Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Perinatal Loss: An Empty Cradle
“It is the kind of heartache you can feel in your bones.” Unknown author, following loss of baby
Social Media will light up this October with Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month posts. Perinatal loss is the term for the death of an infant during pregnancy or shortly thereafter–it may include miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death.
Statistics are staggering and likely under-reported….at minimum, 15-20% of all child-bearing women develop perinatal depression/anxiety during the period of time between conception and a year beyond childbirth (PSI, 2017). That is way too many women who are holding onto that suffering in isolation, likely due to stigma, among other factors.
However, when a woman (and her partner) experience perinatal loss, that percentage goes up significantly, and newly mourning parents are at particular risk for depression and anxiety subsequent to the perinatal loss of their baby.
Here are some key statistics: (PSI, 2017)
Miscarriage is the most common type of perinatal loss: “the spontaneous loss of a fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy.” Other perinatal losses include stillbirth (defined as “fetal death after 20 weeks gestational age”) and neonatal death (where the infant dies within 28 days following a live birth) (PSI, 2017)
- 10-20% of all known pregnancies result in miscarriage.
- More than 80% of miscarriages happen before the 12th week of pregnancy.
- 85% of women who have had a perinatal loss go on to have a successful pregnancy.
- Women (and men) can develop perinatal depression following a pregnancy/infant loss. (PSI, 2017)
What can you do if you or someone you love experiences a perinatal loss?
- Connect with a trained perinatal helping professional who understands the disenfranchised grief associated with perinatal loss (see postpartum.net for list of warmline support, resources, referrals to trained clinicians, etc).
- Join a perinatal loss support group or online forum (see resources below) for support and broadening social support network.
- Be a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. There are no words to describe or fix the pain of a perinatal loss. Sometimes saying absolutely nothing is the best thing. Platitudes and cliches do not help the recently bereaved parent.
- Honor the loss of the baby – no matter the type of perinatal loss. Have a funeral or memorial service, light a candle in honor of the baby’s memory. Design an expressive arts shadow box with baby’s footprints (in case of stillbirth)
- Ask for assistance in hospital to honor grieving period. Some hospitals place a special symbol on the door of the bereaved mother (like an autumn leaf) that signifies to medical personnel that mama (and partner, if she has one) are grieving and need to be attended to as such. Medical social workers can be invaluable at a time like this.
- Plan for aftercare after a miscarriage or stillbirth. A woman’s body will continue to go through hormone regulation after delivery. She is still very much at risk for perinatal depression/anxiety, most especially due to the baby’s loss but also because of these hormonal fluctuations that happen after the placenta is delivered which in turn impact the serotonin in her brain (PSI, 2017).
- Take time off from work. Create a grieving period. Plan for how you will announce the situation (or not) to professional colleagues and family.
- Don’t put a timeline on how long you will grieve for. Grieving will come in cycles where you will reach milestones and imagine your baby being a certain age. The baby will be forever frozen in time at a certain age. Honor that loss every time you cycle through the grieving. Know that the pain does lessen with each cycle.
- Many perinatal losses can be tied to failed IVF or infertility treatment procedures. Keep in mind the mother and her partner (if she has one) are also contending the with ongoing cycle of grief/loss/trauma as relates to medical procedures that may be invasive, expensive, and also impact hormones regulating mood health. It’s doubly painful when a mother gathers hope for a pregnancy after repeated attempts to conceive, only to experience a miscarriage.
- Practice extreme self-care in your healing process: strive for good sleep, nutrition and exercise, when your medical professional gives you the go-ahead. Practice stress reduction techniques that are known to release trauma such as yoga, tai chi, expressive arts, hiking. As with any medical situation, get permission from your medical personnel before embarking on a specific wellness plan.
Resources (from Postpartum Support International Website): postpartum.net
Compassionate Friends www.compassionatefriends.org
SHARE Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support www.nationalshare.org
Grieve Out Loud www.grieveoutloud.org
Tears Foundation www.thetearsfoundation.org
March of Dimes www.marchofdimes.com/Baby/loss.html
MISS Foundation www.misschildren.org
Griefwatch (for perinatal loss) www.griefwatch.com
Solace for Mothers (Birth Trauma & Recovery) www.solaceformothers.org
Birth Mom Buds www.birthmombuds.com
Exhale: an After-Abortion Hotline www.4exhale.org 1-866-439–4253
RESOLVE through Sharing www.bereavementservices.org – for providers
First Candle http://firstcandle.org/
Schneider, A. (2017). Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Perinatal Loss: An Empty Cradle. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 12, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/savvy-shrink/2017/10/miscarriage-stillbirth-and-perinatal-loss-an-empty-cradle/