Elizabeth Petrucelli

Author, Blogger, Educator

Category: how to help

Comparing Loss Serves No One

“Comparing Loss Serves No One” was originally published on December 2, 2015 at Doula Spot.

October 15th Miscarriage VigilRecently in a group, bereaved mothers were comparing the pain they experienced based on the age of their baby. One woman shared she had miscarriages so her pain could not be nearly as painful as a friend who had lost a baby at full term and the friend who lost her baby at full term could not possibly be in as much pain as the person who lost their baby at 2 weeks old. Even with those comparisons, another mother stated that the pain of losing her 24 week gestation child could not be as painful as someone who lost their living child.

The common denominator here is grief, the grief one experiences from a loss; however, there is a societal perception of the pain and grief one might experience based on the longer a person is alive, the more grief that one might experience. Here are some examples of what I have heard or seen regarding grief and pregnancy loss.

Women are told:

They should have nothing to grieve for the baby lost early (before she had a chance to love it).

The baby wasn’t born alive so why is she sad?

It is belittling to mothers who have lost living children for women to grieve a baby who never lived (the perception being that a baby in the womb is not living).

A miscarriage is not the same as losing a child.  

Then there are other comparisons:

A mother who birthed her stillborn baby through her vagina will experience more grief than a mother who had a c-section (as if she was somehow “spared” by not having to deliver vaginally).

These are comments and comparisons I have heard but what purpose do they serve?

Society allows and accepts a family’s grief for a baby or child who passes within the first year of life and beyond because there is a physical body with which they can see, touch, smell, and hear. We also see acceptance and validation for the grief within our own federal guidelines of FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act); however, there is no time allowed to grieve the loss of a baby not born alive. This gives society the perception that born alive = worthy.

When grief is compared or challenged based on the gestation/age of a baby, it can make women feel they are not worthy to grieve for their baby not born alive; whether they were born in the first trimester or later. It can make women feel ashamed about their very real feelings. Not all women will feel grief from a miscarriage and while that’s okay, it’s not helpful for one woman who was not hurt by her miscarriage to say to another woman “What’s the big deal?” It’s a big deal to her and she deserves support.

Women should be allowed to grieve without shame just as they would grieve for the loss of their parents. Although I have seen people make others feel shameful for grieving the death of their aged parents (because they lived a long life, their death was expected).  Does a woman who just married her boyfriend of six months have the right to grieve? After all, she didn’t know him that long and if the basis for grief is length of time together (as some people have suggested), then she shouldn’t grieve nearly as much as a woman who lost her husband of 15 years. When approached from this angle, it doesn’t make much sense to associate time together with how much grief should be expected or experienced.

MiscarriageValidation that the grief is real and that they are worthy to grieve starts with us (society); sharing our stories of loss, and encouraging society to recognize that the grief from miscarriage exists. For many women, the moment they see the positive test they begin imagining all they will do with their future child. All those hopes and dream disappear in a fleeting moment, a flicker on an ultrasound that diminished too quickly, a kick or punch which faded away, a breath that emptied too soon. All are worthy of grief and mourning.

Shaming the grief experience by comparing grief experienced from pregnancy loss further silences this common experience and forces many women to hide. I remember feeling shame. It manifested in feeling foolish for grieving something I never had (a living baby); feeling silly for grieving a baby I couldn’t hold or see in their full form. I saw my baby on the ultrasound and I saw my baby’s heartbeat so I knew she was real but she was not real to many others. I also felt shame when I was excited to be pregnant and had a new life within me, though a fragile one, and announced it to the world only to have to tell everyone that the baby died.

Many women continue to feel more shame when they choose to hide their pregnancies until much later. Just because a woman doesn’t announce her pregnancy early, does not mean she is living in shame but some do. I have a friend who has already told me that should she become pregnant again, she will not announce until later…much later.

She does not want to have to tell people her baby didn’t make it, like last time. Months after her miscarriage, she is still asked about her pregnancy or what happened which adds to her silent pain; a pain that she carries but doesn’t allow the world to see. Her ‘status’ updates are make believe; pretending nothing ever happened. She buries her pain deep within her but still knowing how far along she would be.

Even I didn’t realize that she had the same thoughts as I do. We would have been pregnant together. We would have been due within one month of each other. I would be 38 weeks with a very ripe belly. My breasts would be preparing to nourish the child within me. I would be making frozen meals and completing the final tasks to bring home a new baby.

I would most likely be sharing with her all the things I have been doing to help her prepare as well; hoping she didn’t make a mistake or forget something I may have. We would be talking about names. And after our babies were home, we would be sharing milestones. Instead, we share death. We share our experiences of miscarriage which were very different yet the same; her entry into the silent club of pregnancy loss and my mentorship of having been through it…twice.

We do not know what is inside of someone else’s mind. We do not know what their experience of pain is. We cannot possibly comprehend someone’s grief based on society’s opinion, our personal opinions, our personal experiences, the experiences of others, etc. The pain and grief a person carries is their own. They may not fully share that pain with you either. Even if we know they had a loss, they may still remain silent which in turn, makes us feel they are “okay.” They might be okay or they might be deeply struggling.

When we know someone has experienced pregnancy loss, the most we can do is offer support. There are many ways to do that. Books and websites are dedicated to supporting families through loss. What we cannot do though, is much for the internal grief they will inevitably experience. We cannot speed up the grief journey; we can only walk with them through it.

Accompany one another with mercy. – Pope Francis

The length of someone’s life, the size of their body, the condition they are in, and the circumstances surrounding their death do not make grief more or less worthy. Grief is grief and is a person’s own journey. Please support them and others through any grief they are experiencing. Most of us have no idea if one experience hurts more than another experience. Can we stop comparing and just support?

Miscarriage

How to Prepare for Your Miscarriage

miscarriage in ultrasound roomYou’ve just been told that your baby/pregnancy isn’t viable, that there is no longer a heartbeat, or that you will be miscarrying; so what do you do now? Chances are, you were sent home with medication to induce the miscarriage or told to just go home and wait it out but do you really know all that you need to prepare for? Probably not.

Here is some practical information on how to prepare for your miscarriage. This is information you would likely never hear from your care provider.

Step 1. Before you leave the doctors office, ask for the following (if you have already left, you can call them or send someone back to their office).

  • A list of warning signs.
  • Induction medication instructions, warning signs, and how long it may take to work.
  • A miscarriage kit (strainer, gloves, saline solution, container for remains/baby).
  • Pain medication (prescription in hand or actual pills).
  • A sleep aid (if you feel you will need it).

Step 2. Prepare your home by setting up the bathroom for the delivery process. Purchase a miscarriage kit. If you don’t have time to purchase a kit, use the information below to prepare.

  • Have the strainer in the toilet (for every use)
  • A container to place the baby/remains.
  • Saline solution (for preserving and viewing the baby).
  • Gloves on hand in case you feel like you need them (it’s okay to touch the baby/remains without gloves).
  • Towels/wash clothes for cleaning up.

Step 3. Prepare emotionally.

  • Talk with others who may have miscarried.
  • Share your feelings with your partner and ask him how he is feeling/doing.
  • Books are an excellent way to learn what others have felt and they can help validate your own feelings. It’s Not ‘Just’ a Heavy Period; The Miscarriage Handbook or The Miscarriage App, can be very helpful.
  • Join an online support group and ask others about their experiences.

Step 4. Have someone with you. You should not miscarry or deliver your baby at home alone.

  • Your partner or husband should be with you. If they are not available, a friend or other family member should be with you.
  • Hire a professional such as a bereavement doula, loss doula, or perinatal loss specialist who can mentor you through this process.
  • Ask if you can be induced and deliver in the hospital. For miscarriages beyond 10 weeks, this can be a very viable option. I recommend that all my clients deliver in a hospital when they are between 14 – 20 weeks.

Step 5. Consider testing. Doctors speculate that miscarriages are caused by genetic abnormalities but with so few women testing (only 13% of stillborn babies receive an autopsy), we just don’t know for sure if there is something you can do to prevent a miscarriage.

  • Ask your doctor about the Anora Miscarriage test kit by Natera. This is a test on your baby’s remains and may give you some answers such as sex of the baby and the baby’s condition/chromosomes. For baby’s between 16-20 weeks an autopsy may also be performed.
  • Ask your doctor to run blood tests on you which may reveal conditions like MTHFR and other antibody/antigen issues which could cause miscarriage.
  • In a future pregnancy, consider progesterone testing to ensure your progesterone is at the optimal level for carrying a baby. This test should be done as soon as you become pregnant and monitored during the first trimester.

Step 6. Decide the final resting place for the baby/remains. You have many options available to you.

  • Flushing (accidental or purposeful) is one option. If you feel guilt over flushing or would like to honor your baby, you can perform a water ceremony for miscarriage which can help to release some of the guilt and/or honor your baby.
  • Burial (at home, at a cemetery, or other location). Be sure to check the local laws on home burial or burial at any other location other than a cemetery, you do not want to break local ordinances and laws. Burial at home is not usually recommended in the event that you might move. Some families choose to bury a tiny baby in a pot and plant a tree which is portable in the event of moving. Many cemetery’s offer communal burial or plots for miscarried babies and many are free. Be sure to inquire.
  • Cremation. You will need to work with a mortuary or crematory for cremation if you are not utilizing the hospital cremation process. Please note that most hospitals cremate all biohazard together and that includes the baby/remains. You will also not receive any ashes back with hospital cremation/disposal. Many mortuaries and crematories will conduct the cremation free of charge. You might even be able to include special blankets or notes during that process. Be sure to inquire. With very early babies (13 weeks and earlier), you may not receive any ashes back.

Step 7. Create memories. Yes, there are ways to create memories, even for early miscarriages.

Memory Box for Miscarriage - Erika Zane Photography

  • Pictures can be taken of your very tiny baby either professionally or with your phone.
  • Smells and scents can help you remember. Lavender is a very common scent used to help relax but it can also be used to help you remember. You may not think you will want to remember this experience but many women do.
  • Name your baby. This can be very beneficial in validating your baby’s existence. It’s not something everyone does but many women enjoy naming their baby, even if they call their baby “peanut” or Baby (insert last name).
  • Miscarriage AnnouncementMementos don’t have to be elaborate. If you have a larger baby, you can try capturing handprints/footprints but with smaller babies, you will need be a bit more creative. Examples of mementos are sympathy cards, hospital admission bracelet (from you), remembrance jewelry, breastmilk pendant (if your milk came in), cord keepsake, blanket (with or without baby’s name on it), plant a tree, plant flowers, make a donation to a charity,  etc.
  • Create a miscarriage announcement.
  • Attend annual events such as a candlelight vigil or remembrance walk. You can find local vigils and events here.

Step 8. Move forward.

  • Understand that moving forward is not moving on. It will take time for you to feel like you can move, let alone move forward. Take your time moving forward.
  • Seek a support group or one-on-one mentoring/counseling.
  • You will likely never return to “normal” but will learn a new normal.
  • There is no timeline on grief. Some people move through grief quickly and some move through grief more slowly. There is no right or wrong.
  • Purchase a recovery kit.
  • Grief is not depression.
Photo Credit: Dravas Photography

Photo Credit: Dravas Photography

Having a miscarriage is not easy, even if you might not have wanted the baby. It is emotionally and physically draining yet we are led to believe that this is an easy experience and it’s “no big deal.” Many women are confused when they are hurting yet are not treated as if this is a hurtful event. With the information above, women will understand how to prepare for your miscarriage. They will feel empowered and validated and will know they have options.

Miscarriage Series – The Commendation Ceremony

Commendation Invitation for Miscarriage

I wasn’t sure what a Naming and Commendation Ceremony really was. After Ruby died, we were encouraged to celebrate her life and name her. We didn’t have an official ceremony but we named her. I had been to a commendation ceremony before for some clients but I wasn’t sure what ours would be like considering how early this baby was born. I wasn’t nervous though, I was very excited. A feeling I hadn’t experienced much over the prior weeks.

My excitement was just like the excitement I had before our gender-reveal party for Timmy. No one knew the sex of the baby and we all couldn’t wait to find out. When I learned the sex of Gus, I couldn’t wait to share it. I wanted everyone to be surprised just like if he was born alive.

I did fear judgment on the name we chose for him. I wasn’t sure if his name would be accepted by all. In reality, it didn’t matter, this was our son and the name chosen for him. I really can’t say we chose his name because Gus was chosen for him from the moment I knew he was within me. Oh how I wish he was here to carry such a powerful name.

As we all rushed to get ready, I remembered I needed to grab Gus’s memory box, the baby figurine, his cross, and his memory book. A blanket that was made for him would be brought by my friend Peggie. I couldn’t wait to hold it and see it (I sleep with this blanket). Very few memories for such a small child but memories none-the-less.

Gus's Memory Box

We got out of the house on time, but traffic was horrible getting out of town. I had wanted to stop for some thin Sharpie’s but there was no time after how long it took to get out of town. We would show up just five minutes before the ceremony and I had things to set up.

We arrived at the church and family and friends were gathered inside the Narthex. I knew this would be overwhelming and difficult for me in that I needed to greet each person, hug them, and hear their words. As an introvert, this is hard on a regular day; today, it would be even more overwhelming. I was also in a rush to get things set up and talk with Father Ed as I had not yet given him Gus’s full name.

I rushed through greeting everyone and made it to Father Ed where we talked about what was to take place and set up Gus’s things. It was nice to have a few private moments with Father Ed before the ceremony. I was so thankful he was doing this for us.

After everything was set up, all the people were still in the Narthex and I asked them to go sit. Father Ed officiated getting that done with a welcome to all Christians. We entered the church.

The ceremony started with a beautiful song called I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light. I had no idea this song would bring on the tears. I didn’t think anyone else would sing during the ceremony but as my voice choked and I no longer could sing through the tears, I could hear those around me singing. As the third verse began, I could see Father Ed walking up to the altar and as much as I wanted him to hear my voice resonating, my voice was not there.

The lyrics literally took my breath away and I was overcome with grief. It was as if Augustus was telling me, “All is okay mommy. See, this is what I am doing!”

1. I want to walk as a child of the light;
I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world;
the star of my life is Jesus.

Refrain
In him there is no darkness at all;
the night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God:
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

2. I want to see the brightness of God;
I want to look at Jesus.
Clear Sun of righteousness, shine on my path,
and show me the way to the Father.

Refrain
In him there is no darkness at all;
the night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God:
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

3. I’m looking for the coming of Christ;
I want to be with Jesus.
When we have run with patience the race,
we shall know the joy of Jesus.

Refrain
In him there is no darkness at all;
the night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God:
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

As the service began, I wondered if this was “overkill.” This was the stigma of miscarriage coming out in my own mind. As much as I knew this was needed and more people should do this, I felt a bit bad about making such a hoopla about my own child.

We had our priest and a cantor who were there with a fully lit church. We were such a small group there celebrating his life but it seemed, for a moment, that we were putting out all these people. I leaned into Hubby’s ear and asked, “Do you think this is overkill?” He shook his head no. Afterwards, I would realize why he felt that way.

As Father Ed chanted the beginning prayers, Augustus’ name was sung. I am not sure if everyone picked up on it or not and I hoped he would say his name more and more throughout the ceremony. I could hear my friends taking pictures all around me as I tried to keep the tears from flowing.

Commendation Ceremony 2

My friend Katie, read the first reading. It was so beautiful and relevant to infant loss. As she read, I wondered what was going through her mind. I wondered if she wanted to cry. I wondered if she would make it through without crying. I wondered if the loss of her own son, Henry Thomas, would bring on grief for her. I wondered if I was causing her pain. In that moment, I realized how hard this must have been for her. I just wanted to tell her I loved her.

Father Ed proceeded with the Gospel and then the Homily. The Homily took my breath away again. Father Ed has such a way with words. I wanted to soak in every word, remember it all but there was not way my mind could do so. Augustus’ name was repeated several times so all could hear and I had really wished in that moment, that we were there for another reason. A happy reason, not celebrating a short life.

Our friend Donna then read the petitions and it was so hard. She instantly started crying and it was so difficult but all I felt was love from her. I didn’t matter that she was crying. She was validating this experience. Our experience. She didn’t need to be stoic. She knew how hard this was for us. She had comforted her own daughter through loss. Afterwards, she came to us and gave us a big hug. I just wanted to tell her I loved her. She may never realize how much this meant to our family.

Commendation Ceremony 1

We were asked to place Ruby and Augustus’ name in the Book of Life. Oh how I couldn’t wait to see their names in there. I was awe struck by the fact that Ruby’s name would now be in a Book of Life. We had never placed her name in one before. She too, would be commended and honored today.

After Hubby wrote their names in the book, I noticed that Augustus’ name was missing a U. I had hoped we would have time to correct it later. We weren’t able to fill in the dates of life in the book. I knew Augustus’ but Ruby’s took a bit to remember her exact date. Father Ed told us we could fill it in later. I am not sure when later would be.

Hubby and Joey were then offered time to speak. Joey originally wanted to go first but then asked his dad to go first. I am sure he was just nervous. Hubby started but he was crying. He said some beautiful things but I loved that he said, “When your wife gets pregnant, you fall in love with that baby instantly. Someone you have never met and don’t know.” I know those weren’t his exact words. He probably doesn’t even remember his exact words but what I don’t think he realized is that I needed to hear those words. We talk, but I rarely hear those intimate thoughts he has. It was healing to me.

Joey shared his experience of what he heard from me when Gus died, how he felt, and how hard it was for him the next day because he knew I was hurting. I love him so much. We have an amazing bond and I really need to be more cognizant of that and help grow that bond. He loves me so much and we are “attached.”

Joey drew this in the sand at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. It was his message. He misses his brother.

Memory of Gus at Coral Pink Sand Dunes

The ceremony concluded soon after and we walked out behind Father Ed. We waited in the Narthex for the rest of our family and friends while they signed Gus’s book and we hugged them and thanked them for coming. They all said they thought the ceremony was beautiful. They all felt it was needed. It validated everything. We lost our son. It’s okay to grieve and our son meant something, no matter how small he was.

– Breaking the silence of First Trimester Miscarriage

Helping Someone Through Preg-nancy Loss

Do you know someone who is going through a pregnancy loss?

1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage and 1 in 160 babies die from stillbirth. This is a very common occurrence during a woman’s childbearing years with very little discussion. You will likely have a friend or family member who will suffer such a devastating loss. Here is some practical guidance on how to help someone through pregnancy loss.

Don’t be silent. Silence can be extremely painful. They will remember your silence. There is a difference between active silence and silence that is to ignore. Ignoring silence means avoidance, rejection, minimization, rushing through the event, fear and silence because “this is so uncomfortable.” Families feel supported in silence when there is active listening, attentiveness and presence (a shoulder to lean on). Don’t just fill silence with jabber. It’s okay to just sit with the family in silence, but do not ignore their pain.

Grief has no timeline. They will never forget. Don’t put time limits on how long you think they should grieve. Don’t disappear because you think you will “make them cry,” or “make them remember.” They want to remember and they will cry anyway. They will find comfort in you remembering.

“The grief felt from losing a baby is not smaller because the baby is smaller. The empty place felt from a baby’s death is never going to be filled. It’s a pain that will never completely heal or be relieved by subsequent pregnancies.” Melinda Olsen, Earth Mama Angel Baby

The list below gives you many ideas on what to say and how to help. Keep in mind there is no one right thing to say or do.

What to Say

“I don’t know what to say.”
“Who can I call for you?” (Be prepared to actually make those phone calls).
“Be patient with yourself. Grief has no timeline.”
“Don’t feel guilty because you laughed today.”
“Can I take your baby’s siblings to the park? I know you don’t feel like laughing or playing right now.”
“I am going to the store, can I bring anything back for you?”
“Talk to me. I am here to listen.”
“I am out running errands, is there anything you need?”
“How are you doing today?”
“You don’t have to answer the phone or call me back, I just wanted to check in on you.”
“How about I take your baby’s siblings to school, or grandma’s, or ____?”
“I would love to attend a support group with you or go to church with you.”

What Not to Say

“You can have another baby.”
“At least you know you can get pregnant.”
“It was God’s way of protecting you from ____.”
“It was God’s will.”
“Heaven needed another angel.”
“Your baby is better in Heaven.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
“I know just how you feel.” (Unless you have personally experienced pregnancy loss).
“It could have been worse.”
“Now you have an angel/saint in Heaven.”
“You should be over this by now! It’s been ____ weeks/months/years.”
“God never gives us more than we can handle.”
“What can I do for you?” Instead say, “Can I do ___ for you? Or “I am going to bring over a meal” not “Can I bring over a meal?”

Things You Can Do

  • Listen – They may want to talk over and over again about the pregnancy and the death experience. Be the person they can go to and vent with and repeat their story. Most people want to stop listening after the 3rd or 4th time.
  • Bring tissues.
  • Give them a hug.
  • Encourage the family to have pictures taken with their baby.
  • Ask and hold the baby.
  • Be their shoulder to cry on. If they don’t want to talk, they may just want someone to lean on while they cry. Let them cry. Crying is just one way to express grief.
  • Cry with them. You don’t have to be stoic. Crying helps validate that this is a sad time and an experience worth grieving. They will not be angry with you for crying.
  • Be there – For the birth that is. If you would have most likely been there for the birth anyway, be sure to let them know you would still like to be there to support them. At the very least, the family may prefer you wait in the waiting room (which can be typical at a live birth too).
  • Call their baby by name – which may seem weird. Unless the family does not want you to call their baby by name, this is preferred.
  • Mementos – Bring something for them to remember their baby by. For any birth, people give gifts. This is no different although the gifts might be slightly different. The family may want an outfit, so ask. Families are often encouraged to dress their baby just like they would at a live birth. A teddy bear that is at least 14 inches but less than 24 inches is best as well. Mom can hold the bear as she leaves the hospital. You can also find out the baby’s weight and make a bear of the same weight. Anything with the baby’s name or birthstone on it, such as jewelry, is also customary. Any of the traditional keepsakes will also work such as something to preserve a lock of hair, handprints/footprints, molds and books or special boxes to keep pictures in.
  • Offer to make phone calls for them.
  • Send a card. There is actually a line of cards for pregnancy and infant loss by Hallmark and other card makers.
  • Be comfortable in their tears.
  • Attend the funeral/memorial service.
  • Send a daily message but do not expect a response. “How are you today?” “Thinking of you.” “Hope things are going okay.”
  • Understand that the next year will be a “year of firsts.” Going into their home without their baby will be a “first,” returning to work will be a “first,” going to the same grocery store will be a “first,” and any holiday will be a “first” holiday without their baby. There will be many “firsts.”
  • Remember the baby’s birthday/angel date/death date. Send a card, make a phone call, send a text. It can be as simple as “Remembering your baby’s (can insert baby’s name) birth today.”
  • Remember the baby’s due date – If their baby died before their due date, this will be a particularly difficult day. Let them know you are thinking of them and you are there.
  • Be supportive in the weeks and months to come.
  • Attend memorial events – Be there for the funeral or any memorial events and find local walks and other annual remembrance events to help them share their baby.
  • Set up a meal train/calendar of people who will bring them meals. Soups can be hearty and healthy. This recipe for Grief Soup is amazingly healing and delicious. Bringing veggie trays, fruit trays, sandwich trays, or just setting out some healthy food can be extremely helpful. It is a reminder that the family needs to eat, which is often put on hold while mourning.
  • Bring household items such as milk, eggs, butter, toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, aluminum foil, toothpaste, etc.
  • Mow the lawn, take out the trash, bring in the trash cans, etc.
  • Pick up around the house (do laundry, mow the lawn, empty and load the dishwasher, make the beds, etc). Do not break down the baby’s nursery or remove any items for the baby.
Excerpted and adapted from It’s Not Just a Heavy Period; The Miscarriage Handbook. You can also find this information and more in The Miscarriage App

 

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