Dealing with grief during pregnancy

Pregnancy is supposed to be the happiest time of a woman’s life. But what if something dramatic happens that shatters that happiness, such as the loss of a close family member or a beloved pet? Will the negative emotions you feel harm your baby? How can you process the loss while also feeling excitement about your growing baby?

The elevated hormone levels and physical changes in your body that come with pregnancy can make it so much harder to deal with significant life events. Even the smallest upsets can seem gargantuan. And the conflicting emotions can cause overwhelming guilt.

However, there are ways to get through a loss and ensure that the rest of your pregnancy is happy and healthy.


Allow Yourself to Grieve

It is important to let yourself feel your loss, even when others are pressuring you to focus on your baby rather than your loss. “I thought bottling up my grief was probably the best,” said Sue Schuster, president and founder of Stage 2 Marketing, whose mother died when she was four months pregnant. “I remember going into the bath room to cry because others would respond in a way that I was harming my child.”

“Negative emotions are most harmful to the unborn baby if they are neglected,” says psychologist Ann Dunnewold, co-author of Life Will Never be the Same: The Real Mom’s Post-Partum Survival Guide. She suggests allowing structured grieving time, an hour a day, perhaps, to express your emotions without interfering with the exciting aspects of your pregnancy.

Schuster found a way to honor her loss that moved beyond crying in the bathroom. “My mother was an avid bird watcher,” she said. “I emailed all of my friends across the country to help feed the birds in memory of my mother. The pictures and emails that poured in … helped me grieve in a way that made me feel closer to my mother.”


Practice Good Self-Care

Imagine that the loss hasn’t happened to you, but to a close friend. What would you tell her if she didn’t feel right experiencing the joys of pregnancy when she was also in the midst of grieving? Through this exercise suggested by Dunnewold, you learn “this is one of those powerful situations where we can be kind to ourselves, reminding ourselves that, as human beings, we are capable of negative and positive emotions at the same time.”

Nonprofit fundraiser Rachel Vermillion Betta lost her father during her pregnancy. “I still took care of myself, and my daughter is healthy and happy at almost two years old,” said Betta. “I did worry about the effects of my grief. She was born five weeks early, but had no complications.”


Find Strength in Others

Betta’s loss was especially hard because, she said, “my father was a minister and would have baptized my daughter.” He was also the person she sought for counsel when she was confronted with negative life events. Betta looked to both her mother and her husband to help her instead.

If you don’t have an adequate support structure in your family or close friends, Dunnewold suggests connecting with others outside your immediate group. “Structured grief groups at religious institutions, mental health facilities, hospitals are very helpful.”



Connect Your Child to Your Lost Loved One

Psychotherapist Roberta Temes, author of Solace: Finding Your Way Through Grief and Learning to Live Again, finds that many of her grieving clients enjoy creating a connection between their lost loved one and their new baby, “naming the baby after the person, using something from the deceased’s home for the baby or writing a story about the deceased in a children’s format to be read to the child one day.”

Betta looks for the connection in physical resemblance, which she could see in her daughter immediately. “Her facial expressions, particularly her grumpy faces, were pure Pete.”


Experience the Happiness

Romance writer Ari Thatcher lost her father during her first pregnancy and her dog during her second, and she found that focusing on her baby brought the most healing to her and her family. My daughter’s “first Christmas made it possible to get through the first without dad.”

Betta’s husband again helped her experience the joys of her pregnancy, even in her sorrow. “The night my father died was the first time I truly felt my daughter kicking,” she said. “My husband told me grandpa was tickling her feet.”

Personal loss is never easy, but there is comfort in seeing birth and death as part of a circle of life.  If you use some of these suggestions while focusing on positive memories to cope with loss, you and your baby will make it through more easily.

Author Dunnewold says, “The grieving process needs to be balanced.” If your grief continues for more than a few weeks or shows signs of interfering with your normal routine, contact a grief counselor or therapist.


— Jennifer Roland

Jennifer Roland is a writer and editor living in the Portland, Oregon,area. She writes on lifestyle topics, personal finance and educational technology. Her book, The Best of Learning & Leading with Technology, was
released in 2009.

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