By Nancy W. (Part 3 in a series)
It is important to understand the timetable of grief after a ending a wanted pregnancy, for we do see a pattern. Remember this is not set in cement, but most folks would concur that these are the landmarks:
The immediate postpartum period
This is when you may experience intense, overwhelming emotions, nearly continuous grieving, poor sleep, poor appetite, shock and disbelief, bargaining, constant second guessing of the decision, physical aching to hold the baby, mom’s milk comes in, setting off your grief anew, still feeling the baby’s “kicks,” arms aching to hold the baby, “hearing” the baby’s cries and more. This may last a month or more. This period is also characterized by dads feeling very helpless and overwhelmed by the intensity of the mom’s reaction. Much of the intensity of the emotions is governed by the still-present hormones of pregnancy and postpartum.
Reality sets in
At roughly six weeks to three months, once the pregnancy hormones are mostly gone and there is relative hormonal balance, grief, for the mom, may actually get worse. In this period the reality sets in. The body can no longer fool the mind. The pregnancy experience is not so close and the challenge of trying to conceive may loom for many women. Many moms in our support group have struggled through this period, surprised that anything could be worse than the initial period.
By this time, everyone else, including partners, are often losing patience, longing for equilibrium in the relationship. Coworkers who might have been supportive have long since moved on, some may be involved in their own pregnancies. Extended family may assume all is well, and demand normal behavior at family functions.
This can be a period where anger finally surfaces for the mom and can be reflected in her partner as they struggle with their relationship. Other children in the family may voice their need for some attention, well aware that Mom hasn’t been doing too well, but needing her comfort just the same.
The due date
The next big landmark is the due date. As this time approaches, the couple’s dreams for this time resurface and are mourned again. If the due date coincides with a holiday, or a birthday, or other important date, it will be all the tougher. Many moms say that the period leading up to the date can be worse than the actual day. Many parents feel some relief when the day finally passes. Most of us have found it helpful to make plans for something special to mark this day or time. A get away, a memorial ceremony, something nurturing, a gift in honor of the baby to a favorite charity, endless possibilities. Anticipate and be proactive. It will help with getting closure.
The next set of landmarks are holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. Each of these special times has unique meanings, and may be laden with grief over unrealized dreams. We imagined delivering twins at the birthing center less than a block from our home and walking them home to a home merry with the Christmas season. Instead, Christmas was so painful in our house, two blocks from the hospital where our termination occurred, that I could almost not bear it.
Again planning and proactively setting up something, perhaps different from the plans envisioned on some earlier day, which can honor your baby, yet provide comfort, or at least distraction, is in order.
Then there is the one year anniversary of your termination. Again, plan and do something to mark this special time in a commemorative or nurturing way.
The subsequent year, you will often remember everything from the previous year and review every little anniversary with added grief. This is normal after every loss. Remembering when you got pregnant, when you found out you were pregnant, and then all the difficult times you would rather not remember.
Usually, after a year, give or take, you will be able to put most of the events around your baby’s life and death in perspective. We see a pattern here of parents coming initially and usually staying through the due date, or until they are actively trying to conceive, at which point parents may move to the subsequent pregnancy loop. Parents reappear on the list, if they have left, near the due date, holidays, and again at the anniversary of their termination. Folks like me, who don’t find our support group until long afterwards, usually stay long enough to be able to get out their whole story and all their feelings, basking in the love and confirmation, which is ever-present, here.
You’re not alone
We all need to know we are not alone, not crazy. We all learn the hard lesson that you usually need to walk a mile in another’s shoes before you can fully understand their pain. It felt great to me, and I shed my share of tears, to share Brewster and Cary and Katie with all of you. Writing about our beloved children, seeing their names in print, and having others speak of them, as moms might do over coffee together, or dads might do watching a game, is indeed very healing.
Our babies were not figments of our imaginations. They were real, beloved members of our families and we were parents to them. We made perhaps the biggest and most generous decision any parent ever has to make for their child, that of sparing their child pain and suffering. Many are the parents I saw in my daily work at the children’s hospital who begged God to let them bear their children’s suffering, only to know that they could not do it.
Editors note: Nancy W. has given us permission to divide her “long post on grief” into this series of five articles: