October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and this topic is near and dear to my heart for a couple reasons. In addition to having experienced my own pregnancy losses on my journey to motherhood, I also have relationships with several people who have experienced the unimaginable loss of a child they previously held in their arms. That kind of loss–the unexpected, physical and palpable loss of a living, breathing baby–is so devastating that most of us can’t even imagine it.
There are many ways to grieve, and there is no “right” or wrong way to do it. Crying is common, but some grieving parents may find it difficult to do so. Feelings may include sadness, anger, hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, blame, and others. Many parents feel a need to discuss the details of the child’s death, while others can’t bear to talk about it. Some may experience changes in eating or sleeping habits, or difficulty concentrating and remembering.
As one might imagine, couple relationships can be powerfully influenced by the experience of loss of a child and subsequent grief. Since individuals grieve differently, tension can arise within relationships when partners’ different ways of dealing with the loss bring worry, judgment, or misunderstandings. Another common source of tension occurs when one partner chooses to withhold her/his feelings from the other person in an attempt to shield them from additional grief. This is a valiant and loving thought, but it does not often work out well for either partner. The withholding partner becomes unable to ask for and receive necessary support, while the other partner is denied the opportunity to feel like a successful supporter–a critical element of healthy, mutual relationships.
Family relationships can also be strained when grieving members feel pressured, diminished, or misunderstood by loved ones messages or actions regarding the loss. Again, it is important to remember that grief is a personal experience, and that there is no correct way to do it. Providing support is best accomplished by clear, kind, and consistent offers to be there, to listen, and to help with practical tasks like cleaning, grocery shopping, and preparing meals. Asking, “what can I do to help?” sometimes doesn’t work well because it puts pressure on the grieving person to think of something to ask for.
If you find yourself dealing with the loss of a baby, or know someone who is, remember to make space for grief to happen in whatever way it needs to. Feelings of loss after the death of a child will never completely go away, but they will fade to a peaceful state over time. Be patient and gentle with yourself, and ask for help when you need it. You are not alone.
- Compassionate Friends – Online support with local in-person meetings for families dealing with loss of a child.
- Bereaved Parents USA – Online support network and local chapter meetings, annual conference. Also provides support for bereaved siblings.
- A Grief Unveiled – Touching book about one father’s experience losing his youngest son.
Lindsey Hoskins & Associates provides couple, family, and individual therapy in downtown Bethesda, MD and Sterling, VA. Email or call us today to set up an initial appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation.