You’ve been over the moon excited about your pregnancy. But then the unthinkable happens. The doctor can’t detect a heartbeat at the next appointment. Two weeks later, the baby is born stillborn.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that about 1 in every 160 deliveries in the U.S. ends in stillbirth. It is the most common negative pregnancy outcome.
When fetal deaths occur before 20 weeks gestation, they are defined as miscarriages. Those that happen after 20 weeks are called stillbirths. An estimated 25,000 stillbirths take place every year and represent 60 percent of all perinatal mortalities nationwide.
About half of stillbirths occur at or near the end of an otherwise healthy pregnancy. The vast majority (85 percent) occur before delivery; 15 percent take place during labor and delivery.
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A baby’s death, whenever it occurs, is a profound and deeply emotional loss. Unfortunately, friends and family members may be uncomfortable with the grief and make insensitive comments. Platitudes such as, “You’ll have more children,” “You were lucky it was early in your pregnancy,” or “At least you didn’t have to bring it home from the hospital,” are well intentioned, but do little to address your shock and sadness.
Couples are likely to struggle, too. According to The Compassionate Friends website, spouses often grieve in different ways. Some spouses may not want to discuss the death. Others are obsessed with every detail and have trouble letting go.
Husbands and wives may experience varying needs of intimacy. One partner may crave physical closeness and reassurance that the relationship hasn’t changed. The other may take any suggestion of physical intimacy as an affront, not understanding how anyone could want sex when their baby has just died.
There’s no right or wrong way to grieve for a stillborn baby. Nothing can take away your pain. Each person and relationship will heal on its own timetable. Only then, will you once again find meaning and joy in your life.
WAYS TO HONOR YOUR STILLBORN CHILD
Create a memory box. Mementos, such as a lock of baby’s hair, a hospital ID bracelet, an imprint of a hand or foot, or a photo may help you feel connected to your infant.
Accept offers for help. Let neighbors walk your dog. Allow grandma to care for older children. They want to assist in any way they can.
Take care of yourself. Your body and mind have undergone trauma. Be kind. Rest. Give them both ample time to heal.
Commemorate the baby in a meaningful way. Plant a rose bush. Donate toys in your baby’s name.
Share your feelings with others. Join a grief support group or talk with someone who had a similar experience.
Keep a journal. Write about your feelings every day. It will give you a way to process your emotions and allow you to chart your healing progress.