Grieving the Death of an Unborn Baby

Amy Guertin
Heart shaped memorial stone

Grieving the loss of a baby that dies in the womb is a silent form of bereavement. Whether the baby dies early in the pregnancy (miscarriage) or late in the pregnancy (stillbirth), the loss is real and painful. Finding healthy ways to grieve can be a challenge.

Miscarriage Grief

A miscarriage occurs when a baby dies in the womb before the 20th week of gestation. The American Pregnancy Association reports that around 10-25 percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, usually within the first three months of gestation. The cause of miscarriage usually cannot be determined. If you have experienced a miscarriage, there are several ways you can grieve your loss and begin the healing process.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

If you are the mother, you may find yourself crying a lot. You may feel angry at yourself or others or spend a lot of time trying to figure out why the miscarriage happened. You may also find it difficult to be around pregnant women.

Talk to Your Partner

Although the way your partner grieves the loss may be different from the way you grieve it, it's important to remember that your partner is grieving, too. According to the American Psychological Association, you may notice that your partner is more likely to be angry or irritable, express concern over your health, and seek solace in your sex life. Understanding your partner's reactions can help you understand that your partner is grieving just as much as you are.

Involve Other Family Members

If you and your partner have other children, you can expect to face their questions about why they don't have a baby brother or sister as promised. Answer their inquiries as honestly as possible. You may also want to talk to your hospital social worker or grief counselor about resources available to help grieving siblings.

Miscarriage Grief is Real

Some people don't understand the intensity of miscarriage grief. They may feel that you are grieving too intensely for someone that wasn't a "real" person. They may feel that you weren't pregnant long enough to grieve as hard as you are. Here are some things you (and they) need to know about what affects the strength of marriage grief:

  • How much you wanted the baby
  • How long it took you to get pregnant
  • How much support you have after the miscarriage
  • How strong your bond was to your baby
  • If you blame yourself for the miscarriage
  • Important days, like the baby's due date or Mother's Day
  • The hormonal changes that occur as your body returns to a nonpregnant state

Regardless of the amount or length of your miscarriage grief, your grief is as real as the grief you would feel from losing a friend or another loved one. In some ways, miscarriage grief is worse, since there isn't always a body to mourn over or a large amount of family and friends to mourn with.

Grieving a Stillborn Infant

Awareness

A stillbirth occurs when the child dies in the womb after 20 weeks of gestation. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, about 1 in every 160 pregnancies in the United States ends in stillbirth. The total number of stillbirths in the United States each year is about 26,000.

Dealing with Loss and Disbelief

Sadly, many women find out before delivery that their baby has died in utero. This means they have to endure the pain of labor knowing that, at the end, they will leave the hospital empty-handed. Also, if your child was stillborn, you may have felt him or her moving only hours or minutes before the death. This can make it hard for you to believe that your baby is gone.

There is no "appropriate" length of time for grief. Grieving takes as long as it takes. You are going to grieve how you grieve; no one has the right to tell you how you should do it. They may not understand what you are feeling. It isn't your job to make them; it's your job to take care of yourself.

Embrace the Reminders

Stillborn children usually leave reminders of their brief lives. Many hospitals take an imprint of the stillborn baby's foot or hand or even a series of pictures for you to keep. Hospitals also encourage the parents of stillborn children to spend several hours holding and bonding with their baby. Displaying these mementos can help you accept the reality of your loss and begin the grieving process.

Post-Miscarriage Rituals

A miscarriage usually leaves little physical evidence that the baby was ever there. There are no pictures to look at, except perhaps an ultrasound, no grave site to visit, and no items that were purchased for the baby like a blanket or a cradle.

Many people have found that creating tangible reminders of the baby is helpful. These can include:

  • Giving the baby a name or using the baby's name if you had already chosen one,
  • Creating a special memorial garden,
    • Choose flowers that have meaning, either by name, type, color, or even month the flower represents
    • Make sure that you build in a place to sit, so you'll have a place to reflect
  • Writing a letter to your unborn baby,
  • Choosing a poem or song to remind you of the baby.

Post-miscarriage rituals give many a tangible way to say goodbye and begin the grieving process.

Creating an Online Memorial

Many people choose to create an online memorial in honor of their baby and assist in the grieving process.

Online memorials allow you to remember and make a permanent record of your baby.

Hold a Funeral

Depending on what stage of pregnancy you were in when you lost your baby, you may choose to have a funeral. The most important thing is that you do what you feel is right for you. You can be as involved as you'd like to be. Just make sure you let your wishes be known. There is no right or wrong here. If you'd like to help dress your baby, that's fine. If you don't, that's fine, too. A funeral is for you so that you can begin the grieving process. Choose a headstone with a loving inscription to commemorate the baby's passing. Visit the gravesite if you feel up to it and decorate it with flowers, toys, letters and other offerings.

Seek Support

Whether on-site, online, group, or individual, it is important that you seek support to help you through this loss. There are many groups that have local chapters:

  • Group therapy session
    Compassionate Friends has 660 chapters throughout the U.S. with each chapter offering free support to parents and other family members who have lost a child for any reason. They also offer online live chat sessions for those who aren't near, or can't attend, a chapter meeting. See their websites for times.
  • Bereaved Parents is another support organization with chapters throughout the U.S. The website has resources to read, and Bereaved Parents has an annual conference for the family members of lost children.
  • If you are looking for an individual therapist, the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists has a therapist locator to help you find a professional in your area specialized in dealing with grief. You can find their locator on their website. You can also look on your insurance company's website for therapists that are covered by your insurance.
  • Located in Longmont, CO, My Baby Angel Foundation offers free in-home or in-office counseling sessions. If you are not in the Longmont area, they also offer sessions by phone or via Skype. They can also guide you through creating a person ritual or ceremony to grieve the loss of your baby.
  • Silent Grief is more of a site with resources rather than personal support, but it does have an articles section for the mother, father, family, friends, etc.
  • After Talk is a website where you can keep can keep a private journal, read resources, ask questions of a professional, create a memorial, start a blog you can share with others, and read others' blogs.
  • Healing Hearts is a website that has a host of referrals to other grief resources. It also has a 24-hour immediate support number: 800-221-7437.
  • If you need support in your area and are still having problems finding it, contact a hospital. Hospitals are great resources of local services.

Surviving the Loss

Losing a baby before it even has a chance to draw breath seems unfair. Sadness, shock, anger and devastation are all natural responses.

You may find that it helps to acknowledge the grief by talking about it to people who can understand what you are feeling. It also helps to engage in meaningful rituals to celebrate your baby's life in your womb-however short that live might have been. If the pain of losing your unborn baby seems overwhelming, you should always seek out your physician or a mental health professional.

Grieving the Death of an Unborn Baby