Coping after a stillbirth

Finding out when you are well into your pregnancy that your baby has not survived or that there are problems with the unborn child or pregnancy can be devastating. This commonly leads women and men to experience a range of reactions.

Initially, many people describe feeling in a state of shock, as they learn that their baby they assumed to be healthy is now at risk or has died.  The news that this has occurred leaves many in a state of disbelief or denial – as they cannot quite believe that this is happening, or has happened to them. For others, there is an immediate feeling of immense pain.

It took a while for it to sink in.  I was shocked and filled with so much emotional pain that it was almost unbearable.

Many people also describe feeling angry that this has happened to them. These feelings of anger may be strong from the early days or linger over time as you are reminded of your loss.

I felt really, really angry.  Angry with people who were pregnant, angry with people whose babies hadn’t been stillborn, angry with people who tried to empathise by talking to me about their miscarriages, angry even with those who were just trying to help.

Coming to terms with the news can also lead parents to feel immense feelings of sadness as you try and come to terms with the loss of your baby.  It is important to allow yourselves the opportunity to grieve, cry and mourn the loss of your child.  It can also leave you feeling very alone and isolated as an individual and a couple – so it is is important to keep talking to each other, and derive all the support you can from one another at this time.

We both felt quite alone as this was happening to us but no one around us really knew what it was like to go through.  On the outside, we tried to make it seem like we were moving on, but on the inside it was raw.  It was a really difficult time for both of us.

Talking with others whom you feel that you can trust and be understanding and supportive can also be incredibly helpful.  Connecting with others who have had a similar experience can help you realise that you are not alone and others have been through a similar experience.

One of the greatest comforts to me over these last excruciating months was learning how many other women felt the same fear that I do and yet survived subsequent pregnancies.

It is also common to feel a range of other reactions such as guilt, anguish and/or shame.  If you are experiencing these feelings, it is important to remember that it is not your fault and the reasons for this occurring are beyond your control.

It is a natural response to question why?  Why me?  Why us?  Whilst is is perfectly natural to ask this, there is, however, no natural answer or explanation, so try not to place pressure on yourself to come up with an answer that is simply not there.  Rather, try to embrace your feelings of grief and draw on each other (or others that you trust) to hold and support you at this difficult time.

Acknowledging your loss

Given your loss, it is important to acknowledge and allow yourselves to grieve for the loss of your baby and all the hopes and dreams that you held for your child and your future as parents of that child.

Many parents talk of the importance of holding their stillborn babies and having photographs taken to remember and cherish the moments that they had with their babies.

That moment when I held him in my arms, he was perfect.  It was the most precious, wonderful and sad moment of my life.

I wish I had got more photos taken of her by an organisation such as Heartfelt – I never knew how precious the few I have now would be.

Give yourself time

Try to give yourself time to grieve before considering trying again for another baby in the future, as this is important for your emotional and mental health, both now and in the future.  Whilst you or your partner may feel a sense of urgency to try and conceive again as soon as possible, often rushing in to this can increase your anxiety down the track.

After my child was stillborn, I was desperate to get pregnant as soon as we could.  Becoming pregnant again was my sole focus.  And when I did become pregnant again, initially I felt immense relief….but that was soon replaced with feelings of apprehension, as I got through the next eight months holding my breath hoping everything would be ok.

Research indicates that rates of anxiety in women during a subsequent pregnancy are likely to be higher if she falls pregnant within twelve months of a stillbirth.  Further, there is also more likelihood of experiencing postnatal depression and anxiety following the birth of their subsequent healthy baby.  As a result, some health professionals will recommend giving yourself time (around a year) to mourn your loss before beginning another pregnancy, as this may be advantageous to your emotional and mental wellbeing in the longer term.

Seek professional and peer support

A list of support services and networks can be found here. You may also wish to access specialist counselling services under Medicare.