How do you grieve for a person that you never met? A person who doesn’t have a birthday? A person who doesn’t have a name?
It’s often said that every pregnancy is different. In the same way, every pregnancy loss is different. I’ve had two miscarriages and a stillbirth. All three experiences were drastically different in both the physical experiences and the emotional experiences. And I’ve grieved each loss in different ways.
With my first pregnancy and miscarriage, I didn’t tell anyone that I was pregnant. The first person I told about the loss was my boss when I returned to work after taking a couple of sick days. She asked if I was over my cold. That’s when I broke down crying. I said, “I was pregnant but I’m not anymore.” It happened naturally, thankfully, so I didn’t have to experience a D&C, but it was a long process of maxi-pads and liners and blood test after blood test to check HCG levels. Outside of a small handful of people, I didn’t tell anyone for many months. I cried alone. A lot. I tried to redirect questions about when we were going to start a family or answered them in vague terms like “someday”.
My second pregnancy ended in stillbirth at 25 weeks. Nearly everyone in my life knew I was pregnant; I was definitely showing and we had joyfully announced the pregnancy on social media at 14 weeks. So when our son was born early with no heartbeat, we had to tell people about it. We had a ton of emotional support from friends and family. We received flower deliveries and meal packages, visitors and cards. I suffered through my milk coming in and the physical and emotional pain of breasts full of breastmilk but no baby to feed with it. (The doctor advised me to not express any milk as that would tell my body to make more. I had to simply wait for my body to get the signal that it didn’t need to produce it.) I was able to take a maternity leave from work (I’d given birth after all) and re-evaluate what I wanted to do with my time.
My third pregnancy and second miscarriage happened five months after my stillbirth. It was a shock to the system. I thought, surely, after two losses and one of them being a stillbirth, this pregnancy would last and result in a living baby. But no, it didn’t. This miscarriage was natural and quick. The pregnancy was over almost before it began.
And yet, with all three experiences I felt the promise of motherhood and the loss of a child.
Related: My Stillbirth Story
So how do you grieve such a situation?
We only know the gender of our son, our second pregnancy. He’s the only child with a name, with a birthday, and a death day.
How you grieve for your lost pregnancies is up to you.
Acknowledge the baby’s due date, or don’t.
Some parents commemorate their baby’s due date with a birthday cake or a special meal. They might take the day off work to spend together. This year, we acknowledged our son Hudson’s first birthday with cupcakes, and we plan to get cupcakes on his birthday every year. We don’t choose to do anything special on the due dates of any of our pregnancies. And that’s okay.
Name the baby, or don’t.
Some parents name every baby lost through pregnancy loss. Some don’t. It can be helpful to acknowledge who that child might have been and to have a name to use when you think of them or talk about them. It can also be difficult to choose a name because you might not have known the sex of the child or might want to save the names you love for potential living children. That’s okay.
Talk about the baby, or don’t.
Some parents talk about the babies they’ve lost through pregnancy loss. Some include them in their family tree by listing their earthside babies and their angel babies. Some parents don’t talk about their losses very often and some parents keep the knowledge of their pregnancy losses to themselves. That’s okay too.
Related: A Letter to Brokenhearted Mamas
Display or wear a memorial to your child, or don’t.
I have a small tattoo on my wrist that is in memory of my babies. I also have a beautiful sculpture from The Midnight Orange that some friends gifted to me after my second loss. These mementos are important for me to carry my children with me, and to have them as part of our home. For other parents these types of things aren’t comforting so they don’t have anything like this. And that’s okay.
Have a burial or memorial service, or don’t.
Some parents have a funeral, purchase a spot in a memorial park, or plant a tree to memorialize their child’s life. Some do this publicly with family and friends, others keep it private and just between the two of them. All of these ideas are okay.