Giving birth after a loss is a subject that’s very seldom spoken about. Whether you’ve experienced a miscarriage, a still birth or the loss of an infant, being pregnant after tragedy is often a challenging experience for both mums and dads. Because this topic is so sensitive and emotive, it’s rarely brought up, but discussing what to expect emotionally from pregnancy and birth this time around is really important in order to feel better able to cope.
As a midwife for over 20 years I’ve supported women who have found themselves in this situation, and because it is such a tough thing to deal with I’m determined to talk about it. It’s also important to remember that the loss of a baby effects both parents, as individuals but also as a couple, and learning to give each other space to process grief, together and apart, is absolutely necessary.
Mind Your Emotions
Pregnancy is already a deeply emotional experience and for those giving birth after a loss, it is even more poignant. Every loss is different but the aftermath is often plagued by the same scale of emotions, ranging from fear and despair to guilt and depression. Just because you’re pregnant again doesn’t mean the emotional journey of grief has finished and navigating these emotions when you’re expecting again is particularly tough – especially because everyone assumes you to be happy. It can make you feel as though your loss is seen as a problem that’s now ‘fixed’ by a new pregnancy rather than honouring the loss as a very personal, agonising and profound experience.
Often women (and their partners) who are pregnant after a loss feel unable to voice their emotions because of expectations they feel other people have about how they should or shouldn’t be feeling. The reality is that this can make those who have already suffered so much, feel even more isolated and alone.
I always say that pretending everything is ok can actually make the experience more stressful, which is why a mindful approach is so important. Acknowledging your feelings and thoughts is vital, but consciously practicing daily mindfulness, and giving yourself a space each day to focus on the individual moment you’re in, can be really helpful. Often expectant mums find their thoughts colliding so appreciating the present for it’s own transient beauty and turning down the noise, fears and sadness inside your head can allow you to feel more at peace and in control.
A lot of the emotional conflict that exists around giving birth after a loss is completely individual and related to the very personal circumstances in which the loss occurred. However, from my midwifery experience I know there are several scenarios which come up again and again;
– Mums and dads feeling as though they’re discounting their loss when people ask if it is their first pregnancy or baby.
– Feeling as though enjoying a new baby is not possible due to the guilt they feel for the child they lost
– Anxiety about future complications happening again
– Concerns about doing things ‘right’ during this pregnancy or birth
– Depression during the pregnancy or feeling unable to bond with the baby
– Relationship difficulties compounded by grief and anxiety
– Feeling stressed about not being completely in control of everything related to their birth
– Worry about being seen to ‘forget’ the baby they lost
All of these scenarios are completely understandable, and I find that couples who are facing these issues benefit most from having a strong support network around them, whether it’s a supportive partner or friend or sometimes best of all, an online or real life group of people who have been through a similar experience.
Give Yourself Space To Grieve
Grief doesn’t just evaporate after a set amount of time. It’s written into our hearts and changes who we are forever. Although time can transform the shape that our grief takes, it never leaves us, so couples who are pregnant after a loss can expect to feel their grief in different ways throughout the pregnancy. At times it may be extremely acute, and can feel overwhelming, especially for women with all the hormonal and physical changes that can easily remind them of a former experience that didn’t end happily.
Every pregnancy and birth is different, so I always try to remind the women I work with, who are giving birth after a loss to view their pregnancy within the parameters of that individual pregnancy. Comparing and contrasting can be extremely easy for our brains to do, but it doesn’t have any constructive benefit.
It’s easy for society to assume that the loss of an infant or pregnancy affects the woman most fundamentally, but discrediting the grief and emotion that dads and partners can feel is unfair. Going through a loss as a couple is extremely difficult. You both understand each other’s devastation but it can make you feel farther apart too. Counselling is highly recommended, so you can work through the aftermath together and feel more united as you go through this new birth experience.
It’s important that dads and mums to be are both given the space, time and support to deal with a loss and the chance to ask the questions they have about birth another time around. It may be a cliché but men can often think about things in more practical terms and may want to have a lot more information and resources to hand. The most important thing is to make sure the voices, fears and concerns of both parents are heard.
Know that you are not alone
Talking to your midwife or consultant in depth about your previous experience or concerns is helpful because they’ll be sensitive to your situation and can help you to feel more comfortable and confident about giving birth again. They may also be able to provide you with information for local support groups which can help you through.
You may want to give birth in a different birthing centre or hospital to avoid feeling reminded of what happened last time, depending on your circumstances there are a few measures that can be taken to help make this birth experience easier on an emotional level and a good midwife will be completely supportive of that.
Confused and conflicted
The major issue that many expectant parents face when giving birth after a loss, is feeling a sense of conflict with confused emotions. The joy of having a baby but the deep sorrow of having lost a baby. The excitement for the future, laced with the sadness that it won’t be the future they would have chosen. There’s a lot of profound emotional work going on, but one thing is true for any parent having a baby after a loss; the love they feel for each of their babies is no less, no different. It’s powerful, deep and eternal. Giving birth again after a loss is bitter sweet. It’s fear and joy. It’s sadness and hope. It’s an emotional experience that endures for a lifetime, but one that allows for your love to find a vessel in this life – in the form of a little person who no matter what has happened before, needs you now and needs you completely.
Preparing for a birth after a loss? If you feel you would benefit from a private midwifery session to help put your mind at ease please get in touch with me.
Image by Marijke Thoen Birthphotography