Many mothers said that after losing their baby they could not think straight and felt unable to make decisions. Very powerful maternal urges were common. Some were frightened by the intensity of these feelings. For example, some mothers wanted to dig up their baby’s body from the grave to cuddle them. Some women felt they could not face going out, and dreaded having to explain to an acquaintance where their baby was.
As the grieving process goes on your emotions may change dramatically day-to-day or even hour-to-hour. Many experience a feeling of failure – how could they have let a tiny baby die? Many mothers cannot face the idea of seeing others’ babies and experience intense jealousy of other mothers. Some felt brave enough to visit their antenatal group; this was often a distressing but positive experience.
Other common emotions were guilt and self-blame because their body had let them down, particularly as the grief became less raw. For example, some mothers said that they felt they had let their baby down when they started crying less. All these feelings are perfectly normal.
Most mothers felt that talking to other women who had also experienced stillbirths was very helpful and reassured them that their feelings were normal, and sometimes made them feel less alone.
Fathers are often forgotten. Men and women grieve differently and many men take on the protector role in the family, supporting their wives or partners and not allowing time for their own grief. Even in today’s society, some men find it difficult to express their emotions and feelings can get locked up. Some women take this as indifference to the loss of their baby.
Many men need time and space to grieve. This may happen after the funeral if there is one, or possibly many weeks later. Fathers tend to take on the practicalities and keep themselves busy. However, do allow yourself time to grieve.
‘He didn’t cry until the funeral and I felt very bitter about it. I felt he wasn’t acknowledging our baby.’
The effect on the family
Losing a baby will obviously affect the relationship between the two parents. Some couples find the tragedy brings them closer together; others are pulled apart and may find the loss puts a strain on their relationship.
The stress is better dealt with if you acknowledge the fact that everyone grieves indifferent ways – if there is a grave, some parents may want to visit it every day, others may want to go back to work, some cannot get out of bed, some may cry all the time, some will want to spend days researching into pregnancy problems to find an answer and so on. All grieving parents have ‘good’ days and ‘bad’ days – try to be aware and support each other during 'bad' days.
Many women find it difficult to understand their partner’s lack of tears and visible distress – they feel the baby did not mean anything to them. Remember, a lack of expression of feelings does not equate to lack of feelings. Conversely, some women are disturbed by the emotional outburst of their partners, they may never have seen them cry or sob uncontrollably before.
It is usually the father who goes back to work first. This is often a difficult time for both the mother and father. The mother may feel abandoned and feel that her partner has ‘moved on’ and forgotten about the baby. The father may feel he cannot cope yet with the extra stress of work but has to go back. He may also resent the mother’s time to continue the grieving process.
It is not unusual to have some sexual problems in the relationship in the first few months. Again everyone is different; one member of the couple may have a strong desire to make love to comfort and show their love for the other one, who in turn may have no desire at all. Try to talk about how you feel. Bereavement is usually associated with a depressed feeling that often diminishes the libido for a while. It will return at different times for the couple.
Sex and pregnancy are inextricably linked. You may feel terrified at the thought of getting pregnant again; likewise sex may become very mechanical in the desire to fall pregnant as quickly as possible. Be aware of these possibilities, and be open and honest.
Sex after any pregnancy, whatever the outcome, is different. A woman’s body changes and she will have to recover from the physical effects of the pregnancy and the delivery. If problems in the relationship persist past the first few months and appear not to be resolving, be they sexual or otherwise, do seek help. Some couples find a few sessions with a professional counsellor very helpful.
The effect on the children
The loss of a baby will have an effect on everyone, including your existing children. In the first few weeks after the loss the practical involvement of a grandparent, aunt or close friend may be invaluable. Someone needs to keep the practical aspects of life under control, such as going shopping and cooking. Many friends will want to help, and will be glad to do something, so accept their help and ask if you need it.
‘I was worried about constantly crying in front of my daughter. I was afraid for her to see me sad.’
What you tell your children again depends not only on their age but also on past experiences of death and any religious beliefs. Tell your child in very simple terms – if they want more details they will ask.
Children will often mull facts over and ask questions many weeks later, often in seemingly random situations such as during dinner or in a shop. Answer them again honestly and openly. Do not be afraid to show your emotions, likewise let them cry.
Explaining the death in terms of ‘it was nobody’s fault’ is very important. Most children at some stage will blame themselves for the death of their baby brother or sister. Again reassure them and explain what a wonderful brother or sister they are because they are thinking about the baby or helping you put flowers on the grave or however they help you. Children sometimes hide their sadness to protect their parents. A recent study identified the three most important aids in dealing with children who have lost a sibling:
- Recognise and acknowledge the child’s grief
- Include the child in family rituals
- Keep the memory of the baby alive in the family.
Try to be as open and honest about the situation as you can be. Children are often much more disturbed when they sense something is wrong but don’t know what it is.
A special word for grandparents
As grandparents, you may often feel left out or excluded from the grief. This must obviously be a very difficult time for you - not only have you lost your grandchild but you see your own child suffering.
Your support to your son or daughter will be invaluable. Try to visit them in hospital and if their baby was stillborn, ask them if they are happy for you to see your grandchild. You may like to cuddle him and spend some time sharing him as a family. This will be invaluable later as you have a shared memory to treasure. You may be surprised about how things have changed over the years. We have learnt that it is best to acknowledge the existence of stillborn babies and help parents to spend time with their babies as well as creating memories by taking photographs or footprints.
If you need support, please don't suffer alone. We have details of organisations who can help.
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ℹLast reviewed on August 1st, 2016. Next review date August 1st, 2019.