Currently, around 10-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth. Furthermore, over 1000 babies die of SIDS each year. That means that every year, millions of parents experience the heartbreaking loss of a child. And yet, despite how common it is, pregnancy and infant loss are still not widely discussed—leaving these parents to suffer in silence.
Losing a baby is a life-altering experience. Currently, our societal norms and healthcare standards are a poor support system for women. Often, women are expected to "just try again", rather than be encouraged to express their feelings, share their experiences, and get help as they move through their grief. To make matters worse, very few healthcare providers interact with mothers after the initial loss event. Many healthcare providers consider miscarriages so "routine" that they rarely consider a mother's mental health during assessment and treatment.
Miscarriages and traumatic births take a serious physical toll on women. Beyond that, there is also a major impact on their mental health. Around 20% of women who suffer a miscarriage will experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. These symptoms can persist for months and even years—and can even impact a woman's experience with future pregnancies and deliveries. Women who experience pregnancy or infant loss are also at higher risk for developing PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD include having nightmares, feeling “numb,” having trouble sleeping, experiencing flashbacks, and mentally replaying events surrounding the loss. Because of the lack of mental health support, many mothers also tend to blame themselves and wonder what they could have done differently to prevent the loss.
If you're finding it difficult to know how to support a friend or loved one who is in this situation, here are a few ways you can help.
1. Acknowledge their grief and the memory of their child
The first and most important thing you can do is simply acknowledge their situation and let them know that you are there to support them. Avoid making any assumptions about how they are feeling or what they need—instead, offer your presence and encourage them to share their experience with you. Allowing women to talk about their lost child and keep the child's memory alive is a great help to the grieving process.
2. Listen without judgment
Provide a listening ear without judgment. Avoid offering advice on how to prevent similar outcomes in the future, and never say "I understand how you feel" unless you have actually gone through the same experience. Allow your loved one to express themselves without judgment or criticism. Remember: everyone has their own grief journey, and there is no wrong or right way to experience it.
3. Offer practical help
While it is important to listen and offer emotional support, you can also offer practical help. This may include helping with childcare, housework, meals, transportation to appointments, or helping them find additional support resources.
4. Help them find additional resources
Because the grieving process is often overwhelming, it can be helpful to have multiple resources for support. Unfortunately, the person who is experiencing the grief will likely not have the capacity to find these resources on their own. You can help by doing the legwork for them. Encourage them to take the step of connecting with peers who have had similar experiences and professional help from a therapist or counselor who specializes in grief counseling. Here are a few resources to look into:
Grief is unpredictable and overwhelming. Often, it leaves individuals feeling isolated and alone. Bereaved mothers often say that they fear burdening people with memories of their child or talking too frequently about their feelings. They also fear that the memory of their child will fade over time. The most helpful thing you can do is let your loved one know that you remember their child and are there to listen anytime they want to talk.
When grieving the loss of a pregnancy or infant, professional mental health support is incredibly helpful in navigating difficult emotions and the healing process. Medens Health has therapists who specialize in grief counseling and are ready to provide support, resources, and guidance. If you or someone you know are in California or Nevada and experiencing grief, reach out to us by calling or texting (833) 624-5400, or by filling out our online contact form.