Living Through a Loss
Loss is an inevitable part of motherhood. Most women experience some type of loss surrounding pregnancy and becoming a mother. They may have difficulty becoming pregnant, or they may have a miscarriage, or they may have challenges breastfeeding their baby. While it is hard to believe that loss occurs in today’s high tech medical world of super miracles, it does. Loss comes in many forms and has a unique meaning for each and every woman.
At MilkWorks, we are aware that loss also impacts and shapes a woman’s perspective of whatever “comes next.” She may literally “hold her breath” until she is past the point where she experienced a previous loss. This may be a certain time in her pregnancy, her labor, or her baby’s first breastfeed.
While experiencing a loss is difficult, it can also be hard when we are the friend or family member or health care provider watching another woman experience a loss. It is easy to think we know how we might respond in either situation. The reality is that we don’t until it happens.
For mothers in the midst of a loss:
- If you want to, please feel free to share your loss with MilkWorks. It helps us to know what is going through your mind. We may not be able to fix it, but it helps us to understand you and provide loving care.
- As you move through your loss, we encourage you to recognize your grief, find ways to honor what has happened, and be kind to yourself. You CAN survive a loss, but that does not mean it will be easy.
- The loss of a pregnancy or a newborn is especially difficult for a mother and may seem to try a mother more than she can handle. Grief support services acknowledge certain measures that are helpful. We encourage you to:
- Honor the memories of your baby, whether this is a scrapbook or a piece of jewelry or a tree planted in your baby’s name.
- Stay active. Physical exercise releases hormones that help us cope. Walk, bike, run, or dance to both grieve and honor your loss.
- Share your thoughts - even if those around you may not always know how to respond. If you need to hear a certain message from them, tell them what that message is. It may be nothing more than saying to them, “Don’t try and talk me out of my sadness.”
- Allow yourself to experience the rituals of becoming a mother (even if your arms are empty) and give to others when you least feel like it. Maybe you need to buy an adorable baby outfit and donate it to a mother at a homeless shelter. Maybe you want to visit the hospital where you would have given birth and bring flowers to the nurses. There are many rituals that make up motherhood. Just because you have lost your baby does not mean that you have to miss out on all the rituals of motherhood.
- When you experience an infant loss, your breasts will most likely produce milk. Please see our information on Milk Supply After an Infant Loss for additional guidance in this area.
If you know a mother who is in the midst of a loss:
- We often want to know what to say or do to make it better. There are no magic words or actions.
- It is okay to say you are sorry for her loss. Ask if she wants to share what has happened. If she does, listen quietly. Don’t try and talk her out of her feelings. Accept she is feeling what she is feeling.
- Acknowledge her baby’s name. Send flowers (another ritual surrounding becoming a mother). Leave messages that you care for her and what she is going through. “I am here for you.”
- Feel free to ask her to go for a walk or meet for coffee, even if she declines.
- Love her and be there, even if she is sad and depressed. Don’t try and make her feel better by excuses or rationalizations. Her pain and loss are real and you cannot take them away. All you can do is honor what she is going through.
- As she moves through her grief, she doesn’t need you to mimic her grief. You may have experienced grief in the past, but you have survived it. Right now she does not need you to identify with her. She needs you to be strong enough to listen to her as she finds her way back to a new normal.
There are many on line resources and books for mothers who have experienced a loss, and family and friends who want to learn more:
- Scribbles & Crumbs (blog)
- Diana Wrote (blog)
- Empty Arms: Coping with Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death by Sherokee Ilse
- Sunshine after the Storm: A Survival Guide for the Grieving Mother (A collection written by mothers finding their way after the Loss of a baby or child)