that are causing the symptoms. It seems wise, too, to limit the length of time that it is taken. Obviously, I am not a professional but offer these thoughts based upon what parents have shared in recent years. I have also heard or talked to a few professionals as they discussed this course of care. With careful supervision, medication can be a helpful resource. This is a personal decision that must be made between the parent and the doctor.
Healing - Is Emotional Support Still Needed?:
The key for healing is to work through the grief. It is best to begin this work soon after the death of our baby. Those who receive good resource information right at first often quickly embrace their grief and seek support. Others hit the wall of grief several months later, and look for helpful resources. I have had parents join us at various times during the first year and up to 40 years later. It is never too late to grieve and heal.
Sadly, many parents are not given much encouragment to seek support. This is especially true after the first few weeks. They are told by their family and friends (and even some doctors) that moving on and/or having another baby is the cure for their grief. The further they get from their initial grief, the more difficult it is for them to justify their despair. Many parents think if they will give themselves enough time, their suffering will stop. This usually is not true.
As we seek relief, understanding happens. Our baby's death brings many painful unknowns to work through. Outside help can make a difference. It can help us appreciate that we are not alone in our pain, and that others have survived even the most intense part of this ongoing grief.' '
Healing - The WHYS & WHAT IFS - Letting GO:
Going over our experience and the whys and what ifs is part of the ongoing Grief Process. There may be some facts about our situation that can be directly dealt with either medically and/or emotionally. This is important to figure out.
After that, what most of us come to is "it happened as it did because it did." Babies with the same conditions or in the same situations can be born at different stages, and sometimes they survive for a time. Some babies might even live. There really is no one answer/scenario for most experiences. Though, there may be possible patterns we can look at. This can be helpful for parents.
Ultimately, we, the griever, must work through our thoughts about our experience and other issues/concepts until we finally arrive at a level of peace. Most dads (and our friends and family) usually do not go over the details for as long a period as moms.
Moms are driven more with their emotions and needs which are a result of their intimate bonding with their baby. Mom carried this child, and she will have to carry a subsequent child. While dads deeply grieve the experience and all its parts, he will not have the need to continually review it. For most mothers, the tiniest details are closely scrutinized.
We usually discover that either there is or isn't possible reasons why our baby died. Guilt and secondary losses are worked through and forgiving happens. We finally realize that we have reviewed the facts enough. Gradually, we let these parts of our grief go.
As we heal, we can begin to control when we want to think about our experience. Our thoughts about it are not always on our mind. This takes from about 6 months to a year..or a little longer.
Surviving Further Along in the Grief Process:
As time passes, many parents realize that there is more work than they realized at first. The five concepts below might help clarify some of our responses.
1. Pregnancy and Newborn Loss Grief is unique. We all have experienced various types of grieving in our lives. (This would include loss due to life events such as: a move, a job, an injury or illness, etc. Many of our young parents have not experienced the death of a close relative or friend.) The death of our baby, is a tragic, unexpected and "out of sequence" death. It brings with it a very intense type of grief. One that we - and those around us - are not generally prepared to deal with.
2. There are parts of life that are tragic, unfair, hard to deal with, and life altering. We know that this is possible. But, the immensity of this fact becomes real when it happens TO us. The fact that our life is changed forever is incredibly difficult to take in. It causes fear and uncertainty. It takes time to work through all of the parts of what has happened TO US. In our hurry up and get it done society, this is difficult to face.
3. There are no perfect solutions. Risk is involved in life. The WAYS we did things or thought about things before are usually greatly ALTERED. We can not heal until we allow change to happen.
4. Grief WORK IS HARD. It causes UNINVITED CHANGE. We did not want our baby to die. The only change that was suppose to happen was to bring a living child into our family. At first, shock, panic, and denial protect us and allow us to deal with our initial pain. The entire concept of death and greatly altered plans is not what parents expected. None of these changes make sense or seem doable. We have to find new concepts and coping skills to help figure out what to do.
5. We have to decide that we WILL SURVIVE this tragic event. Finding the will to continue to live and function is important for us as well as for those around us. With resolution, our experience can become a part of who we are. We can be happy again. That should be our goal. Our baby would want this for us, and we should want it for ourselves. We honor and show the love we have for our babies when their presence becomes a meaningful part of our lives. We have to survive to make this happen.
Survival and Faith:
Grief takes a GREAT DEAL of WORK and CHANGE in order to SURVIVE. At every turn, our will to do what it takes to survive this life changing experience is tested. We have to find the courage and the determination to keep going even when we feel like giving up. Gradually, we realize that change is going to have to happen. We do not have to like this fact. We do have to face it.
Evenually, we discover that the changes can actually bring "gifts" (from our child) that we never thought about. This is hard to imagine right after our baby's death. It can make parents mad to hear it. The reality of the gifts brings Hope for the future and for survival.
As this happens, we can begin to value this healing time. Even though our walk is very, very difficult, it can bring us to a new level of understanding and appreciation. No part of our long term life plan can be considered a wasted or useless dimension if we learn from it. We should want our child's life to mean something other than pain. In resolution, we can find the gifts. Then, our bittersweet memories can be tied to some positive outcomes.
A huge factor in this equation is faith. There are several types of faith. I have always known that my religious faith is key for me. I had to be able to give my fear (over and over) to God. My anger and many of my emotions had to be released to be freed of my pain. I could not carry it all.
There was another faith that I had to get in touch with. Did I have enough faith in myself to heal? Did I really want to change enough to heal? Did I have the courage to make the necessary CHOICES to do the work of grieving? At times, I wanted to just throw in the towel! But, what would I have gained from that? I really did not wish to be an emotional wreck for the rest of my life. I felt sure that even though my baby had died, I must still have some blessings in my life. I knew they were there. I had to have faith that I could make it through all the misery to see them once again.
I also told myself that my three babies would want me to heal. Their presence in my life needed a loving legacy; one that would become a part of "who I am." The love I had for my babies had to be transfered back to me. That was hard because I didn't love myself very much. I didn't like anything that was happening in my life. SO, it was a concentrated effort to focus on my faith in God, in me, and in the facts. I had to be steadfast as I figured out how to continue down the path of "what would be."
Time for Working through the INTENSE Feelings and Reactions:
We usually need about a year to move through the grieving process. The period from 4 to 6 months brings a different kind of intensity to our walk. We have moved out of shock, panic and denial and begin to identify the broader picture of what has happened to us. Hopefully, with this new reality, we can look at more ways to deal with our pain during the next few months. As we discover little pieces of truths and finally see glimmers of hope, we begin to know that we will survive.
Making plans for ways to spend holidays, due dates, and the day of our baby's anniversary can help ease our suffering as we approach these difficult times. Our hearts and memories will return to what happened to us the year before. The weeks leading up to the week and day that our baby was born/died are very hard. SA suggests comforting coping ideas.
As we round out the year, we realize that we are finding some peace and resolution. Regrouping and changing actually continue beyond a year, but the hardest work has usually been completed. (If there are other types of issues such as infertility or divorce, etc., there will need to be additional grief work to cope with these losses.)
As we grieve, we must be gentle with ourselves. The intensity and length of pregnancy and newborn loss grief was greatly validated for me the first time a dad, a counselor, shared that he never imagined the degree of grief until HIS baby died. It helped me to appreciate that a great deal of courage, patience, and endurance has to go into our grief walk.
Time and THE Plan:
As new facts, feelings, and realizations enter the picture, they need to be carefully worked through. This is true for any complicated work that we wish to accomplish well. Our new plan is important for our family and for our peace and comfort. It helps to carefully think through possible options for our future.
When our baby died, our "life plan" was permanently and drastically altered. We have strong emotions about this. If we try to fix the plan too quickly, it may cause anxiety and panic. If we stay in denial and get stuck in our grief, no new plan will evolve. Some parents make sweeping statements that increase their emotional stress level. ("I will never have another baby because I am too old/tired/fearful, etc.") It is possible to develop a different plan that includes some of our original hopes. Most parents want to have a subsequent child.
It can help to not put a "time limit" for making ALL necessary decisions. (such as: I will be done grieving in 3 months.) Some of our decisions should not be made quickly. This can even be true if our biological clock is ticking or our original desired view of "what should be" is still pressing us onward. The type and number of issues that we face can influence the time frame. In reality, the difference in waiting until we have clarified some of our issues might be 1 or 2 weeks or months..not years. It is important to give ourselves space and to be patient with ourselves. Often, when the pressure is taken off, we find we can think clearer again.
Many in our group finally realize the importance of taking a deep breath and regrouping their initial thoughts. As someone said in a recent group, who wants to be in THIS place! NOONE. But we are - so working with our grief has to happen. It helps to realize change has already happened, and more will probably happen for our new "normal" to take hold.
Timing is very individual. SA has had parents make many different decisions. It helps to weigh the information that is available with how we feel as a healing parent.
Time and The Subsequent Baby:
Most, not all, of our SA parents make the decision to have a subsequent child. While another child will bring additional healing, that child should not be depended upon to be THE healing factor in our walk. We want to heal enough so that our subsequent child can be born into a family that is not still suffering from raw grief. We do not want our subsequent child to take the place of our beloved baby. Every child is special and loved. The next child will be a sibling to our precious baby who died.
Waiting at least 6 months to a year, gives parents time to process their grief and take time to look at the circumstances around their baby's death. This also gives them time to move through the 4 to 6 month period and the anniversary. Though, I have seen parents newly pregnant during their baby's anniversary, and this timing seems good for many.
It is important to look at the reasons or circumstances of our baby's death. Doing so, may increase our stress level for awhile. BUT, facing them can be constructive in finding a way to bring peace into our situation. There are often answers to the reason why our baby died. We may find ways to lower our risk factors in our subsequent pregnancy. Until we have asked the questions and done the research, we cannot know the truths. Doing all we can will give us some comfort when we decide to get pregnant again.
Some parents make this decision based strongly on their desire to have a child. This is usually particularly true for those who are childless. Many will begin trying before they have healed much of their grief. This may work for some parents. But, for others, they panic. Their panic might mean that they are moving too quickly through their grief work.
Trust is a huge component of making this decision. Do we trust the statistics? Do we trust ourself/conception, etc.? Do we trust the medical world? Do we trust that we could have a healthy living child, etc.? Finding supportive and knowledgeable doctors and seeking excellent medical and emotional information can help us feel more secure as we make a decision about our future.
Processing and Coping...
As we tell our story right after our loss, our emotions are all over the place with our jumbled thoughts. As we process parts of our grief, we are able to express our thoughts and feelings with the details of understanding. If we have learned about the grief process, we can see how it has served us to untangle our thought processes.
As we cope, our story often grows a depth of understanding that we never thought possible. The acute memories will probably still be there, but they are cushioned with facts and coping ideas. I see this at our inservices when "healed" SA parents express ways to aid the newly bereaved parent. It is incredible for me to witness this changing and healing process.
Giving ourselves time to experiment with new coping skills can be useful. Women usually find that sharing their story and thoughts is very beneficial. SA members have suggested many positive coping methods: exercise, comfort reading, helpful rituals, new hobbies, etc. Any activitiy that will provide some release of stress is important. SA with many "survivors" of pregnancy and newborn loss is here to support parents through this very difficult work.
Each Walk is Different...
...But there are some common traits to everyones' walk. Sharing can bring understanding. Nothing is set in concrete. Positive changes can happen all along our journey. There are patterns, tools, and options that can be considered at various times. What works at one point, might not down the path. What didn't work earlier, could be just the answer now. As we explore these options, maybe some shred of hope can be sparked. It takes courage to continue to grieve past some set time. Our commitment to walk our path with determination can keep us moving along. Together, we hope to find enough courage to continue our walk. The goal is for healing to happen.
Hope, Peace, and Healing are the ultimate goals.
For more information about the Grieving Process
JoAnn's Diary..The First Year
Marcia McGinnis, 7.25.2011
In loving memory of Catherine, Elizabeth, and Seth McGinnis
The love stays...forever in our hearts.
Added Thoughts from Valerie Scholovich, SA mom
Marcia, I think you touch on all that I can think of here. An added thought would is that the friendship with other parents who are grieiving a baby is terribly important. Eleven years later, I'm still in touch regularly with some SA friends who helped me cope. You mentioned the experience being "unique" - I think this is part of why the friendships are so important.
The other thing I remember so vividly is the feeling that I was crazy, and that my thoughts and actions might not have been normal. They were, but I didn't know how I should feel or act. The world for me felt like I had woken up from a bad dream and the very earth was shifting beneath me with my every step. Who was I? How was I going to go on? Why had this happened? How could there be a God who would allow me to hurt so much? Walking through the grief made the world feel stable and normal again - someplace I might enjoy again someday.
You also mentioned the "gifts" of our babies. I found that early on to be a very difficult concept, but of course I see it every day now. I remember another SA Mom saying in a meeting that "... it's not like you wish this had never happened and you had never met this beloved child..." For me, that statement was so profound. I couldn't wish away the situation because that was not acknowledging and honoring my child who I very much did love. Once I could see how this so clearly was part of the "new me," things became somehow easier.
Thank you, Valerie, for all you do!
Valerie has been a phone volunteer for over 5 years. Many of our members who have spoken to her join us at our meetings and thank her for her care and support. She and her husband, Pete, have done numerous writings/poems for us as well as participating in our Angel Garden creation and memorial services. We always close our Angel Garden Memorial with Valerie's poem, "If the Bricks Could Talk." Valerie was instrumental in our "Outreach for Healing" program for long time. She took many donated items to the Children's Shelter and made mementos to give to our parents. We thank both of them for continuing all they do in memory of their two baby daughters, Megan and Kathryn. They have three living sons. Twins who were already a part of their family when their daughters came along, and Jack who was born in 2002.
In memory of Megan stillborn 1/2000 and Kathryn miscarried 2/2001
You can read Valerie's poems in our Angel Garden Brochure. Pete's thoughts are in our Parent Packet booklet.
Pete and Valerie with twin sons who are lighting the memorial candle
after SA dad, Bryan Miller read a poem. SA Angel Memorial 2006
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