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Child-Bearing Loss

Coping with Loss

We went home from the hospital dazed and tired. I was weak and enormously sad. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced such deep emotional pain. The loss was so great and so complete in a way that only death is. For the first few days I couldn’t talk to anyone, but at the same time, it was painful to be alone. I would just cry and cry without stopping. One of the clearest reminders that I was no longer pregnant was all the speedy changes my body went through. Within two days, my breasts, which had grown quite swollen, were back to their normal size.  My stomach, which had grown hard, was now soft again. My body was no longer preparing for the birth of a child. It was simple and blatant. Tiredness was replaced with weakness. And then there was the bleeding. My body would not let me forget. I knew things would improve once we could make love again and would be even better when we were full of hope. But it seemed so far away.

Childbearing loss evokes many emotions. You and your partner, if you have one, may feel buffeted and torn by confusion, relief, shame, anger, sorrow, fear, powerlessness, or despair. You might need to withdraw at first and you might feel numb about a reality that may be too much to bear. You may want those around you to comfort you physically and listen empathetically. Platitudes such as “You’ll have another baby before you know it” or “Think of your wonderful children at home” are usually not comforting. Thoughtful compassion from family, friends, and health care practitioners is crucial.

A tremendous void and sense of loneliness often follow childbearing loss. You may find that your feelings differ from your partner’s in strength or content. Grief may be mixed with guilt; both can cause tension between you. You may wonder if either of you did something “wrong” (too much activity, too much sex, not enough good food, etc.). Acknowledge and talk out your feelings as much as you can. 

Most people didn’t know how to give me support, and perhaps I didn’t really know how to ask for it. People were more comfortable talking about the physical, and not the emotional, side of miscarriage. I needed to talk about both. It was also difficult for my husband, because people could at least ask how my body was doing. Unfortunately, he would sometimes be completely bypassed when someone called to talk with us, despite the fact that he, too, was in deep emotional pain.

In addition to emotional responses to loss, you have experienced a pregnancy, and your body will be going through changes (see Chapter 23, “The First Year of Parenting”). You may find it difficult to be around pregnant women or events like Mother’s Day or baby showers. Obstetricians’ waiting rooms can be especially hard.

When I went back for my post-birth checkup for myself at the doctor’s nobody had bothered to tell the nurse that I had lost my baby. I went in there and I sat down. The nurse came in and went through this long list of probably twenty or more questions, all about the birth, and ended with the last question, “Are you breast-feeding or bottle-feeding?” I completely lost it. I started shrieking. I ran out of the room. I was shrieking to all these ladies in the waiting room.

You may feel a strong resurgence of grief on the date when your baby would have been born, or when you see children the same age as your child would have been. The depth of grief is not simply related to the duration of the pregnancy. 
The first time I got pregnant, I miscarried after six weeks. Although I was told that the fetus was only the size of a grain of rice, I deeply grieved the loss. I remember nine months later, feeling a deep sadness wash over me, and finally, I connected it with the fact that if I hadn’t miscarried, I would have been giving birth that month.

Our society has few formal ways of dealing with pregnancy loss. Some kind of ceremony may help. Giving to a favorite charity or planting a tree has offered solace to some. During the weeks, months, and even years to come, you may feel alone in your grief. Talking to others who have experienced the loss of a child can help. If you do not know anyone to whom this has happened, and if no support groups exist in your area, there are websites and books that can help you. (For more information, see "Resources.")

Excerpted from the 2005 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, © 2005, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.


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