Losing an infant is an unimaginable tragedy. At times, you won’t believe that it is your reality. You may feel so many emotions at once that it becomes overwhelming and your mind shuts down. There’s no right way to grieve your loss because it looks different for each person. Having said that, we’ve compiled a list of healthy coping strategies that will make this difficult phase of your life more tolerable.
7 ways to cope with infant loss
1. Allow yourself to grieve
Grieving is a natural response to loss and you must know that it is okay to feel it. Sometimes you’ll feel that you’ve gotten over the grief only for it to hit hard the same evening. Grief can manifest in various ways – sadness, anger, confusion, or even numbness. Some of your reactions might feel “out of order” for you, but that’s okay.
There are five stages of grief:
- Denial: You can’t believe what happened. It’s like saying, “No way, this can’t be true.”
- Anger: When you might feel really mad, you could be angry at the situation, at yourself, or others. It’s a way of dealing with the pain.
- Bargaining: You’ll think and picture a lot of “what if” and “if only” scenarios. You’ll question yourself – how would you have done things differently? Know that none of it was your fault.
- Depression: This is when the sadness really sets in. You might feel really down, cry a lot, and not feel like doing things you used to enjoy.
- Acceptance: You likely would never be okay with the loss but in this stage, you acknowledge the reality of it. You start to come to terms with it and learn how to live with this new reality.
2. Make memories with/of your baby
Depending on the gestation age, many hospitals in Canada allow you to spend some time with your baby. Take photos, fingerprints, and footprints of your baby. Pick an outfit for them. Now, take all these memories and keep them safely in a memory box.
If you never got a chance to meet your baby, do something special in their memory. You could plant your favourite tree in the backyard, release lanterns in the sky, or create a dedicated space in your home to help remember and honour your child. This can include pictures if you have them, personal items, natural elements or simply a candle you can light and tend to your grief. to 3. Check-in with your partner
Find support in your partner and keep communication open. They are going through the loss and probably dealing with it differently or grieving away from you, so it doesn’t upset you more. Share your feelings, hold each other close, or just listen to your favourite music together.
4. Keep a journal of your emotions
Writing can be therapeutic for many and you’ll only know when you journal. Express your thoughts and emotions freely. Make it a space for you to vent, reflect, and track your journey through grief. Once you make it a habit, you’ll recognize patterns in your grieving process, which will help in recovery.
5. Share your loss with close ones
Lean on your close ones and friends for support. Maybe you know someone who’s gone through this loss before and talking to them will make you feel less isolated. Be selective in what you share and how you share. Be prepared that others may not know how to comfort you at first, as infant loss is a kind of loss not experienced by most and continues to be a taboo topic.
6. Find a support group
Time and again we’ve seen the power of connecting with people who’ve been through similar things. Whether it is an online or an in-person support group, they provide comfort, advice, and a sense of community.
7. Do one thing at a time
Even the smallest task might feel overwhelming at times. Focus on what you can manage at the moment, whether it’s folding a small laundry of clothes, a walk outside, or watering your plants. On days you feel better, go out for a date with your partner, and connect with people that get what you are going through.
Do you ever get over the loss of your baby?
No, it’s something you won’t be able to get over. Instead, you learn to live with it and make it a part of your life’s story. The intense pain you feel now will soften over time and your love for the baby will multiply. It is okay to carry that loss with you and to talk about it whenever you wish.
Do men and women grieve differently?
Yes, men and women often grieve differently. Women might express their emotions more openly and seek support from others, while men might be more reserved and try to deal with their feelings on their own. Men may also enter a “fixing” mode, where they can get hyper focused on finding solutions, staying in control, and hoping the grief heals itself. How we have experienced previous losses in our lives, or not, or seen others close to us grieve also has an impact on our experience with infant loss.
Therapy for infant loss
A good therapist creates a safe space for you to express emotions without judgement and will never tell you to get over the loss. As a psychotherapist who has personally experienced perinatal loss, I understand the depth of this sorrow. I’ve built my practice to help other parents experiencing the same and find meaning in the loss. While recovery is difficult, having a dedicated time and space with an experienced therapist can help parents process grief in a healthy and constructive way.
I offer virtual psychotherapy services across Ontario and would like to know how I can help you. Please reach out to me today for a 15-minute free consultation (first-time clients only).
How to help a friend or close one dealing with infant loss?
If you’re helping a close friend or family cope with infant loss, the best thing to do is to listen and validate their feelings. We often listen with the intent to “fix”; there’s no fixing grief but to allow the person to feel however they are feeling. The best help you can offer is your time, to sit and listen. Do not judge them and most importantly, do not ask them to move on.
Be of service if you are able. Offer to take care of small tasks around the house. It could be getting them groceries, making them frozen meals, cleaning the house, washing dishes, or doing laundry.
Infant loss also shatters the future plans parents had in mind for their child. You can ask them what they were planning to name their baby, this can help parents feel recognized and their baby not forgotten. If you are not sure how to support them and are feeling uncomfortable, don’t go silent or make assumptions, such as “if I bring up the subject it’s too painful for them”. Rather own your discomfort, “I want to be here for you but I am not sure what to say or do” and ask “what is helpful for you at this moment?. This will help tremendously a grieving parent and ultimately strengthen your own relationship with each other.
As time moves on, don’t assume that grieving has stopped, life is “back to normal”, and that you shouldn’t bring up the memory of the loss or the baby. Unlike the deaths of other family members, a parent, or grandparent for example, which are developmentally expected, infant loss is very different. Parents often feel like “no one asks or remembers what happened anymore”, “will my baby be forgotten”. Tactfully find ways to remember their loss and the journey they’ve had. This can be acknowledging an anniversary or the baby’s birth order (ie. for parents having lost their firstborn child, don’t assume that with subsequent births, their first child ceases to be their “first child”.)
Complicated Grief: Risk and Protective Factors
While grieving is a natural process, there’s a risk of complicated grief developing.
Studies show that women with a history of mood disorders, history of gestational loss and social pressure for a new pregnancy can contribute to complicated grief. Protective factors, such as the presence of another child, the quality of specialised healthcare, and the social support provided by either a partner, community, or spiritual activities are associated with a healthy grieving process. If you or a loved one have experienced infant loss, connecting with an experienced psychotherapist can provide much needed support and care.