Losing your baby is one of the most devastating experiences you’ll ever have to go through, and very often, it’s something for which you are totally unprepared.
Instead of the happy ending you were looking forward to so much, you now have to contend with shock and disbelief. How could this happen to me? I did everything I was supposed to. Why didn’t things go as planned?
Losing a baby makes you realise you’re not in control of your life. We believe we can control our destiny if we try hard enough, but sometimes fate takes the control away from us, leaving us overwhelmed and confused.
How to cope as a couple
The loss of your baby might well be the first tragedy you face together as a couple, and you may find yourself exposed to a new side of your partner. In marriage or partnership two become one, but in grief you often become two again, and isolation takes over.
This tragedy can expose weaknesses in an already troubled relationship and can sometimes be the catalyst for a break-up. However, it’s a myth that the majority of marriages collapse after the loss of a baby.
Although it may be hard to believe in your darkest moment, many parents say their experience has proved a source of tremendous personal growth, and has helped them form a special new bond with their partner.
Many couples become closer as they learn more about each other’s sensitivities and strengths.
The stress of grieving can make you so introspective and needy that you may find it hard to support each other, and it may be hard to find any energy left over to care for each other. But, even if he doesn’t always show it, your partner probably needs your help and understanding in order to express his feelings, while you might need his help and support in completing practical tasks and getting your life back on track.
If you are grieving in different ways, as many couples do, it can be hard to empathise with your partner’s way of coping. This is a shared trauma – releasing your feelings to each other will help relieve some of the pain, and just knowing that you can rely on your partner not to judge you can bring you closer together.
The keys to making sure your relationship survives are: accepting your differences, continuing communication, and reassuring one another.
What to tell your other children
What do you tell the children? And should you tell them at all? The general answer would be yes. Hard as it is to talk to children about death, most parents who have experienced the death of a baby agree that it is even harder to keep silent about the event, and that it is important to be open with their children about what has happened.
The key fact to face is that you all need to grieve. Clear, simple, truthful explanations are best, because it will help them grieve.
If you hide death from your children, it’s something they will learn to fear and develop out-of-proportion thoughts about. But if you let them go through the grieving process with you, they will develop a more realistic view.
Children up to the age of four or five may not understand death, but can and do still grieve. Younger children often find it difficult to describe how they’re feeling, and the effects may show in non-verbal clues and changes of behaviour, such as disrupted sleep, regression to baby talk, thumb-sucking, bedwetting, inability to concentrate on schoolwork, difficulty in sleeping, nightmares, aggression, separation anxiety, sulking and reluctance to talk.
Some of these are attention-seeking behaviours or just signals that they need your care, so don’t judge them too harshly.
Questions you might be faced with include: ‘When is the baby coming back?’ ‘Can we get the baby from hospital now?’, ‘When will the baby wake up?’ and ‘Where is the baby?’ You can say: ‘Being dead means we can’t see the baby again.’
Try and answer questions as they come, but no more; if your child wants to know more, he or she will probably ask. Do also allow for children ‘switching off’ from grief or explanations when they’ve had enough – for example, a child who’s been sitting on your lap having a deep chat may suddenly run off to play, and will be found deeply immersed in a new game while you’re still wondering how to answer her next question.
In fact, play is an important way of coping with grief, through make-believe games or through artwork such as drawing or modelling.
Planning for another baby
No matter how much time passes after the loss, the decision to plan for another pregnancy is difficult. As all bereaved parents know, there is no question that having another baby will erase the pain of your loss, or ‘replace’ the baby who has gone, no matter how strong you feel your need is to get pregnant. But how do you really know when you’re ready?
This is a personal decision, and there is no one right answer. For some women, the way is obvious – they won’t be happy until they’re pregnant again. They may still decide to wait a while, however, for emotional or physical reasons. Others may feel that they may need more time, or simply that they can’t yet begin to consider another pregnancy.
No matter where you are in the stages of decision, each is individual and should be respected as such. As you well know, becoming pregnant again is far more than a physical event; it is a whole new life adventure.
Embarking on this challenge means you will have to cope with milestones such as the first scan, the first trimester and the first movements of your baby.
This can mean living through the paradox of still grieving for your first baby while celebrating new life. So the emotions of a subsequent pregnancy may well be more complex than those of an earlier one.
There are advantages both to waiting and to getting pregnant soon after the loss of your baby. Waiting will allow you more time to heal physically and emotionally and may help you feel less anxious during the pregnancy.
Getting pregnant sooner may make you feel you’re leaving the painful past behind and moving on with life.
Do you feel ready, both physically and emotionally? Deep down you’ve got to ask yourself if you are truly ‘over’ your loss – for example, if you cry every time you think about your baby, then perhaps you’re not really emotionally ready to plan for another pregnancy. You have to be strong enough to be able to deal with a new life adventure with all its emotional and physical challenges – yet you may not know whether you are strong enough until you actually go ahead.
It will make you much less anxious if you are able to make peace with your grief before your next pregnancy, but sometimes the only way you can become ready is to go ahead and become pregnant.