Stillbirth: Surviving the Emotional Aftermath
Giving birth to a stillborn baby is a devastating loss. The emotional trauma can overwhelm you but there are steps you can take in hopes of gaining closure.
Shock, anger, sadness, grief and guilt are a few of the many emotions that can overwhelm you when faced with the devastating loss of a baby to stillbirth. If you are going through this now, or have had a stillborn baby in the past, our hearts are with you.
While Singapore's stillbirth rate is comparatively low within worldwide trends, there is still much to learn about stillbirth, including the emotional toll it can take on a woman. The emotional aftermath of having a stillborn baby can often be misunderstood due to social factors such as cultural or religious beliefs, but in truth, it is nothing you can prepare for.
A study conducted by the Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network found that women who have suffered a perinatal loss were at higher risk of experiencing depressive symptoms.
However, the road to emotional recovery is not impossible and it will take time. Here are ways you can cope with this difficult loss.
Let yourself grieve
Going through a stillbirth is extremely personal. Pregnant women develop a strong emotional connection with their baby from the early stages of pregnancy, so it will undoubtedly affect you - the future you imagined has suddenly turned dark, while everything you had prepared in anticipation of his/her arrival is now the centre of these intense emotions.
You might find yourself frightened with the power of these feelings and it can be difficult for others to understand. Many will have their opinions on what you should be doing, but everyone deals with grief differently and you have every right to grieve your own way.
Dealing with guilt
Was there anything you could have done? What went wrong? Questions will plague you and guilt will follow. It is natural to want to blame someone, or yourself. But, your stillborn baby is not anyone’s fault – pregnancy complications, placental problems and many other factors beyond your control could have led to this.
Although the feeling of guilt can linger, one way to cope with this is talking to your doctor to help you make sense of what happened. While there may not be definite answers, at least you have some closure that can help put certain thoughts to rest. In some cases, your doctor may perform several tests to evaluate your health and you can also decide if you want an autopsy done.
Express your feelings
The thought of going home to a nursery you had carefully built and planned is difficult. You may feel as though you lost your entire world and it is understandable if you do not want to see the crib, clothes or diapers you had prepared. So, do not be afraid of telling family members to take it away before you arrive home.
You do not have to go through this alone and at times, expressing your feelings, especially to your spouse may help. Emotions can overtake you but remember, your spouse is coping with the loss too. He may not grieve the same as you but he deserves the same patience you need.
Lend support to one another, listen and most importantly, respect each other’s feelings. Nonetheless, expressing your feelings does not necessarily mean talking it out loud. You can express yourself through time alone and with activities such as daily journaling to let out your emotions or by reading a book.
Honour your stillborn baby
Give yourself time. The emotional trauma can be unbearable and at times, you just want to forget it ever happened. However, the gravity of the experience is not one that can be easily forgotten nor will it make the pain disappear. Instead, focus on gaining closure and honouring your stillborn baby, not only as a loss, but as a person.
Plan a funeral, lay your baby to rest and say your goodbyes but never forget. Naming your baby is a good way to cope and can be the outlet you need to be able to speak about your loss when you are ready.
Get a support system
It’s easy to push people away and choose to be alone. There are moments where you do not want to speak about it, be reminded or hear the slightest of words from anyone. But, keep in mind that your family also lost a chance to show your baby their love and they may be grieving as well.
The support of your loved ones is priceless and the love of a family can bring you up in ways you cannot comprehend in the moment. It does not mean you have to sit and talk about it out loud, but accept their helping hand. Let them help you with your household chores, cook your meals or show their love in the way they know how. It is okay to have help.
Nevertheless, seeking help in other ways is not something to be ashamed of. Joining a support group, online or offline, with women who have gone through the same experience of stillbirth can be helpful in expressing yourself to those who truly understand the pain.
Researching or reading stories from other women who have coped with this immense loss can help guide you and make this journey less lonelier. You are never alone. They have felt what you feel and it may just be what you need. If your sadness is overwhelming than usual and your emotional state has led you to feel unsafe with your thoughts, you may want to consider seeking professional help.
Take care of yourself
Don’t forget that the physical aspects of suffering a stillbirth can take a toll on your body – breastmilk may still be produced and your breasts may feel tender. While it can be mentally distressing, you will need to take care of yourself. It is also common to experience stomach cramps as your womb contracts to its normal size.
We know physical pain is incomparable to the negative swirl of emotions but keep in mind that your body also needs to recover. Taking care of your physical health can also help you cope better with your current mental state. Keep a close eye on your health, eat nutrition-rich foods, drink plenty of water and rest.
The future might be a blurry state of mind now, but eventually you may want to try again. Do not let anyone pressure you into this situation, it is your body and the choice is yours. Grief may sneak up on you now and then but this is normal – you are only human. Only you will know when your physical and emotional state is ready for another journey.
However, when you feel the time is right, speak to your doctor and have a discussion on how to go about another pregnancy. Just communicate your fears and be open-minded to advice - there is always hope.