March 12, 2024

A Painful Goodbye

By Pamela Larkin
Mental Health & Wellbeing
Postpartum & Perinatal

There are few things in life that I would say are true, but in this case it fits the bill. Growing a baby is a miracle.  New life forming over the course of 9 months is one of the greatest mysteries the world has ever known.  But, what happens when that new life ends during pregnancy or postpartum?

Defining Complicated Grief

Today, I’d like to focus on the difficulty of pregnancy loss. In pregnancy loss it is common to experience a gamut of emotions for both the birthing parent and partner. Sadness, anger, despair, overwhelm, shock, numbness are just to name a few.  In addition, it may impact your thoughts (distractible, disoriented, ruminating) as well as your physical body (lack of energy, sleep disturbances, pain, lack of sexual interest/sexual dysfunction).  Once the loss has occurred, you may avoid situations that remind you of the loss. For instance, you may decide to disengage from social media to decrease the reminder of your loss.  You may avoid meeting with your OB GYN or fertility clinic for a time.  You may consider for a time to avoid considering or discussing future pregnancies.  Lastly, how each person internalizes the pregnancy loss can impact one’s view of self.  Oftentimes feelings of guilt, depression, and self-blame occur.

When common grief from pregnancy loss becomes more debilitating, it can be considered a complicated grief.  According to the Mayo Clinic, “complicated grief are painful emotions (that) are so long lasting and severe that you have trouble recovering from the loss and resuming your own life.”

How Complicated Grief Shows Up

So what makes some vulnerable to complicated grief?

If the death was traumatic, violent, sudden or unexpected it can put someone at risk for complicated grief.  There are many things that can make this loss traumatic.  While I won’t get into specific examples of traumatic pregnancy loss, it is important to acknowledge that the length of time that someone has been pregnant prior to the loss, the lack of early warning signs, and the risk of harm to woman and baby in that process can all be traumatic.

How someone finds out that they are having a pregnancy loss,can also have an impact on whether it is a complicated grief. Are they told in a compassionate and straightforward way? Does the woman feel cared for in the process? Does the woman have time to process this news?

The decisions a woman has over the procedures connected to the pregnancy loss, can also impact her response.  Do they have a choice between a D&C versus taking medication to help clear out their system?  Are they able to do this process right away or do they need to wait for an opening in the providers schedule?  Does the birthing person have to go through the act of labor and delivery knowing that the pregnancy is no longer viable.

Furthermore, does she have a history of anxiety or depression which makes them more vulnerable to deeper feelings of grief?
Lastly, what is the woman’s family or social support like? For many who have pregnancy loss prior to the first 3 months of their pregnancy, women may not have told their friends and family yet. Not only are they asking for support from their community, but their communities are adjusting to the woman being pregnant in the first place which can be difficult.

How to Find Healing from Complicated Grief

First and foremost it’s important to know that you are not alone. Pregnancy loss & infertility struggles are more common than what is shared.  No one goes through these experiences without its deep pain and trauma.

Because grief is inherently dysregulating, it’s important to help your body come to a state of balance emotionally. This doesn’t mean that you are “all better.” It just means that you are at your “best” to handle the gamut of emotions that will arise.  Check out my blog post for more information on regulating emotions.

It’s important to process the grief experienced from the loss of your child AND to process the grief associated with a change in your identity, hopes, and your dreams. Prior to the pregnancy loss, how many of you already started putting together your baby shower list? Bought maternity clothes? Mapped out the baby’s room? You may even be struggling with confidence in your body and may question if there’s something that you could’ve done to prevent this from happening.

Finding social support is so helpful in this process. There are a number of community forums online of other women who have suffered in this way.  You may also have friends you are already in community with who have struggled with a pregnancy loss as well.

It’s possible that this has rocked your core values, belief or faith. Meaning making is so important to the healing process.  However, it’s important to first take a look at what your core beliefs were and how they have been impacted.  I’m a firm believer in understanding that there can be life from the ashes, but you first have to acknowledge the ash. Once you’ve done this, then I think you can begin to see your faith or spiritual practices as a resource for hope and renewal.

If you’d like to process with someone please know that I am available to meet with you. You are not alone.  can help you get started

Written By

Pamela Larkin

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