Content Warning: this blog post highlights baby loss and infant death while discussing ways to support oneself and others through loss. Please proceed with caution if this topic is sensitive for you.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month and we at GWHA want to highlight some support options for bereaved parents. This is a brief introduction to the many ways that you can support your mind, body, and heart through the unique grief that only comes through the loss of a pregnancy or infant child.
WHAT IS IT?
Pregnancy and Infant Loss, or PAIL, captures the myriad of ways that pregnancy can end in death – miscarriage, chemical pregnancy, ectopic pregnancy, termination for medical reasons, stillbirth, neonatal loss, infant loss (including SIDS), loss of a multiple, loss through adoption, loss through surrogacy, and any other loss that a birthing person identifies. The loss of a pregnancy or infant has reverberating impacts on the birthing parent as well as their partners, other children, family, friends, colleagues, and other valuable relationships. It can occur at any time during pregnancy or the first year of the life of a child. It’s the dark side of pregnancy, the antithesis of the hope, joy, and excitement we all associate with pregnancy. Open discussion about PAIL-related grief is growing and we welcome the destigmatization and ever-evolving support that bereaved parents can and should receive from all of the people that touch their lives.
Bereaved parents may feel left adrift with few reliable places to turn for high-quality, trauma-informed support. We encourage everyone to consider these options if they feel right for you or to reach out to the clinic for more detailed options as needed.
FIRST, WE SELF-CARE.
Have you drank any water today? What about a nourishing meal? Taken a shower? Gotten outside for a breath of fresh air? These may sound like simple tasks, but if you find yourself here as a loss parent, you know they are full of complexities. We cannot grieve and heal without properly caring for our bodies, so when you have an opportunity, check in with yourself and address your basic needs. If that is all you do today, good for you – you did something that you didn’t think you could do.
Allow your wounds to heal. If you birthed your child, you will still require 6-8 weeks of physical recovery time, just as you would if your baby survived. Loved Momma Fitness and Two Peas Wellness offer beautiful online options for honouring your physical journey and returning to fitness. A trauma-informed health care practitioner, such as a pelvic health physiotherapist, osteopath, acupuncturist, massage therapist, or somatic/energy healer (Reiki, etc) can be helpful for birth and trauma recovery when you feel ready.
Lastly, create healthy boundaries when you need to. Need more time off of work? Take it if you can. Need some alone time from your partner, living children, or well-meaning family members? Let them know. Want to stop talking about your loss for a bit? Be honest with those who ask. Want to hear your baby’s name more often? Make that request from those who also loved your baby already. Many bereaved parents report feeling multiple and conflicting emotions about their loss, often on the same day. Try your best to communicate your needs, and if that is too difficult (hello, more work for the griever is NEVER a good idea!), then gently ask for space, a change of words/phrases, and/or remove yourself from any situation that doesn’t feel safe for you. You are allowed to grieve in any way you need to and others will grow to respect that in time.
THEN, WE INTEGRATE.
Grief is a complex journey and requires mindful approaches to gently ease yourself back into the world of the living. When it feels like your world has been upended, but the rest of the world carries on, what can a person do? We suggest the following:
– Reach out to a trusted, gentle friend or family member for a good cry, a firm hug, or a quiet listening ear.
– Find your people – consider joining a peer support group. Our most frequent recommendations include the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Centre, the PAIL Network, and Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region for comprehensive, in-person and virtual peer support options for families and losses of all kinds.
– Consider individualized or couples therapy – any practicing social worker, psychologist, or counsellor licensed in Ontario can be accessed through virtual care now. If you prefer in-person therapy services, many practitioners have re-opened their doors to support grieving families. A grief coach is another option too for those looking for something similar to therapy, usually at a reduced cost.
– Use social media at your discretion – there are MANY amazing online support networks in the world of social media. You can start by accessing our list of Supportive Social Media on the website and continue as far as the algorithm will take you. Be mindful of your energy and what feels right for you and only consume the social media that brings you to resolve, rather than more heartache. Do you feel seen when reading that person’s posts or do they make you feel worse? It’s ok to only intake what feels right for you at this time (and that may vary daily).
– Read a good book, if you can. If you prefer to avoid grief literature, consider picking up your favourite novel to re-read, your preferred religious scripture, or something new to create a brief escape. If you’re looking to deep dive into the multitude of grief-related writing available, check out our Reading List for PAIL, or consider making a small purchase from Melissa Sulley, Certified PAIL Coach and accessing her PDF Resource Guide.
We’re sorry you have found yourself here as a bereaved parent, a new member in what many call the worst club in the world. We see you and honour your journey and your baby. They will be missed in this world. We hope you can find your way in the dark to the place where grief and joy meet again.