No matter how many books you read, how much help you receive from friends and family, or how much unsolicited advice you end up taking from total strangers, you’re never really prepared to become a parent. But when you experience a loss, either while pregnant or shortly afterward, you’re acutely aware that not only are there things people don't tell you about parenthood, there are things no one tells you about losing a baby, too. From the moment you realize you’re losing your baby, to the days, months, and years that follow, your life tailspins into a grief so all encompassing, it’s a wonder so many of us are still standing. And, worst of all, it’s such a taboo subject that makes others feel so uncomfortable, you often find yourself suffering alone and in silence.
Stigma from baby loss (either from miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, or one of the many other complications) is such a monumental problem that leave far too many parents scared or embarrassed to seek the mental and emotional help they so desperately need (and, honestly, deserve). It’s also the reason why I make the choice to be so vocal about my own child loss. Before I lost my daughter to prematurity, I didn’t even know that people could lose a baby in such a heartbreaking, devastating and all-consuming way. Prior to the loss of my daughter, I only knew one person who had experienced a miscarriage. The rest of the pregnancies I was privy to seemed to end with happy, healthy babies. It wasn't until I started talking about my own experience, that I realized just how common it is for babies to die.
Sure, people will tell you that pregnancy and infant loss is terrible and horrible and very sad, but there are so many details left out, not only about how you will feel and how you might react, but also how to find help, how to memorialize your loss, and how to find a supportive community. If you’ve recently experienced a loss, or know someone who has, first and foremost: I'm so very sorry. This is for you or the person you know, because we're never alone and there are so many people who are willing to help.
Pregnancies End And Babies Are Lost In All Sorts Of Ways
Your loss may be the first loss you know about, but there are dozens of ways in which and reasons why babies die. Among them are miscarriage, premature birth (and therefore being too small to survive outside of a mother's body), problems with the pregnancy (i.e. preeclampsia, high blood pressure, problems with the placenta, and infections), birth defects (i.e. chromosomal conditions, fragile x syndrome, spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, and others), stillbirth, and SIDS. I know this loss feels uncommon, but it isn't.
This isn't to trivialize your experience, but this is to ensure you that you're not alone, you're not defunct or broken, and you don't have to feel like you're the only woman who has experienced this horrible level of hurt.
Pregnancy And Baby Loss Are More Common Than You Know
According to the CDC, 23,000 infants died in 2014, 1% (or 24,000 babies) die from stillbirth each year, while birth defects and congenital anomalies account for 121 deaths out of every 100,000. And then there’s miscarriages: 10-25% of clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage (and 50-75% of chemical pregnancies are also lost this way). That is, sadly, a LOT of babies dying, meaning there are thousands of grieving parents out there. You are not alone.
Everyone Grieves Differently (And That’s Okay)
Stepping away from statistics a bit, grief will hit everyone differently after a loss. I’ve known women who miscarried who chose not to recognize their loss much (or at all), while others named their potential baby and memorialize them any way they can. I know people who cry and scream and curse about their loss, and others who remain stoic and silent in their grief. We’re all different, and that’s okay.
Losing Your Baby May Hurt You Quite A Bit Financially
It’s difficult to calculate the exact cost of grief, but as you might imagine, it does take its toll on your bank account. Time spent away from work, often unpaid, can do some damage, up to and including: unpaid bills, unpaid rent, skipped electricity bills and added fines. There’s also the cost of not feeling up to doing things on your own, like cooking, and so you end up spending a lot more by eating out or ordering in. And, sadly, there's the cost of cremation or even a burial, depending on how far along your baby was. It probably shouldn't be this way, but the loss of a child often results in a major financial hit to bereaved parents.
You May Not Always Want To Tell Your Story (And You Don’t Have To)
It’s always difficult when someone asks me how many kids I have. Sometimes I don’t mind going into the whole story and I’ll say I have had two but only one is alive now. Other times, when I just don’t feel like having a long talk, I’ll simply say one. There’s no right or wrong way to answer. Just do the best you can.
You Can Often Experience PTSD-Symptoms Related To Your Loss
I wasn’t prepared for all the triggers I’d stumble upon after my daughter passed. Her birth was highly traumatic and everything happened so fast that I hardly had time to process it by the time she was gone. Scenes on TV shows and in movies about babies dying are particularly hard for me. You might get triggered by certain smells, sounds, or sights. It’s actually quite common, but you should seek help if this happens. There are ways to work through those triggering moments, and they usually require the assistance of a mental health professional.
If You Lose Your Baby In The Hospital, You’re Allowed To Stay With Them As Long As You Need...
I felt like I was rushed to leave my baby when I was holding her after her death. It was only years later that other loss mom friends told me that hospitals are actually supposed to give you as long and as much time as you need to be with your baby. This isn’t for everyone, but it’s good to know if it is, in fact, for you.
...As Well As Dress Your Baby In Their Own Clothing And Take Your Own Pictures
As my loss was unexpected, I didn’t have any baby clothes yet, but many loss moms have told me that hospitals will allow you to do this. We did take some photographs, and while it seemed strange to me back then, I now wish I’d taken many more.
You’re Going To Need Help, So Don’t Be Afraid To Ask
If you’re able to, get yourself to a grief counselor or therapist soon after your loss. Others find comfort in finding grief groups in their area. Organizations like The Compassionate Friends can also help after a loss.
There Are Organizations That Offer Grieving Parents Memory Books, Teddy Bears And Other Loss Mementos
Molly Bears offers custom-made grief teddy bears that are the same weight as the baby you lost. SoulCyster Creations makes keepsake jewelry pieces to commemorate your baby’s memory. You can also find numerous shops that offer cremation jewelry on Etsy (pendants and other items that will hold some of your baby’s remains).
There's Also An Organization That Takes Bereavement Photographs Of Your Baby
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is an organization that sends a volunteer photographer to you in order to take bereavement photos of you and your baby. It’s a difficult thing for those who’ve never experienced a loss to understand, but in retrospect, I truly wish I’d known about them when I lost my daughter.
You Will Have A New Slew Of Important Dates To Remember
You will very likely always remember your baby’s birthday and/or the day your baby passed on. You might have other important dates in mind, such as their original due date (if they were born premature), or the date you found out their sex (if your pregnancy got that far along). You might also keep in mind October 15, which is also known (worldwide) as Pregnancy And Infant Loss Awareness Day.
Finally, And Most Importantly: You Will Always Be A Parent
This is the most important one of all. Just because your baby is no longer with you doesn’t mean you weren't a parent to that child. From the moment you decided this was a pregnancy you wanted to keep, from the moment you first called yourself a mother or parent, that’s what you became. Sadly, many of us hold our babies solely in our hearts, but in case no one has said it to you yet: remember that you will always, always be a parent.