Loss of Pregnancy and Miscarriage: A Difficult Topic
Just a heads up before reading this post: the subject matter and specific content we’re dealing with here are difficult, and may be triggering. We’re providing answers and information in an attempt to destigmatize pregnancy loss. If you are dealing with the loss of a baby, our hearts are with you, and we’ve listed some additional resources at the end of this blog post.
As a funeral director, I can tell you that nothing is more difficult than planning a funeral for a baby or child. But did you know that more than 10% of pregnancies end in loss? Yet the subject has largely been hush-hush until recent events--and Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month--have brought it slightly more into the open. If we want to change how we talk about miscarriage, the name itself should evolve. After all, the negative connotation of “miscarriage” falsely suggests that a woman has done something wrong. If so many are going through this difficult loss, why do we not speak about it? In this post, with contributions from multiple women who have themselves been through the experience, we’ll offer advice and answer some questions around the taboo topic of pregnancy loss and what happens after the loss of a baby.
Words from Those Who Have Gone Through Pregnancy Loss
We reached out to parents near and dear to us who have gone through the pregnancy-related loss. Many were willing to speak, hoping to open up the conversation. Here are some of the comments they shared:
There is no “easier” miscarriage. This is a loss. While some will say it’s easier if it’s early on, there is no “easy” miscarriage. Yes, you will have had a shorter time to develop a connection to your baby, but nonetheless, you'll have felt the joy of conceiving and let your mind start to anticipate what the future will look like with a new child in it. If it’s earlier, chances are you didn’t tell many people and therefore, you'll likely be grieving on your own or with a small group. It’s hard when you’re keeping the secret of your grief on top of experiencing the loss. Alternatively, a late-stage miscarriage comes with its own pain and challenges. If later on, others may already be excited about the baby, and items might already have been gifted or purchased. It’s difficult to have to spread the sad news while also coming to terms with what to do with the baby gear.
My partner is grieving too. Many assume this is a pain only felt by the woman, as she was the one carrying the baby. Men are in a very difficult spot here because not only are they trying to comfort their partners, but also they too are experiencing loss. Joyfully anticipating the arrival of a new baby is not a singularly maternal emotion--nor is grieving the loss.
“I failed.” / “My body failed me.” Many women innately believe that it is their calling to have a baby. Too often, when a miscarriage happens, the woman is not only grieving, but also feeling guilty. As I mentioned in the intro, the term “miscarriage” needs to change to prevent the stigma attached to pregnancy loss.. Typically, doctors don’t know what happened but one thing is certain: the woman did not “mis-carry” the baby.
It’s more complicated than people realize. Because this is still a taboo topic, the painful details are not spoken, and therefore not thought about. Moms talked to me about the difficult moments that they simply weren’t prepared for.
- Some moms actually have to go through labor only to push out a lifeless body
- Going back to work and either having coworkers who don’t know that you are grieving, or don’t know what to say.
- Struggling to be happy for other pregnant women during this period.
- Grieving while being overly hormonal.
- The toll it can take on your body overall.
The rainbow baby or older child doesn’t replace the lost one. Moms mentioned to us they often hear an iteration of, “At least you have____.” While this isn’t something everyone can understand, a healthy living child does not replace the pain of loss. Yes, all the moms pointed out that they were obviously grateful for their healthy children. They did, however, want it noted that their hearts still, and likely will forever hurt. In fact, multiple moms commented on how they hated to admit it but they would often find themselves comparing their rainbow babies to the unborn ones. They said that particularly on holidays or milestones they would think about the child they lost and what he/she would have been like at that point.
Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss Questions and Answers
Here are some answers to questions around this taboo topic. If you’ve experienced the loss of a pregnancy, you may find some of the resources at the end of this article helpful.
What is a Miscarriage?
In America, a miscarriage is defined as a baby that does not survive past 20 weeks of gestation. A miscarriage can happen at home, in a hospital, or anywhere. Some miscarriages happen on their own, while others are induced as a medical procedure.
What is a Stillborn?
Stillbirth is defined as the loss of a pregnancy after 20 weeks of gestation. The reason for this specification is that it’s believed that after 20 weeks, a baby could survive.
Should I Have a Funeral After a Miscarriage?
This is up to you and may depend on how far along you were in your pregnancy. Some people prefer an intimate tribute or no ceremony at all, while others want to mourn with family at home or in their house of worship. It’s important to think about what can be a source of comfort to you, and to know that you can wait if that’s best.
Will I Get to See/Hold My Stillborn Child?
Typically after delivering, you will be given time alone with your baby. Many find comfort taking photographs and or collecting their fingerprints or a lock of hair. While this idea might seem disturbing at the moment, many moms say they cherish those photos and urge other moms to take them. Note: As with a miscarriage, after a stillbirth, you may be asked to authorize post-mortem tests done on your baby to determine the cause of death.
Should I Have a Funeral for My Stillborn Baby?
Depending on which state you live in, how far along you were, or how much the fetus weighs, you may be required by law to report the death.. While how you choose to honor your baby is up to you, in some cases, you will be required by law to contact a funeral home. In some cases, the hospital can handle the remains for you. But after you’ve met any legal requirements, the choice to honor your baby with a funeral or memorial service is a very personal one. For some, the idea is too painful immediately following the loss of a baby, so waiting may be best. For others, the closure of a ceremony or religious service can aid in the grieving process. You can decide what’s right for you.
What Are My Options for a Stillborn Funeral?
Your choices vary from letting the hospital provide most of the services to having a complete traditional funeral--the choice is yours.
Will the Hospital Have a Funeral for My Stillborn?
Letting the hospital handle the remains is likely your most economic option. Often, they offer a small moment of prayer led by the chaplain. Some allow you to choose between burial and cremation while others do not. Ask your hospital what the options are and you can decide what’s right for you.
Can I Honor My Baby with a Real Funeral?
If you opt to have a more elaborate tribute for your stillborn, anything that can be done for an adult can be arranged for a funeral of a child as well. For example, you can have a complete religious service or a simple gathering.
Can I Get Help Paying for a Funeral for My Baby?
Many funeral homes will offer the families who’ve lost a baby some type of price reduction, such as free or discounted caskets, cremations or services. If you will have a traditional funeral, a word of caution: a child’s small casket is a very difficult thing to view.
What Should I Consider before Planning My Child’s Funeral?
Obviously this is a difficult time, and it might seem tough to think about the future while you are experiencing immense pain. As a funeral director and someone who studies grief, I do however urge families to think before burying a baby in a local cemetery. I say this because often we cannot predict where we will call home for the rest of our lives. I counsel grieving parents, wherever it is religiously possible, to consider cremation so that if they should move away at some point, they can bring the remains with them. If religion or preference does dictate burial, that is of course what you should do. Remember that you can also bury cremated ashes in a cemetery or inter them in a columbarium if that’s something that would bring you peace.
There are organizations that help. While it feels like you are alone with your pain-- you’re not, there are many different charities out there to help. Here are a few that have come highly recommended:
Founded in 1977, this site is a great starting point for anyone looking for assistance in this area. They not only provide advocacy, advice, and virtual guidance but also have suggestions for local meetups around the country.
This well-known organization focuses on premature birth. They have been leaders in raising funds and awareness to the cause.
Based in California, this charity group does a nice job covering a bunch of painful topics, such as how to explain the loss to a sibling. They also have virtual support meetings.