Pregnancy loss and miscarriage are not common topics of conversation. Our society doesn’t like to talk about when a baby dies early in pregnancy. We don’t talk about the panic and fear that arise when you see blood that’s not supposed to be there. We aren’t prepared for how to handle the heartbreak that comes when the doctor says, “I’m sorry. We can’t find a heartbeat.”
Mothers aren’t supposed to have to be prepared for these moments. Babies don’t die. Parents are supposed to die before their children. This is the 21st century; babies don’t still die in pregnancy or at birth.
Except yes, they do.
Babies die and leave behind heartbroken, bewildered parents every day. Often, these parents are left floundering in the silence and discomfort following the loss of their baby early in pregnancy.
Here are a few basic rights of parents who experience early pregnancy loss:
1. You Have the Right to Grieve
There is no right or wrong when it comes to grief after a baby dies in pregnancy. Some people feel immense grief and loss. Some feel relieved. Some feel sad. Some feel numb. Some feel a mix of all of the above. In still other instances, postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis might set in. No matter how far along or how early in pregnancy your baby died, you are allowed to feel whatever you feel, and seek help for any mental health issues that arise.
When you experience an early pregnancy loss, it is common to feel like no one wants to talk about it or to feel like people want to you to be “over it” in a matter of days or weeks. You don’t have to be over it on their time frame, and you are allowed to talk about it.
Length of life isn’t necessarily equal to depth of love. Just because a baby lives only a few weeks during pregnancy doesn’t mean that he or she is less loved than a baby who lives to birth. Love and attachment can be formed in a moment. It can be formed long before a baby is conceived.
It isn’t just a “fetus” or “tissue” that dies in miscarriage—it’s a baby, and the entire lifetime that was envisioned and dreamt for that baby. You are allowed to grieve for your baby and the entirety of the life you won’t get to share with him or her.
Length of life isn’t necessarily equal to depth of love. Just because a baby lives only a few weeks during pregnancy doesn’t mean that he or she is less loved than a baby who lives to birth.
2. You Are Allowed to Name Your Baby
I sometimes hear people say that they couldn’t name their baby because it was too early to know the sex. Regardless of when your baby died, naming your baby can be very healing and can be a sweet way to honor his or her life, however brief it may have been.
Some people like to choose gender-neutral names. Others prefer to simply decide whether their baby was a boy or girl. Some say they suspected their baby would have been one or the other, then name the baby accordingly. Others have sweet nicknames for their baby during pregnancy, such as “pumpkin” or “peanut” or “little one,” and choose to make that their child’s name.
Whether you had an ectopic pregnancy or your baby died at six weeks, 10 weeks, or later, you are allowed to give the baby a name if you want to do so. Your baby lived, and you have the right to acknowledge him or her.
3. You Are Allowed to Talk about Your Grief without Worrying about Others’ Reactions
Often, parents who have experienced an early miscarriage find it difficult to talk about their grief, sadness, and loss because they say it makes other people uncomfortable.
Here’s what I tell people I counsel about that: Other people’s reactions and discomfort are none of your business.
If you need to talk, talk. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to be angry, be angry. If you need a hug, ask for a hug. If you need to be alone, be alone. If you need company, ask for company. If you think therapy would support your healing, contact a therapist.
People will have their own reactions based on their own personal stuff. If they react poorly to your feelings or needs, it is not about you. Perhaps more importantly, it does not make your feelings or needs wrong. It just means they aren’t the people to support you in that moment. Find someone else who can and will.
4. You Are Allowed to Call Yourself a Mother or Father
The moment you loved your baby and planned a life with him or her, you became a mother/father. No one can take that gift away from you, not even death. You will always be the mother or father to your baby. The way your role of mother or father plays out in this life with this baby will be different than you wanted or anticipated, but that doesn’t change the fact you are a mother or father.
There are many different aspects and nuances to living after your baby dies in pregnancy—too many to be named or discussed fully in a brief article. In the end, it comes down to this: You are allowed to grieve—and to grieve in whatever way helps you move forward.
Your baby’s life matters. You matter. This is the foundation of anything that comes after loss.
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