By Donna Kane, MA, CT
Losing a baby during pregnancy or as an infant is a heart-wrenching experience that leaves families grappling with grief, confusion, and a profound sense of emptiness. The emotional toll of such a loss is immeasurable, affecting not only parents but also extended family members and friends. Though difficult, it is important to talk about the impact infant and prenatal loss has on families.
The invisible weight of this unique type of grief can be crushing and carries its own set of challenges; the loss of a child at such a tender age, or before birth, shatters the dreams and hopes parents had for their little one. Families often experience a wide range of emotions, including profound sadness, anger, guilt, and even numbness. Grief can also strain relationships within the family. Everyone grieves differently, so parents and children may find it hard to communicate with each other. Often it is difficult for friends and family members to find ways to support families struggling with such an immense loss. This may lead to feelings of abandonment and isolation. Mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression may arise or worsen. Heightened anxiety and fear may make subsequent pregnancies a stressful experience.
While the grief is pervasive and the loss is never forgotten, it is possible for families to move forward in the healing process as they learn to identify and cope with their feelings of sadness and loss. Coping strategies which may offer some solace include creating rituals to honor the memory of the child, which brings family members together in their grief. A naming, a dedicated space or memorial can be a meaningful way to honor their memory. Observing anniversaries or other significant dates can be a family-centered way to keep the memory of a loved one alive. Planting a tree as a reminder of growth and maturity is a beautiful way to honor the memory of a child or pregnancy. Honoring significant dates with family gatherings can help families integrate their loss into a more joyful place in their lives.
In Jewish tradition, Yahrzeit is the anniversary of a loved one’s death. While traditionally observed for deceased family members, Jewish families can adapt this practice to remember an infant or prenatal loss. Creating a personal Yahrzeit tradition offers structure to the chaos of the grieving process. This might involve lighting a candle, reciting a special prayer or poem, and/or spending time together as a family to share memories and emotions. The key is to make this a meaningful and reflective moment of the child’s brief, but significant presence, in a family’s life.
Grief counseling can be an invaluable resource for families coping with infant and perinatal loss. A trained therapist can provide a safe space for parents and siblings to express their feelings and navigate the complex emotions that accompany such a loss. Counseling can help families learn coping strategies, improve communication, and find ways to remember and honor their child’s memory.
Explaining the loss to siblings is a delicate and challenging task. The approach should be age and developmentally appropriate and consider a child’s emotional maturity. It’s essential to be honest and to use clear and simple language while offering reassurance and comfort. Let them know this is no one’s fault, and it is okay to feel sad or confused. This is important because children can have conflicting feelings about a new sibling. It is important they understand what happened was not because of what anyone did or thought. Involve them in creating rituals or memorials to honor their sibling’s memory. Keep the lines of communication open and offer ongoing emotional support. While difficult to discuss, it is important to let teachers and the school guidance counselor know what your family is going through.
While the road to healing from infant or perinatal loss is long and challenging, it is possible with the support of loved ones, counseling, and meaningful rituals. Honoring a child’s memory can bring comfort to a family by ensuring their little one’s presence is never forgotten.
This blog is dedicated to Paige Meredyth Mitchell.
Seeds of Hope, a program of Jewish Community Services, offers support and resources to individuals, couples, and families in the Greater Baltimore Jewish community who are experiencing infertility and family building challenges.
Donna Kane, MA, CT, is a Grief Clinician at Jewish Community Services.
Jewish Community Services (JCS) provides programs and services for people of all ages and backgrounds, helping them achieve their goals, enhance their wellbeing, and maximize their independence. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or 410-466-9200.