Healthy living

Your emotional recovery after pregnancy loss

How may I be feeling?

There is no right or wrong way to respond to a pregnancy or its loss. People deal with their loss and grief in different ways. You may experience feelings of sadness, denial, guilt and anger as you face your loss and the healing process of grief begins.

Regardless of how long you were pregnant, your loss may feel very real. You may find yourself overwhelmed by confused feelings. Society has not always acknowledged the close bond that can form between parents and their expected baby. Sometimes a long-awaited pregnancy may produce a strong bond from the earliest stages of conception. For some people, complex social or medical circumstances can create mixed feelings about the pregnancy and later feelings of both grief and relief when it is lost. For others, a sense of attachment has not yet occurred, then suddenly the process of miscarriage begins and unexpected feelings of loss are experienced.

Ask for support if you need it

It is important for you to make your own choices about what you need at this time. Talk with your GP and health carers about how they can best assist you.

You may require extra support to cope with your loss if you have:

  • had previous losses, including other deaths within your family
  • a personal history of depression, anxiety or other psychological issues
  • limited support from your partner, family and friends
  • experienced social isolation or financial stress
  • had a lack of parental support and nurturing, currently or from childhood, which can create further vulnerability.

If you need additional support you can ask your doctor, social workers, counsellors and pastoral carers anytime.

Different stages of grief

Loss at any time can raise deep emotional issues for any of us. Most women report feeling many different emotions, including:

  • sadness and grief
  • denial and disbelief
  • anger and resentment
  • shame
  • vulnerability and helplessness
  • anxiety and panic
  • guilt
  • stress
  • shock
  • hopelessness and despair
  • yearning
  • confusion.

You may find it helpful to accept the reality of your loss by talking about it and sharing your experience. Most women will recover with the assistance of supportive family and compassion. Grief is a process and it takes as long as it takes.

The following can help you accept the reality of your loss:

  • Talk about what has happened.
  • Talk about the hopes and dreams you had for your baby.
  • Create or attend ceremonies and rituals.
  • Allow others to be supportive.

Some women have also advised that the following strategies have been helpful:

  • Share your emotions with those close to you.
  • Accept you may have strong feelings but that they will pass.
  • Write your feelings and thoughts in a journal.
  • Join a support group.

You may wish to incorporate your pregnancy experience into your life. Put a few minutes aside occasionally to reflect on the life that has been lost. If you have other children, talk to them about your loss as they get older.

The Perinatal Pathology service at King Edward Memorial Hospital is responsible for the creation of mementos (photos, hand and foot prints) to inpatients and those who have been referred to the service.

For King Edward Memorial Hospital patients the Pastoral Care Service offers a number of resources upon request, including rites for mourning a pregnancy loss and rites for healing. A chaplain or pastoral care representative is available at all times and your health carer can contact the chaplain or your own religious representative for you.

What about my partner’s feelings?

Your partner may feel powerless and helpless while grieving the loss of your pregnancy. It is important that you both share your grief and talk to each other about your feelings and needs. Understand and respect that each person will grieve differently. Your partner should be included in discussions with your health carers and counsellors. Give your partner the opportunity to express his or her own feelings.

Just being there and listening to each other can be of great help. You don’t need to try to ‘make things better’. Be aware that men and women often experience and express their grief differently. Sharing your thoughts and feelings can help you both understand how each of you is experiencing the loss. Also, let your partner and others know what you need at this time.

When can I start having sex?

Your doctor may suggest a length of time before your body will be physically ready to start having sex again. When you will be emotionally ready, however, is an individual decision.

Understand that men and women often feel differently. Discuss your feelings with your partner so that the timing is appropriate for both of you. Concern and love for each other may be expressed in other ways until you feel you are ready for sexual activity.

Should I tell my children?

The basic need of children is to feel safe and loved. Young children can quickly pick up their parents’ distress. They can be reassured with extra hugs and returning them to their normal routines whenever possible.

Children can also benefit from being told what is happening in clear and simple terms. Don’t give too much information or abstract answers to pre- teenage children. The best ‘rule of thumb’ is to answer the questions as truthfully and as concisely as possible. Consider including children in ceremonies and rituals such as the ‘Interment of Ashes’ and ‘Ritual of Remembrance’ and consider involving them in the creation of memories.

Trust children to grieve in their own way, depending on their stage of development. Children need to be reassured that they did not say or do anything that caused your loss. They also need to know that it is okay for you and them to feel sad.

Be aware that children can become anxious about death and may also think that something bad is going to happen to them. This information may reassure your children and reduce their anxieties. Be patient if their general behaviour worsens. Further information is available from health care providers. Advice for siblings who have experienced a loss is available from SIDS and Kids WA (external site)

Planning for another pregnancy

Following a pregnancy loss some parents are keen to become pregnant again as soon as possible. Others feel the need to wait as they need time to work through their grief before they feel emotionally ready to handle another pregnancy.

Sometimes, before planning another pregnancy you may be advised to have medical tests, counselling or seek specialist medical advice.

Most people find they are ready to welcome a new pregnancy when they have come to terms with their loss. Apart from medical and physical considerations, there is no correct or appropriate period of time to wait before becoming pregnant again. It is often recommended that you wait for your menstrual cycle to become regular. Your doctor or medical staff may suggest how long to wait before attempting to become pregnant again. You should discuss your individual needs with them. Emotional, cultural, religious and other considerations may also influence your decision.

Contraception may be important until you and your partner are ready to try for another baby. This can be discussed with your GP or the hospital doctor.

Risks in future pregnancies

For most women, a miscarriage is a chance occurrence and the next pregnancy is very likely to proceed to full-term. Within 6 to 8 weeks of the loss of your pregnancy your reproductive system will have returned to normal and your fertility (your ability to fall pregnant) should not have changed.

It is normal to feel anxious about any subsequent pregnancy, especially up to the time of your previous loss. You may find the need to visit your doctor more regularly to confirm that your pregnancy is progressing normally. Expressing these feelings and fears to others may help.

Rituals and ceremonies

For many people, rituals and ceremonies can express powerful meanings through the use of words and symbols.

Some parents may wish to organise a small ceremony to honour the life that has been lost. They can also use this ritual to speak with others about the significance of their pregnancy and its loss.

The Pastoral Care Service at King Edward Memorial Hospital is available to patients and those referred from other hospitals. It coordinates a Ritual of Remembrance, a service of healing that is held monthly in the hospital’s Chapel. This ceremony is not designed to give you answers or present a particular attitude to questions of belief or faith but rather support you in your journey of grief.

Held in the presence of other people who have experienced a similar loss, this ceremony is an opportunity to reflect, remember and acknowledge the loss of your baby. Notification of the date of the ceremony will be provided.

Interment of Ashes service

If you have been referred to the Perinatal Pathology Department at King Edward Memorial Hospital you will be invited to attend an Interment of Ashes Service. This is a non-denominational ritual at which the ashes of stillborn babies lost in the first 28 weeks of pregnancy are buried in a memorial garden. The service is an important part of the healing process for many people and parents and family can return to the garden at any time.

The service occurs in the Memorial Garden at the King Edward Memorial Hospital situated on the corner of Barker and Railway Roads in Subiaco (next to the WA Medical Museum) at 12.30pm and takes approximately 30 minutes. It is usually held on the last Thursday of every month.

Families, friends and children are very welcome and you may wish to bring flowers to leave in the garden. A formal record is kept of all the babies whose ashes are interred in the garden.

Hospital staff such as your midwife, nurse, social worker or the chaplain will be able to provide you with further information on this service. You can also phone Perinatal Pathology on 9340 2730 for further information. There are no costs attached to this service.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Acknowledgements

Women and Newborn Health Service


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

See also

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