FOR many women, the moment they discover they will be having a baby is a joyous one. And while most women will get the opportunity to hold their babies in their arms, some won't, and this can be quite devastating for the mother and her family.
Stillbirth, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, is a foetal death that occurs during pregnancy at 20 weeks' or greater gestation, which means that the child could die in the womb or in the process of delivery. Regardless of when it actually happens, clinical psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell says the death of a child, especially if it is the first child, is not only heartbreaking but can be quite traumatic.
“Stillbirth is a difficult loss for parents. The grief process experienced by the loss of a baby can result in serious psychological issues. In fact, many of these women go through at least four stages where they are in denial, where they blame themselves, where they envy expecting mothers, and especially mothers with small children. They also have an uncontrollable urge to be with their baby (the corpse), as well as a deep desire to be impregnated again, or the complete opposite,” Dr Bell explained.
She said the most common noted emotion that women struggle with is guilt, even though there is a 99.9 per cent chance that the child's death was not linked to anything that the mother did.
“It is very easy for the mother to blame herself — like she had one job which she had to do on her own, which was to keep the child safe until birth, but she failed; and so as part of helping a mother who has lost her child, you can help her understand that it is not her fault... because complications can occur in a pregnancy. It is important that you remind her that complications can happen in pregnancy, and it was completely out of her control,” Dr Bell advised.
Another important part of the mother's recovery process is the support of family and friends as well as accessing counselling from the right people.
“Dealing with grief on your own can be stifling; you may end up judging yourself as well as harbouring unhealthy thoughts and habits. You should consider having an open conversation with your spouse, and if you are up to it, with other family members about how you feel. It is important that family members be patient, but they should also understand that they have a duty to ensure that the mother does not go to an unhealthy place,” Dr Bell encouraged.
Even as you cling to your family for support, Dr Bell says one point that is important to understand is that people grieve differently when unfortunate situations like these arise, and the fact that your spouse may not cry all day doesn't mean that she's not grieving.
Also crucial to recovery, Dr Bell said, is giving yourself time to heal. She said that because of the trauma associated with losing a child, as well as the fact that people grieve differently, it may take longer for some women than others to accept and work through their loss. Taking time away from work, exercising, spending time with family and friends and engaging in fun activities may also help.
Another method of coping, even if you are in counselling, is connecting with other people who went through the same ordeal. More than anyone else, they may have the formula to help you to cope, using healthy methods. In addition, you can exchange information with other mothers whose positive words can help lift your spirits.
Finally, while at first it will hurt to have your baby's things around because of the painful memories, take as many pictures as you need, keep ultrasounds, a piece of clothing or two, and other precious little items that you would have wanted your child to have. Keep them somewhere safe so that you can always feel close to your little angel.