Terminating a wanted pregnancy comes with some pretty obvious grief, and it goes without saying that losing a pregnancy is followed by mourning the loss of your child. With termination comes lack of closure and the guilt that you are partly responsible for your loss.
Grief After Loss is Transformational
One of the most profound losses in this whole experience was losing myself. Grief transformed me in unimaginable ways. It is incredibly difficult to come to terms with the internal transformation that I never wanted.
One of the biggest challenges I came to face after my loss is how all of my support systems stopped working for me: many of the most important people in my life were incapable of relating to the changes that came with pregnancy loss. I felt incapable of communicating my needs, and what followed was a frustrating lack of connection with those I needed most. This resulted in the loss of many meaningful relationships.
For a long time, I internalized the loss of these relationships as my fault. I chalked it up to my shortcomings, I figured I was now too much for everyone to handle. My family distanced themselves from me and the friends in my social circles dropped like flies.
Getting to Know Myself After Loss
It was overwhelming enough to have to get to know myself from scratch. I simply couldn’t keep up with how my personal relationships transformed, leaving me feeling isolated and alone. Realistically, it was no one’s responsibility but my own to convey my needs. I had to learn how to communicate my needs to my loved ones. I had to re-introduce them to the new ways that I wanted to receive their love after my loss.
At the same time, it was immensely challenging to face those responsibilities when up to my eyeballs in grief. I just wasn’t level-headed enough to communicate proactively. This left me in a horrible catch-22, where I was unpleasant to be around and desperately needed support. But, I was incapable of asking for it.
I held impossible expectations for my friends and family to support me without fault, all while I was constantly losing my temper, breaking down in tears, and not expressing my needs. When people tried to support me, they never did it ‘right’ and when they didn’t at all, that wasn’t right either, and I didn’t know how to resolve that, so I didn’t.
I got a lot of “at least” statements, which had good intentions but were unhelpful. “At least you know you can still get pregnant!” “At least you’re not stuck with [ex-husband]!” These always came with good intentions, which I know now, but at the time they made me explode inside, and they eventually came to ruin a few relationships.
Connecting to Community is Healing
A common experience after pregnancy or infant loss is that no matter what anyone says, it doesn’t hold any weight unless they’ve also experienced a similar loss.
I eventually attended a peer support group where I finally felt heard and supported, and the beautiful individual who led the group gave me all kinds of wise advice.
That being said, my mother could have told me the same things and it would have meant nothing to me, it just isn’t the same when the person supporting you hasn’t had the same experience. Understanding this now, there was no way to avoid the changes in my relationships that happened, it is no one’s fault that the people around me didn’t have the experiences that would have helped them support me better.
As unavoidable as it was, it doesn’t change the fact that I was left without support from those I was relying on, and the effect it had on relationships with people like my mother, who could once comfort me through anything.
Our Loved Ones are Doing Their Best
This situation is no one’s fault. At the time of my loss it was almost impossible for anyone, including me, to know what I needed or what the right thing to do was. But the one thing that I’m very sure of is that this part of my loss was one of the most painful. It was a large contribution to my feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.
The more people I speak to in the pregnancy and infant loss community, the more I realize that this experience wasn’t unique to me: many parents and their partners end up feeling the loss of their support systems, and I wish I had known then that it wasn’t only happening to me.
At the end of the day, I can now recognize when my loved ones are doing their best, I have learned to seek more profound support through peer mentoring and other resources that are specific to infant loss, and I have been able to resolve challenges with the friends and family that have been willing to stick it out with me.
Every once in a while, a person I’m close to will make an insensitive or ignorant comment, the difference now is that I no longer take those comments as personal attacks. I understand that sometimes people don’t know better. I help myself by bringing my struggles to the people that can relate to where I’m at.
How you Can Support a Loved one Through Loss
Pregnancy loss can be incredibly isolating, and individuals who are grieving need to feel like they’re not alone. If someone close to you is struggling through a loss, it is important to acknowledge first and foremost that you can’t understand how they must feel but that you can empathize with them, and you’ll be there if they need you.
The most significant kind of support I’ve experienced is when the people in my life simply ask what I need from them. This helped me realize that I often just need someone to hold space for me and listen to me unload. People sometimes shy away from asking others upfront what they can do to help, but I would encourage anyone who’s trying to support a loved one through loss to push past those feelings of discomfort and ask the question anyway.
Written by Cait
Hotline Volunteer and Peer Mentor