Stillbirth and how to cope with child loss

Joan’s son Michael was sadly stillborn in 2019 two years after the uncomplicated birth of her firstborn son Victor. She took the time to share her experiences with us. Her story is one of a mother who has learned to cope with life after stillbirth. Joan wants to break the silence around baby loss and hopes her story will be a source of comfort to other bereaved parents.

“When I found out I was pregnant with our second child, we were thrilled at the thought of having a little brother or sister for Victor,” she told us. 

“I had some bleeding in the early weeks and a scan showed the baby’s heart palpitation was very slow. I was told that could either be because it was too early to get a reliable reading or that the baby would not survive. I tried to stay calm and hopeful, but remember crying and panicking.”

When they went back at 12 weeks, the heart rate was normal and the baby was developing well, which was a huge relief. At 20 weeks, they found out that they were having a little boy, and he was still developing well.

A few days before her due date, she started having mild and infrequent contractions. They grew a little stronger as the day went on but remained far apart. Then out of nowhere, the kicking in her tummy stopped and she was scared so she organized a visit to her doctor who advised doing all the things that would normally get him moving and if that wasn’t successful she would consider doing another scan. He didn’t respond, but still, he was moving with the contractions, his little foot hitting the same place at the top of Joan’s bump each time.

She then went to the hospital and asked for a scan with the expectation to be reassured everything was fine or, worst case, that she would need an emergency C-section

The unexpected happened when the doctor said, “Your baby’s heart has stopped.” She didn’t understand how she would be breathing herself but the baby attached to her womb couldn’t. The doctor had to repeat kindly but clearly – that Joan’s baby was dead. What happened next was a rollercoaster of emotions, Joan blaming herself for the sudden death of their unborn child.

Joan’s story is part of millions of others globally. Statistics show that there is an estimated 2.6 million third trimester stillbirths globally each year. Parents are left coping with the grief of the loss of their children. They are a couple of ways that Joan and her family used to cope with this loss. Here are some of the ways to cope with child loss:

Understand that it was not her fault. Pregnancy loss or complications can strike anyone. Talk openly and honestly with your partner about what’s happened and how it’s affecting you. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to deal with grief. Accept your feelings as they are and don’t judge yourself or your partner for how you respond

Don’t expect your partner to grieve in the same way. If your partner doesn’t seem to be affected by the loss as deeply as you are, understand that everyone grieves differently. Share your feelings and your needs with your partner but give each other the freedom to experience the loss in ones own way.

Men and women grieve differently. While women tend to express their feelings and look for support from others, men tend to hold their feelings inside and deal with loss on their own. Men often feel they need to take care of their partners by remaining strong. So don’t misread his stoicism as not caring about you or your loss, and don’t judge yourself for not coping as well as he does.

Don’t close yourself off from others. Although it may seem painful to talk about, sharing your story allows you to feel less alone and helps you heal. You may be surprised by how many of your co-workers, cousins, neighbors, and friends have their own stories of loss and healing. And you may find understanding and support from unexpected people – which can help make up for the fact that some people you expected to understand don’t seem to get how much you’re hurting.

Someone who hasn’t gone through what you’re going through really can’t know what it’s like. Most people want to say something comforting but don’t know what to say. Try not to take it personally if they say the wrong thing or nothing at all.

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