If you have lost a pregnancy, you are now familiar with one of the loneliest emotional, mental, and physical journeys a person can experience. Even the differences between the experience of the mother and her partner (if that applies to your story) throughout the pregnancy and subsequent loss can create feelings of isolation. We learn after a loss that even those closest to us don’t necessarily understand the complexity of what has happened, or the depth of injury we might be carrying. And this isn’t their fault. Unless they’ve experienced pregnancy loss firsthand, they just can’t understand.
You know that your loss will likely impact every aspect of your world for the rest of your life, ultimately altering your relationship with yourself and everyone around you. Meanwhile, after the first wave of the storm passes, everyone else is likely to stop calling, texting, and showing up with flowers and casseroles. Sometimes this is within a few weeks, or often around the three-month mark. It can be especially hard to have the support you need if not many people even knew you were pregnant.
I am still in the early days of walking through life without my baby. Her due date just passed, and I’m about four months out from the day we lost her. It does feel like the world has moved on, yet I’m still sitting here stuck in the mud of grief, still trying to make it through another day without my baby. But over the past few months, I have learned or come up with a few strategies to help keep my baby’s memory alive and bring the people I need support from along on that journey.
If you know of something that helped you navigate life after your pregnancy loss support team started to fall silent, please share in the comments section!
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO SPEAK ABOUT YOUR BABY
Humans aren’t good at grief. Once you become a person who is in the grieving process, you learn this very quickly. No one really knows what to say to you. They are afraid of saying the “wrong thing,” and they are terrified of saying something that causes you to “remember” your loss. Anyone who has suffered a devastating loss knows that mentioning your loved one will likely only help, and not harm. It’s not something you can “forget” and need reminding of. So, I have found that with friends, family members, and co-workers who I trust, it is often my responsibility to let others know that it is OK to talk about my baby.
It might feel awkward or difficult at first for everyone, but normalizing the conversation is a big step in carrying on your baby’s memory and integrating him or her into your life and future. Hearing people say my baby’s name to me is one of the most comforting and healing things a person can do to love and support me as her mother. If your baby didn’t yet have an Earth-side name, it’s totally OK to refer to your baby as “baby,” or “bean,” or whatever name you used during your pregnancy.
CREATE CONVERSATION AROUND MEANINGFUL ART
One of the ways I celebrated my growing baby and belly during my pregnancy was to track her growth by putting belly-safe paint on my bump and transferring the ink to a piece of art paper that I taped to the bathroom wall. I would make different compositions on different weeks and use different colors. As my belly grew bigger, the belly “stamp” would get smaller. Now I have framed and hanging in our home the last belly print I made with my baby.
After losing her, I wondered if I would want that reminder to be something I walked past every day. Then I noticed that when people came over to the house, they would ask me about the painting. It gave me an easy opportunity to share the story of creating those memories with my baby, ultimately allowing me to talk about her with someone who otherwise might not have asked.
Even if you didn’t make art during your pregnancy, you can use your memories to create an abstract art piece for your home that reminds you of your baby. Artwork can be a wonderful and subtle way for you to keep their presence and memory alive in your home, both for yourself and with others. Some other ideas include framing a landscape photo taken on a special trip while you were pregnant, or doing an abstract watercolor painting using the colors you had planned for the nursery.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED
The truth is, people genuinely do want to help and support you through your loss, even down the road. Often they just don’t know exactly how to do that. As time passes, what can often hurt the most are the significant dates and missed milestones of your pregnancy and life with your baby. Something I have started doing to feel less alone on those extra tough days is to explicitly ask certain friends or family members to text, call, or stop by on those days. They are almost always thrilled to know a clear cut way they can support you.
Ask them to put dates like birthdays, holidays, and death anniversaries in their calendar or planner, and tell them how they can best support you that day. I found myself incredibly anxious leading up to my daughter’s due date that no one would remember. Implementing this strategy made me feel safe, and like I knew that I had a few people I could rely on to help me through. You might also be surprised who remembers and reaches out without being asked.
CONNECT WITH OTHERS WHO HAVEN’T “MOVED ON”
When you lose someone you love, you are suddenly a member of a club you never wanted to join. One teeny upside is that you now have a community of people who have not only experienced similar losses but also who haven’t “moved on.” Spending time reading stories written by loss survivors, or joining online or in-person support groups with other mothers and bereaved parents can be your warm blanket on a cold night. You learn that you are not alone. You learn that you share a language with those men and women that only you as survivors of a pregnancy loss can understand.
If you can’t find an in-person group in your community, several online support groups have private pages and forums just for people in your shoes.
FIND A THERAPIST YOU TRUST
In the first weeks after my loss, I made it a priority to find a therapist specializing in pregnancy loss and postpartum support. Even if you can’t find someone in your area that has expertise in your specific demographic, you will almost certainly be able to find someone who offers general grief and loss support.
I usually see my therapist once a week, and it is such a relief to know that it is her job to listen to me talk, vent, cry, or whatever I need that day, and to then support me by offering perspective and tools to move through or with those thoughts, feelings, and events. Friends and family have their place in being good listeners and supporters through our pregnancy loss and life moving forward, but it is not uncommon after the first several weeks or months to feel some creeping shame that you’re “still talking about it.” A therapist will be much more familiar with the process of grief, and hopefully can be a safe place, for as long as you need, to talk about your life before, during, and after your pregnancy loss.