The Sad Reality of Perinatal Grief

When a baby dies after the 22nd week of pregnancy or even after a week alive, this is called perinatal death. Dealing with perinatal grief will be an intense process.
The Sad Reality of Perinatal Grief

Last update: 25 November, 2020

Perinatal grief is what happens when a baby dies before or a few days after birth. It’s an intense pain that takes the woman, her partner and the family by surprise.

The pregnant woman has made up her mind about the baby, has been involved with the process and wants the day to arrive when she can finally be a mother. However, for different reasons, the baby passes away, leaving everyone heartbroken.

The woman, her partner and her family must then go through perinatal grief. Like losing all loved ones, it leaves a deep emotional imprint, along with the pain of not getting to know the baby.

When Pregnancy Becomes a Sad Statistic

Woman in bed dealing with perinatal grief.

Finding out you’re finally pregnant is a burst of happiness. Immediately, you feel a flood of emotions, desires and expectations. However, you need to get through the first trimester to be sure that the pregnancy doesn’t have any major risks.

Miscarriages typically occur before the 12th or 13th week of pregnancy. Although they cause intense emotional distress in women, they are not technically considered perinatal grief.

This pain is called perinatal because the baby passes away during the perinatal period. This is the one that runs from the 22nd week of pregnancy to one week after birth.

Perinatal Grief Happens in Silence

Perinatal grief can be felt when a baby dies a few days after delivery.

In addition to the intense pain from losing the child you’ve been waiting for, social and work environments don’t usually recognize the perinatal grief that the parents go through. Therefore, the acceptance and healing process is sometimes slower and more complex.

There are several factors that can intensify women’s feelings that have lost their baby:

  • Miscarriages or previous perinatal deaths that haven’t been dealt with.
  • The time it took to finally become pregnant.
  • The age of the woman, which as time goes on adds extra pressure to get pregnant.
  • Feelings of attachment that you have, especially if the child was born.
  • Lack of social support. Medical insurance and hospital centers don’t always provide services to support this.
  • Absence of the father who didn’t commit to the pregnancy.
  • Inability to share experiences and memories with the family of social environment, to name the baby or say goodbye.

Phases of Perinatal Grief

Perinatal grief can last for days, weeks, months, or even years. Everything will depend on the woman’s temperament and the conditions surrounding the baby’s death.

Like any grief, it consists several stages.

Denial Phase

At this stage, it’s hard to believe that perinatal grief death happened. The woman’s mind was not prepared to receive such shocking news.

This state of shock and disbelief is the mind trying to process the overwhelming reality little by little.

Anger Phase

Just like any other loss, mothers will go through stages of perinatal grief, like anger and denial.

This happens when mothers feel upset and/or guilty about what happened. They feel angry toward herself, her partner, and even the doctors who were in contact with her baby.

If the woman is religious, she will be upset with God because she doesn’t understand why this could happen to her. It’s also common to envy couples who have pregnancies without complications and get to be with their children.

Negotiation Phase

This stage begins when guilt becomes confusion. “If I had done this or that” is common among the parents that suffered this loss.

They ask themselves again and again what would have or could have happened if, instead of doing one thing or another they had done something else to avoid their child’s death. They also imagine how nice it would have been to have the baby.

Depression Phase

It's common to suffer from depression when dealing with perinatal grief.

The negotiation phase gives way to depression. Faced with the irrevocable reality that perinatal grief deals with, emotions or symptoms appear. For example, women feel sadness, reluctance, sleep disorders or loss of appetite.

There is also anxiety about getting pregnant again. Many women are afraid that the same thing will happen with the next pregnancy.

Acceptance Phase

This is the final phase in the process of perinatal grief. It’s when you accept that you have to continue living, despite having gone through a loss.

Little by little, the woman will go back to her daily routine. However, it may take some time to be ready to try again for another baby.

Read this article: How to Cope with Loss

Tips to Overcome Perinatal Grief

If you have just experienced losing your baby, know that you have the right to go through perinatal grief. It’s necessary so you can cry, accept, and heal the wound left by the fact that your pregnancy didn’t reach a happy conclusion.

To live and overcome the different phases of grief, here are some recommendations:

  • Your doctor must give you a detailed explanation of the medical issues that caused your loss. In addition, s/he needs to tell you the consequences that will affect your future pregnancies.
  • Also, don’t stop yourself from talking about and naming your baby in front of your partner, relatives, friends or co-workers. To get through the pain, you don’t have to forget the baby you lost.
  • In addition, grieve freely. Avoid setting deadlines to finally feel “recovered.”
  • You must also do everything necessary to feel a little better every day.
  • Don’t forget to take care of your physical and emotional health. If you need professional help, don’t hesitate to look for it.
  • In turn, no one should pressure you on where you will give the clothes and accessories that you had for the baby.
  • Laughter is healthy. Don’t be afraid or believe that you’ll dishonor your baby’s memory if you’re able to smile or feel happy.
  • Finally, if you need a ritual to honor or remember your baby, do it.
If you need to do special rituals to deal with your perinatal grief, do it.

Final Reflection

Perinatal grief needs to be independent of the reasons that caused the loss of your baby. The woman, partner and family have a right to experience and overcome their pain. Little by little, everyone will recover. It’s a matter of being patient and waiting.

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