For many women, becoming a mother is one of life’s most treasured and fulfilling events. It is life-changing, and every second, from conception to raising children, is integral in the life and the personhood of the mother. Being a mother becomes part of who the woman is, and if that is taken away, the physical and mental effects are a shock and a disruption to the whole system.
Losing a baby after a 20-week gestation period is a rattling tragedy that shouldn’t be endured alone. A stillbirth is a fetal death, where the mother still must go through contractions and deliver the baby or undergo a C-Section. At this time, the fetus has been growing and developing, and this kind of loss affects the mother at such an intimate level, many women feel that in losing their baby, they lose a very real part of themselves.
If you or someone you love has experienced this, it can be very difficult to grieve in a healthy way. Below are some tools to help with the process.
- Be gentle. Be kind and gentle to yourself. The feelings you have are valid, and it is normal and natural, and actually very helpful, to feel them. Avoid pushing aside or stifling your feelings. Worse than feeling these things is not feeling them. In other words, your grief and sadness must be acknowledged and felt and worked through in order for you to heal.
- Seek support. Ask for help. It is OK to need support in this time. Try to be specific. For example, asking a friend to cook dinner one night is a solid thing, though it may seem small, that can help relieve your burden. This also helps your friends and family to help if they don’t know what to say or do to support you in this time. Another part of seeking support is finding unity with those who have experienced what you have. It can be difficult and frustrating (for you and the people you love) when it feels like no one understands. But this is OK, because they don’t. There’s something to be said for simply talking with people who can empathize with you about things you have all experienced. Sometimes the greatest comfort is hearing, “I’ve been there, too.”
- Don’t put a time limit on the grieving process. Give yourself time. Feel what you feel, no matter how long it takes. It is OK to not be OK after a certain amount of time. You don’t have to be completely put back together after, say, a few months. Grieving and healing are processes that take time and fluctuate and are not usually concrete. Some days will be better, and some days you will feel heavy, and it is important to remember that does not mean you have failed, it just means that you are human and you are trying.
- Know the difference between grief and depression. Knowing the difference between grief and depression will help you identify what you are experiencing, and further help you in choosing ways to heal. Grief is a natural response to an unforeseen event. It can be helped by support, education and understanding, but it doesn’t always require a specific treatment. Depression is usually something that lasts longer, and tends to impair the individual more extensively in their daily life. It can be helped by counseling, as well as antidepressant medications.
- Name the baby. Perhaps the most difficult part of grieving after a stillbirth is the lack of closure. Naming your child helps to honor their memory, as well as acknowledge them as part of your life, and as part of you. It is a painful step, but the hope is that it will bring peace and closure.
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Author: Mayeling Angelastro, MA is an Orlando Winter Park Bilingual Licensed Mental Health Counselor providing help to couples, families, couples, children and teenagers with offices in Winter Park and East Orlando. (407) 248-0030
Co-author: Madelyn Bodi, UCF Psychology Student