Pregnancy after loss or infant loss (PAL)
Living a pregnancy after loss (PAL) is part of the journey for many parents who have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death. It is estimated that between 50% and 80% of couples choose to embark on a new project of pregnancy during the 12 to 18 months after the loss of their baby. A PAL can be a difficult time for bereaved parents who often swing between rejoicing for the new pregnancy and crying for the baby they have lost, combined with anxiety at the thought of losing again their baby. We’ve put together ideas that might be helpful for you during this time.
- Acknowledge that pregnancy after loss is difficult. It’s helpful to provide yourself with compassion and nurturance throughout your journey.
- Remember that it’s okay to still grieve and be sad about your loss(es) during your current pregnancy.
- Understand that you will have an array of emotions. It’s normal to feel afraid and anxious one minute and hopeful the next.
- Realize that this is a different pregnancy, with a different baby and a different outcome.
- Surround yourself with an empathetic support system including family, friends, other pregnant after loss parents, mental health providers, and those on your pregnancy health care team.
- Know that you are the expert of your own body, baby, and pregnancy. You have the right to be heard by your health care providers and your concerns taken seriously. You have the right to find a doctor or midwife who will respect and listen to your needs.
- Educate yourself about the mental and physical challenges of pregnancy after loss and how your previous loss affects your decisions in this pregnancy.
- Plan for the birth experience you choose and hope for, understanding that this is part of the healing process.
- Seek reassurance from others when needed and allow yourself to turn down reassurance from others when needed.
- Decline invitations to baby showers, birthday parties, holidays, and any other event that is triggering for you. It’s not rude or self-centered — it’s self-preservation.
- Accept that remembering during this pregnancy your baby that died is a healthy way for you to separate this pregnancy from your last pregnancy.
- Give yourself permission to celebrate or not celebrate this pregnancy.
- Believe that you deserve this pregnancy and baby.
- Allow yourself to let go of guilt and feel hope and joy for this new life you carry inside.
Thank you to contributing author Lindsey Henke.
Living without rainbow baby
Mourning another pregnancy
This page is for parents who have experienced the death of a baby but have not been able to or chosen not to have a subsequent child or “rainbow baby”.
You are still a mother. It can often feel confusing and like you’ve lost this part of your identity, but this part of you does not die with your child.
“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.” – Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
Your birth story is just as valid and important as those with living children. Often, when women gather and talk about their birth experiences, they will exclude you (either intentionally or unintentionally). If you feel that you would like to contribute to these types of conversations, it is okay to let your voice and your story be heard. People may be uncomfortable with your story of loss, but it is your story. Don’t be afraid to share it.
At first you will find a great sense of belonging in the baby loss community. However, as time goes on, people around you will start to become pregnant with their rainbow babies. It can feel hurtful and as though you’re being left behind, even by the people who once “got it”. Even the majority of this community will not understand the pain of living without a rainbow. Seek out those who understand, and protect your heart however you need to (i.e. by blocking or removing yourself from pages/groups/people that emphasize pregnancy after loss, or pregnancy and birth in general).
It is very normal to feel misunderstood. Living as a baby loss mother is hard enough, but adding the extra pain of never raising a living child is unimaginable for most people. It is normal to feel detached from people and life in general. There are others out there though who are experiencing a similar situation; it is important to seek out these types of support. You are not alone.
For a lot of women and couples, secondary infertility is a problem. Or perhaps you’ve made the choice to not try to conceive another baby. You will often hear people saying that “it will be different next time” or “sometimes it just takes a while. It will happen when it’s supposed to.” People don’t realize that this is very hurtful, especially for someone who has already experienced loss. And even more especially for someone who has experienced loss and will not have the opportunity to have another child.
We hear often in the baby loss community about how you will come to live a “new normal” after your loss. When you come to the decision, or the realization that you may not ever have another child after your loss, you will have to learn to integrate this into your life. It will be like learning to live yet another new normal. You will be grieving a new kind of loss – the loss of your opportunity to parent in the way that you had envisioned.
Many bereaved mothers blame themselves or their bodies for failing to keep their baby safe. The inability to conceive again may only add to this feeling of inadequacy. Thoughts could be “my body was designed to do this, so I must somehow be less of a woman. Maybe I am broken.”
Some women may see the opportunity to have a rainbow baby as a way to redeem herself from this feeling of failure. So what happens if she then is unable to prove to herself that she isn’t broken? That she is worthy of happiness? It can lead to a very strong feeling of despair and hopelessness.
When the pattern of hopelessness continues and there is no end in sight – no rainbow after the storm – it is very easy for a mother to lose touch with the desire to live at all. Life becomes a routine, becomes mundane. There is little joy, and no hope. There is no solution, and it is hard to be distracted from that fact.
Thank you to the contributing authors RaeAnne Fredrickson and Lisa Sissons.
Informal exchanges, respectful and comforting with a good coffee and snacks: the opportunity for sharings among parents grieving from pregnancy or infant loss.