It is very upsetting to lose a pregnancy. Now matter how far along you are, the grief is there. For some people, it is deep and overwhelming for a long period of time. For others, they rationalize that this is the way it was meant to be and are able to move on quickly with their lives. Does this mean that they are not grieving appropriately? Certainly not -- we all grieve differently.
In my 20 years of Obstetrics/Gynecology, I have seen every conceivable kind of pregnancy loss -- from the horrendous loss of a baby at term, to the early loss of a barely missed period. Should the grieving be different?
Grieving is very dependent on the individual. It is not fair to say that one pregnancy meant more to one person than another pregnancy did to someone else. Someone may have been waiting years for this pregnancy. In their minds, they have seen this baby, held it, loved it, told it stories, had birthday parties, proms, graduations and memories that will now never happen. In effect, they have bonded with this life in such a way that will now never be fulfilled. This pregnancy and the grieving person bonded long before this final event took place. It does not matter whether this pregnancy was 8 weeks, 28 weeks or 40 weeks. This person -- be it the mother, the father, the siblings, grandparents or whomever -- has the right to grieve this loss in any way they feel appropriate.
I have seen that feelings of guilt are common, particularly by the mother. She thinks she should have taken her vitamins more regularly, she should have called the doctor the other day when the baby didn't move as much, she should have stopped smoking earlier, did that beer she drank when she didn't even know she was pregnant yet cause this, did that marijuana she smoked at age 19 in college cause it, or maybe she is being punished for that abortion that she had when she was 17?
Guilt can be a terrible thing, and must be validated and rationalized for it to take its place in the background of grief.
Others feel the pain
Do not forget the father of the baby. Even though the mother has experienced the physical loss of the baby, this was his baby too. Most men grieve differently than will a woman. We ladies are more prone to let it all out, sob and moan and verbalize our feelings of loss, if we are allowed to. Men are generally "protectors," and often feel they should not have let this happen to us. In some way, they feel the need to protect us even from the memory of this having happened. They may not talk about it, tell others not to mention it to you and try to act as though it never happened. This is their way of protecting you and themselves. By doing this, however, they may never effectively deal with their own feelings about the loss of this little life. This kind of denial can cause a loss of intimacy in a marriage. Sharing feelings about loss is a necessity between parents.
Grandparents and siblings should never be left out of this process, either. Friends relatives, next-door neighbors and others all have to deal with their own feelings of guilt and loss in their own way. They might feel, "If only I had been there, if only I had called her, if only I had not gone to school today, if only, if only, if only..."
What to say to the grieving family Some people feel the need to have a service and bury the baby, even if it is very early. This is certainly available and should be done if this is what the grieving family wants. Another family may decide that they want the hospital to take over the disposal of their 28 week stillborn baby. Is one way wrong and the other right? The decisions and their consequences can only be made by the grieving family, do not impart your values on them.
No one should ever say to a grieving individual, you should be over this by now. How do they know what kind of time and love has been invested in this tiny life, and how and what this person needs to do to get past this. It never goes away. This loss will always be there, if there are four more children or no more children, nothing will replace this "one."
Please, never say to anyone, "you will have more children." First, you do not know that for sure. To the grieving person, this comment is fraught with pain. You are not validating that they are grieving and have suffered a loss. A simple, "I am sorry," does wonders in a moment when you don't know what to say.
Validating feelings of loss
More and more work has been done in recent years by the medical community to validate the feelings of loss that a family experiences when a pregnancy ends and there is no baby to take home. The baby may be dressed, held by the family, and pictures may be made. These are treasures and this opportunity will never again be available. It is, however, not for everyone and no one should be forced to participate in these things because the nurse thinks they will feel better about things later if they do. True though it may be, these decisions have to be made by the people grieving, and they are the ones who have to live with the consequences. All options should be made clearly available to the family and their wishes be upheld.
Any grieving person should have access through their medical community to a trained grief counselor.