Navigating Jealousy after Baby Loss
Updated: Sep 30, 2022
Even if you're not typically a jealous person, dealing with a baby loss can surprise you with many signs of jealousy.
I remember my own first bout of jealousy after my twins died happened while I was in the hospital shortly after I learned the news that they were gone.
I was jealous of the moms who lost their babies at an earlier stage. Jealous that some women didn't have to endure the pain of getting far enough along in their pregnancy to have a c-section or make decisions about burials or funeral plans. They were the lucky ones, I thought. The ones who didn't have to go all the way and have photos of their bellies and baby showers, or a crib set up in a room that will stay empty for a while or be taken down. If only this could have happened sooner and I didn't have to go through all of this. I now realize, of course, that pain is not measured by the number of weeks you carry your baby but it was my jealousy kicking in that made me try to think that way.
I was jealous of the moms down the hall that had their crying babies wheeled into them after their baths to be held and breastfed. Did they even appreciate what they had? Were they complaining about tiredness from a long labor or pain from their c-section? At least they had something to show for it all. Why was I the one who had to go through it all- 3 days of induction plus a c-section at the end? The jealousy was brewing up in me in full force mixed in with the grief, shock, anger, and sadness I was feeling before I even stepped foot out of the hospital.
I was jealous that there were drug users and women who abused their bodies and who got to hold and take home their babies even if it seemed like they didn't deserve to. You know the ones- the ones who seem to pop babies out with no worry and leave them without the care and parenting they deserve.
It seemed that my typically positive, cheerful outlook on life was being swallowed up by these awful feelings of jealousy that were so uncomfortable and building as I started processing my loss.
How would I ever be able to see a pregnant woman or baby again?
The thought of it made me ill. I never wanted to see someone else's baby much less an excited, naive pregnant woman ever again, but I also knew the likelihood of that was pretty far-fetched. I had two younger sisters and lived in a neighborhood full of young mothers who were still working on growing their families. And isn't it such a strange phenomenon that when you think of something that thing seems to show up everywhere? There were new babies and due dates that lined up with mine everywhere even on TV. I couldn't escape it. I was surrounded by babies, baby announcements, and pregnant women wherever I went, and how dare they complain about morning sickness or tiredness from their pregnancies. I hated hearing about how they needed to buy bigger vehicles or make all their future plans according to the new baby that would be in their life. Didn't they know that there was no guarantee that just because they were past the ever-dangerous first 12-week period and finally announced it to the world? They were the farthest thing from being out of the woods and had bigger things to worry about than reducing stretch marks or what kind of baby sling or breast pump to buy. That was the cause of my un-friending from so many at that time and some judgment from me toward them that didn't feel so great.
What is it about baby loss that turns even the most easygoing, optimistic person into a green-eyed monster? I felt horrible about these feelings of jealousy and they didn't seem to be slowing down. I constantly was trying to figure out why others deserved their babies and I didn't, or how everyone seemed to be living their perfectly happy lives and making plans for the future when my life felt like it was at a complete standstill with nothing but a pile of ashes left to try to piece together a future.
Here's what I didn't know that I wish someone had told me:
Feeling jealous is normal
I honestly don't think I've ever spoken to a bereaved mother that didn't have feelings of jealousy. It's normal but can make you feel so much shame for thinking some of the thoughts you are thinking especially if you aren't a typically jealous person. But here's something to keep in mind:
"Your feelings of jealousy aren't about taking away from someone else, or even that you're not happy for them, but instead it's about you so wishing you had what they have and what you're missing out on."
It's the ultimate "it's not you- it's me". It can make you feel really awful and you may even be afraid to admit these feelings to anyone. You might think it will make you look petty or unkind, but if you can keep the perspective that you aren't wishing ill for the other person, it will help you calm those feelings. If there's anything less talked about than our losses, it's the intense feeling of jealousy we carry. Share your feelings with your partner. You may be surprised to feel they are feeling many of the same things.
Ways to combat jealousy when it shows up
Stop and think about exactly WHY you're feeling jealous. 99% of the time it will not be because you don't wish for the other person to not have their pregnancy or baby, or that you aren't happy for them, but instead that the jealous feelings are your reaction to what you want and feel you should have. Focus on healing yourself and finding out what you need or who you need to seek help with to be able to ease your pain. What do you need to do if you want to try for another baby? Unless you have made a decision or there is a medical reason that you can't have another child, you can ease the jealousy by telling yourself that your turn to have your own baby will be coming when the time is right, and you can proactively work on eating healthy and getting rest in preparation for it. It didn't happen right away for me but I worked on turning my jealousy for other people's babies into an intense love for them (my kids say it's an obsession). I just can't get enough of their precious little faces and I dream about retiring close to a hospital where I can volunteer to become a baby holder. It's a long way from feeling like I wanted to hide from the world that seemed to be full of pregnant women but it can happen with some time and working on your feelings.
Communicate. Tell your partner how you feel and anyone close to you. If you have a friend or someone close to you who is pregnant let them know you are happy for them while being sad for yourself at the same time. It would seem natural that anyone who cares for you would easily understand it and proceed with caution while you are healing. Let people know how they can help you and allow yourself the time and space to process your grief and jealous feelings without feeling guilty about them. You have chosen those in your life wisely and now is a great time, to be honest, and let them in on how you feel so they can come alongside you and help see you through.
Be kind to yourself. These feelings are not pleasant and they are ones we have tried to avoid or have been taught that feelings of jealousy toward others are "bad" or "selfish" our whole lives. If you do encounter negativity if you share this with someone, remember that others try to squelch our feelings because they are uncomfortable. I worried that my family or friends would think I was an awful person if I told them how I really felt but it is understandable that we would feel this way after what we've gone through. It's hard to swallow that these feelings come very naturally after a pregnancy loss or stillbirth and that it's okay to feel them. If there's anything I have learned as a Pregnancy Loss and Stillbirth Coach is that you have to allow yourself to process the feelings fully, and jealousy is definitely one of them. There are some feelings that hang on long-term but the good news is that jealousy is something that does seem to fade.
It can feel lonely but you are not alone in so many things you feel following your baby's loss. You never get over it but you do get through it and every journey is so different. Be patient and honest with yourself, don't beat yourself up for feeling this way, and seek the help you need to ease your pain and find comfort and peace with your baby's loss. Most importantly don't let anyone make you feel bad for ANY of the feelings you have. It's a normal response to a very tragic event and keep in mind that those who are judging you have never lived through what you are experiencing.
Jennifer Senn is a Pregnancy Loss Recovery Coach and is the host of the podcast called Navigating Baby Loss which can be found on all podcast players. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at her website- jennifersenn.com.