4The definition of depression according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is:
: a state of feeling sad: low spirits : MELANCHOLYspecifically: a mood disorder that is marked by varying degrees of sadness, despair, and loneliness and that is typically accompanied by inactivity, guilt, loss of concentration, social withdrawal, sleep disturbances, and sometimes suicidal tendencies
Wow. To anyone who has ever experienced any type of loss, these symptoms are all too familiar. Add in a traumatic life event like the loss of a baby and it is a dangerous situation for those who are experiencing it. Depression and anxiety are common following a loss with about 20% of women still reporting it 1-3 years after. Suicide rates also increase in the first year for women who have experienced a loss. All of these statistics are an alarming reminder that post-partum depression is a very real factor for women's health and the severity increases if the pregnancy ends in some type of loss.
The period of time following a pregnancy loss or stillbirth is excruciatingly lonely. I have the most loyal, caring husband but I knew that he was not experiencing the loss of our stillborn twins the same way I was. My connection to them was on a whole different level that was hard for him to understand (a whole discussion for another time). Even though we shared the same dreams and excitement about them and he was definitely grieving that part of it, the physical part seemed less "real" for him (or any man) until they are born. I looked for those who have been through something similar and wanted someone to tell me that I would be OK someday, that somehow my life would be normal again. A few women came forward to share their stories and I was surprised as I didn't know they too had suffered a loss. Social media wasn't mainstream if even in existence at all yet so there were no online resources to turn to. I was invited to some support groups at the hospital which were helpful at first but then it became hard on the days I didn't feel like getting dressed. My parents had a daughter before me who died at birth and my mom was always so understanding, but we didn't discuss anything too deep for too long because I was heartbroken at how much she must have been hurting. Can you imagine watching the same devastating scenario play out in your daughter's life as it did in your own? So I continued to cling to the stories others shared with me and draw the strength, hope, and inspiration from them.
This is honestly why I do what I do. I AM that person who was there and show women the way through this awful time by giving them hope that they can weather this storm, tools to keep inching forward to a re-invented future, and the shoulder to cry on to tell them that it is all going to be OK and everything they are feeling is completely normal. I have experienced depression m myself and found my way out of the dark tunnel.
One of the factors that contribute to depression is the frustration they feel when society doesn't recognize the significant loss to the parents. In traditional death, people are allowed to mourn openly and receive support for a longer period of time, yet women experiencing a miscarriage are often told to "get over it" or "move on". This is the most common topic I work on with my clients is combatting what others say. Their feelings aren't validated by those around them and it leaves them feeling like they are not normal or that their emotional distress isn't warranted.
If you are reading this and have someone in your life who is experiencing a pregnancy loss or stillbirth I would love to give you some advice on what NOT to say to them:
Anything that starts with "at least..." at least you can have another baby, at least it happened early, at least you are young, at least you already have a child, etc.
There must have been something wrong with the baby (then explain all the deformities, illnesses, and other things children are born with)
God must have needed an angel (I needed one more)
There is a whole litany of phrases that aren't helpful and in fact, are actually damaging to someone who is emotionally fragile. I go into more detail about this in my e-book "The 10 Questions You ask Yourself When You Lose Your Baby". You can download it for free here. So I am pleading with you to just say things like this instead:
I hate that you are going through this
I am here to listen
What can I do to make you feel a little better?
Being conscientious that the grief the parents are experiencing is very real and deep and allowing them to talk openly, honestly, and often about it are going to be the keys to healing faster and in a healthier way while keeping the relationships of those around them intact. My clients are often shocked at how insensitive those in their immediate circle seem to be. They might be well-meaning comments but unfortunately, our society is so uncomfortable at discussing this type of death that their attempt to "fix" things or "be helpful" is often received in a harsh way.
If you are the bereaved parent reading this please know that you may have a heightened sensitivity right now and others' words are their best attempt at caring for you even if it feels quite the opposite. Realize that their fear of seeing the pain of what you are going through is driving them to say things they shouldn't. If you are feeling the symptoms of depression please let your Dr. know and discuss the options for treatment. You are not crazy, you are not alone, and you have never experienced a hormonal and emotional tornado like you are going through right now so do whatever you need to get stabilized so you can heal properly.
I am here to tell you from one grieving parent to another that you will be Ok. Your life doesn't have to be over. Happiness again is possible for you. The pain is unbearable but it reveals your capacity to love at the same time and that love is going to make you stronger and wiser than you ever would have been otherwise. You are forever changed but you are far from damaged.
I will go to my grave trying to validate and educate others that pregnancy loss and stillbirth loss as something that is very real and allowed to be talked about loudly, felt intrinsically, and grieved fully in their own time frame no matter how long it takes. If you are tired of feeling lonely, guilty, unfocused, or find you are avoiding social situations no matter how long ago your loss was, and you are ready to feel better in a way that honors you or your baby, I can help you find the new person you can become. Please send me an email at email@example.com to set up a time to talk. The time to stop the suffering is now and I am here to listen in a world that wants to keep itself comfortable in the midst of our storm.