This post is part of our ongoing “Five Questions With” series, in which we interview a pregnancy health and wellness expert on their particular area of focus. Is there an individual or topic you’d like to see featured in “Five Questions With”? Send us an e-mail.
We’re focusing on “Unspeakable Topics,” those issues that affect so many pregnant mamas but that no one ever talks about. Today we’re addressing the difficult issue of pregnancy loss with Brittany Randolph, a birth and bereavement doula.
Five Questions With: Brittany Randolph
What is pregnancy loss?
Pregnancy loss, also called perinatal loss, is defined as the unexpected loss of an unborn baby. This loss can occur for any number of reasons, and most of the reasons have little or nothing to do with the activities or behaviors of the mama. A majority of the time these losses are due to a genetic problem or problems with the developing baby. There are many different types of pregnancy loss and each happen at different times during pregnancy, from conception through 28 days of life. Losses can include, but are not limited to, ectopic pregnancies, tubal pregnancies, miscarriages, late term loss, stillbirth, and neonatal deaths.
How can pregnancy loss affect mama and her partner?
The loss of a pregnancy is a very intense and emotional experience for a mother, her partner and other family members. Everyone involved in the pregnancy will have an emotional connection to both the baby and the loss. It is known that men and women grieve very differently, and there are many different types of grief. Women tend to grieve openly. They are open about their emotions and do not hide their pain.
A man might grieve more inwardly and they are quieter about communicating their grief. Men also grieve by doing, by helping their partner or their other children during the time of loss. Even though men tend to grieve quietly, they report feeling a great sense of loss and enduring a long mourning period.
Grieving can last for weeks, months and years and it does not necessarily have an end. It is constantly changing in intensity and focus over time, and there can be an ebb and flow to it after the initial phase of immediate grief. Often times, after a couple’s focus has turned away from the loss and they begin to incorporate the loss into their lives, they will be surprised at the intensity and waves of sadness that happen out of the blue. Most often these times happen around milestones like due dates, birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries.
There are many different types of grief to be aware of: anticipatory, silent, unresolved, delayed, and complicated grief. Each one is very different from the other and can be experienced by the same person during different times in their lives.
What are some things to say and not to say to a woman or couple dealing with pregnancy loss?
Often people feel an uneasiness when encountering any situation of loss. Because of this uneasiness or uncertainty, hurtful things can be said accidentally. Examples of this are: “it wasn’t meant to be;” “it was for the best;” “you can always try for another baby;” “at least you still have your other kids;” and “it was God’s plan.” These phrases, while well-meaning, minimize the loss and can make the woman or couple feel isolated in their grief.
The number one most helpful phrase to say to someone enduring a pregnancy loss is “I’m sorry,” or “I’m sorry for the loss of your baby.” If the couple has chosen a name for their baby, feel comfortable to use the baby’s name often.
If you are unsure of what to say, then just offer your silent support or let the woman or her partner know that you are available to help the family in practical ways. Offer something specific, like bringing dinner over on a certain day of the week, hiring a maid to come clean their house, or other similar acts of service.
What are your top strategies for healing/recovery?
The top strategies for healing:
- Talking. If you’ve experienced pregnancy loss, it’s important to tell your story with the help and support of others. This may mean talking to a professional counselor or therapist who is familiar with pregnancy loss. Or, you may prefer to talk with other women who have endured the loss of a pregnancy themselves.
- Taking time for self-care. It is so easy to stop caring for ourselves when something devastating happens. Making sure you continue to sleep, eat, drink enough water and even exercise, even you’re just taking a leisurely walk every day, Grief is a whole body process and it requires a lot of energy.
- Find something that helps you feel better. This could be an emotional, spiritual, physical or intellectual activity. There are studies that show yoga is extremely helpful to people who have experienced pregnancy loss, so I always recommend starting with yoga and exploring from there.
- Find a supportive community. Surround yourself with people who can give you the support you need moment to moment. The support you need today will be different than the support you need tomorrow. That’s okay. Communicate those needs to your community and allow them to support you.
It is also extremely important to understand that mothers who are going through a pregnancy loss are also going through a delivery and postpartum period. There will be physical needs that need to be addressed and she will need a recovery period. Understanding that you are in a postpartum period can sometimes help you understand why you are feeling the way you feel and why self-care is so important. It isn’t lazy or self-indulgent, it is vital.
What are your favorite resources for moms dealing with loss?
Some of my favorite resources are:
- Finding a support group in your community. Often these these are available through local churches, hospitals or other non-profit organizations.
- Stillbirthday This website is both for care providers and families who are facing the loss of a pregnancy or baby, no matter what trimester.
- PALS – Pregnancy After Loss Support This website is for mamas who are pregnant again after the loss of a baby.
- Still Standing– Still Standing has a good bank of articles and resources for baby loss and grief.
- Reconceiving Loss A resource center for anyone who is suffering or has suffered from the loss of a pregnancy or infant, with discussion forums
- The following books
Empty Arms by Sherokee Ilse
Ghostbelly by Elizabeth Heineman
Unspeakable Losses: Understanding the Experience of Pregnancy Loss, Miscarriage, & Abortion by Kim Kluger-Bell
Pregnancy Loss: You’re not alone
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Brittany Randolph is birth and bereavement doula, trained and certified through Stillbirthday and DONA. She is also a Lamaze-trained Childbirth Educator, has has an AS in Social Sciences and over 14 years of experience in the medical field. She is also currently certified with AFPA as a pre-and-post natal personal trainer. Helping and supporting women through her doula practice, Beyond the Bump, is her passion.