What is pregnancy or infant loss and its grief?
The pregnancy or infant loss refers to the death of a baby that occurs during the course of the pregnancy, in baby birth or during the first year of life. The pregnancy or infant grief makes reference to the mourning lived by these parents at the time of passing of their baby.
Parents Orphelins has chosen to represent all parents who experience a pregnancy or infant loss, regardless of the period when their baby died. In this instance, Parents Orphelins believes that anyone who has lived a pregnancy which resulted in the loss of a baby, before the age of one, can indeed experience pregnancy or infant grief.
In other words, we believe that the sorrow is not measured by the number of weeks of pregnancy or the weeks of life of the baby but by the magnitude of the dream that the parents carried in them and also by the intensity of the feeling of already being parents.
It is important to keep in mind that your sorrow is tinged by your personality and your history. That is what makes it unique, even if some elements are similar to those of other parents.
The loss of a baby causes a painful mourning but it will drive, with its resolution, a better self-knowledge, a greater maturity and an increased capacity to enjoy life and be happy.
Please, do not hesitate to contact us for more information. You can also download our awareness information guide (only available in French).
The pregnancy or infant loss grief in figures
Each day in Québec, parents lose a baby during pregnancy or shortly after birth. It is estimated that nearly 23,000 Québec families are affected by the death of a baby each year. According to the Institut de la statistique du Québec, 428 children of 0 to 1 year died in 2013. Between 2007 and 2011, 1,869 babies of 500 grams or more are born silently, nearly 460 stillbirths per year. This represents a rate of 7.2 stillbirths for 1,000 births. Each year, to these deaths are added approximately 22,000 pregnancies ending in a miscarriage before the twentieth week of pregnancy.
These figures are far from being known and are often misunderstood by the population. Some health care services are not enough equipped to support parents after the loss of their baby and the resources available in the community are still too few to meet the demand. Thus, the parents feel abandoned, isolated and powerless upon their return at home, their arms empty.
Losing a baby is by far the most difficult mourning experience. It’s the dream of starting a family or to expand it; then see it vanish into thin air. It is not in the nature of things that life stops before it has begun. The parents then have to live a long and complex process of mourning. They need support, encouragement and recognition. Too often, the close relatives and friends in mourning do not know how to react or how to help.
Parents must therefore learn to live their life and choose a space where the memory of their baby will live on.
The parents who lose a premature baby, often have to encounter specific added difficulties to their grief. Premature birth is, in itself, a great stress for parents.
The birth occurs quickly while there was nothing to suggest this possibility. Added to the fear that your baby may not survive is the fear of after-effects due to his premature birth. The first weeks, even the first months, can be very distressing, the condition of your baby being often unsteady, ranging from critical to reassuring and the reverse. Sometimes, complications jeopardize a development that seemed positive. Prematurity is involved in 75% to 85% of cases of pregnancy or infant mortality.
When the medical team finds its inability to save the baby, the decision to stop treatment and to end the baby’s life can be heartbreaking for parents. All these days and weeks of anxiety, which is often added to many trips to the hospital, cause extreme fatigue and, when the baby dies, parents have little energy to go through this new stress.
Adapted from the book “LES RÊVES ENVOLÉS” Éditions de Mortagne 2005 by Suzy Fréchette-Piperni, B.Sc., Nurse Specialized in pregnancy or infant grief
The “usual” reactions to grief
It may be useful to know the different manifestations of grief, such as physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral. This can help to feel less isolated and to understand that what the mourning parents is experiencing. Our family and friends can also better understand what we are going through. Here are some examples of the “usual” reactions to grief :
Stomach flutterings, tightness of the chest, heart palpitations, sensitivity to noise, breathlessness, weakness, muscle tension, lack of energy, dry mouth, gastrointestinal disorders, loss or increased libido, increased or decreased appetite, gain or loss of weight, tiredness, tight throat, vulnerability to disease, frequent headaches, muscle aches and pains, dizziness, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, shaking, chills, etc.
Torpor, appeasement, release, sadness, nostalgia, anxiety, fear, guilt and remorse, shame, solitude, helplessness, despair, feelings of abandonment and of loss of control, empty feeling, ambivalence, loss of ability to pleasure, shock, etc.
Inability to accept the irreversibility of death, confusion, difficulty concentrating, idealization of the deceased, compulsive thoughts, dreams on the deceased, tactile or olfactory perceptions of the presence of the deceased, visual and hearing hallucinations, search for meaning of life and death, etc.
Work performance decline, cries, seclusion, avoidance of thinking about the deceased, constant search for opportunies to remember the deceased, over-reactivity, changes in the relationships, etc.
Why is it so difficult?
- More pregnancies are planned and many women become pregnant at an older age, increasing the desire for a baby at the time of conception. Added to the fact that families are smaller now than formerly, every pregnancy are thus experienced with more intensity.
- With the development of medical devices that can see the baby at an earlier stage of pregnancy, parents can become attached more rapidly to their baby. But the more a parent gets attached to their baby, the more the sadness of losing him is high. Consequently, the sadness felt is not connected to the baby’s age or the number of weeks of pregnancy, but to the love that parents have invested in him.
- Advances in medicine, assisted reproduction, neonatology fuel the illusion that science has control of the situation and that medicine can prevent losses and save all the sick or premature babies. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different and much remains to be done.
- In return, the medical advances also help reduce the frequency of pregnancy or infant losses which reinforces the sense of isolation of the parents that live the death of their baby.
- Western society places great emphasis on life and occults death. Death is no longer seen as part of life which often leads to incredulity, misunderstanding and a feeling of revolt.
Adapted from the book “LES RÊVES ENVOLÉS” Éditions de Mortagne 2005 by Suzy Fréchette-Piperni, B.Sc., Nurse Specialized in pregnancy or infant loss
For the women
- Reactions that seem more intense, because she carried the baby and would have possibly developed a stronger emotional connection with him.
- Feeling of failure, shame or guilt for not having been able to carry the pregnancy to term.
- Feelings of disappointing their spouse or entourage.
- Empty feeling or a sense of having lost a part of herself.
- Doubts about her ability to conceive and anxiety about the next pregnancy.
For the men
- Miscarriage experienced as a sad event, and not with a sense of loss.
- Feelings of isolation, because grief is often overlooked by his surroundings and attention is usually focused on the woman.
- Feeling of helplessness.
- Affects his identity as protector and provider of the family.
Informal exchanges, respectful and comforting with a good coffee and snacks: the opportunity for sharings among parents grieving from pregnancy or infant loss.