Losing a child at any stage of pregnancy, at, or soon after birth, is a hugely traumatic experience which affects not just the mother and her partner but extends to their wider circle of family and friends.
In law, a neonatal death is when babies are born alive (at any stage of pregnancy) but die within the first 28 days of life. The sense of shock and disbelief can be overwhelming and the fact that your body initially continues to behave as if the baby is still alive by producing breast milk only acts as a cruel reminder of the child you have lost.
A stillbirth is when a baby shows no signs of life at birth, after the 24th week of pregnancy. Having gone through the anticipation and excitement of pregnancy and the ordeal of labour and birth, only to find that you will never hear your baby cry or see him smile is devastating.
A baby born dead in the first 23 weeks of pregnancy is classed as a miscarriage. It is estimated that around one in five pregnancies end in this way. The vast majority of these take place in the first 12 weeks. In the case of early miscarriages, some women will barely have found out that they are pregnant. In the case of later miscarriages, mothers will have been looking forward to the arrival of their baby only to discover that something has gone wrong and the foetus has died in the womb. In these cases, women will usually have to go through labour and give birth, despite knowing that their child is dead.
Following the loss of a child, bereaved parents can go through a whole range of emotions. Sadness, loneliness, grief, anger, despair and above all that, questions that won’t go away - “why did this happen to us?” Sometimes there’s a clear medical cause – a genetic abnormality, a malfunctioning placenta or cord or an infection. But often there’s no apparent reason, even after a post-mortem. Having no reason can make the experience even more painful.
Powerful feelings of grief can also be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as exhaustion, loss of concentration, chest pain and anxiety. Grief can also affect self-confidence and self-esteem. Whilst bereavement can bring couples closer together, the opposite is also true as it places an enormous strain on relationships. Partners may grieve in different ways to each other, blame one another or direct their anger and bewilderment towards their partner. Men in particular may feel that they have to “be strong” for their partner or feel resentful that their need to grieve for the lost child is not fully recognised.
If you already have a child, telling them about the baby’s death can be particularly difficult. It is important to remember that children do not grieve in the same way as adults. They may not show much, if any, outward signs of grief or they may alternate between crying one minute and playing happily the next. Try to be as honest as you can when talking to your child and go at their pace, only saying as much as they can cope with. Whilst it is understandable to want to protect your child and it may be tempting to use euphermisms such the baby has been “lost” or has “gone to sleep”, such words may only confuse them. Upsetting as it may be, It is better to give a clear and direct explanation.
Tips on coping
- Don’t bottle things up. It’s okay to cry (and that goes for men too)
- Talk about your feelings – to a friend, partner, GP, helpline or at a support group, even though it can be hard to express how you feel
- Accept all offers of help. Understand that friends may not always know what to say or how to cope with your tears, but they do care. They may feel more comfortable showing practical support such as cooking a meal or babysitting older children.
- Be kind to yourself and be honest about your emotions. If you feel angry, say so. If you need to go in a room by yourself and shout or punch a pillow, allow yourself to do it
- Physical exercise can help to improve your mood, help you to sleep and reduce anxiety
The loss of a baby is devastating and 'Saying Goodbye' provide a service for families who have suffered miscarriage or the death of a baby. 'Saying Goodbye' can help families acknowledge these events, pay tribute to their babies, grieve together as a family and say goodbye. For more information about this 'Saying Goodbye' or their services, please click here to visit their website.
Further information and support