Infant Loss Demystified…..Sort Of

What is the first thing you think of when you hear that an infant has died?

WIN_20180306_13_19_19_ProOften, hearing about the death of an infant is heartbreaking and confusing.  Often, we are, unavoidably, faced with our own beliefs about death, dying, and any afterlife.  Sometimes being faced with these tough topics diverts attention from what is happening in the here and now for the woman and family that directly experienced the loss.  Instead, we are consumed with our own discomfort about the loss of the baby.  Being present for the family or woman who experienced the loss can feel overwhelming, confusing, sad, disconnecting, incomprehensible, frightening, and much more.

The truth about infant loss is that it is no different than any other type of grief……while also being much more complex and drastically different.  Just like other forms of grief, the process is not linear.  Unlike other forms of grief, decisions about what to do next and the physical impact on the woman who carried that baby are much more complicated.WIN_20180607_15_10_45_Pro

Frequently, a mother’s response to her deceased baby is uncomfortable to those around her.  She may want to hold her deceased baby.  She may question whether she heard her baby take a breath, heard a heartbeat, saw a movement, etc.  This happens regardless of the baby being born alive or stillborn.  She may want to sleep with her baby.  She may have difficulty releasing the body for the next steps.  She may not want to acknowledge what happened. Ever.  She may be quick to release the baby’s body for the next steps.  She may struggle to reconcile a healing surgical wound from a cesarean section with having empty arms.  She may struggle with hospital bills for a baby she cannot bring home.  She may struggle with continuing to look pregnancy after a vaginal delivery, knowing she cannot bring her baby home.  She may become upset when someone asks her when she is due because her body still looks pregnant.  She may never speak of the baby she could not bring home.  She may talk incessantly about the baby she could not bring home.

These responses to the death of an infant are no surprise to a grief therapist.  They also do not mean that the woman who lost a baby is handling her grief in an abnormal way.  In fact, these responses are typical!  Loosing a baby is hard.  In many ways, the above responses are protective.  If a woman experienced all the emotions of her loosing her baby at one time, she would quite likely become overwhelmed by all the emotions….and move into concerning grief patterns.  The above reactions to loosing a baby protect the mother from becoming so overwhelmed by her emotional experience that she is unable to address her grief in manageable ways.

It is important foCharacteristics of Mourning Infant Lossr a woman who has lost an infant to feel supported in a way that helps her to lean into her grief in a tolerable way.  Just like Goldie Locks, her grief experience needs to be not too hard and not too soft.  There is a just right process for walking through her grief story.  Each woman’s just right grieving process is different.  As a family member or friend, you can help the bereaved mother in your life find her just right path by asking questions and being a present listener.  Being present and adaptable to your bereaved mother’s needs facilitates the process of mourning.

Mourning is the outward expression of our grief, according to Dr. Allan Wolfelt.  Without external expression, we are not able to move to the next phase of grieving.  Asking a woman to move on from the loss of her baby is like asking her to remain prisoner to her grief.  Let her tell you her story, even if it makes you uncomfortable.  Outward expression of her grief is the only way that she can reconcile her grief experience and move into a life full of joy for what remains present with her.

A woman grieving the loss of her infant needs opportunities to sit with her story of loss in manageable ways, such as drawing, quiet time, telling her story (at her own pace), memory making, and much more.  There is no time limit for her grief, and mourning should be expected to last about two years.  The best support during this time is caring and loving family or friends.  If the bereaved mother in your life needs more support, group or individual therapy may be a helpful support system that can facilitate the mourning process.  The ideal situation is for those around her to love her well and remain present.  Mourning will become less intense over time, though grief will remain for a lifetime.

Have you told the bereaved mother in your life that you love her just the way she is? Recently?



The “Boo” in the Taboo that Haunts Miscarriage

7 weeks 2 daysMiscarriage happens every single day.  In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports on their website that 25% of women experience at least one miscarriage during their reproductive years.  That means every fourth woman you see in your daily routine has probably had a miscarriage.

Why, then, is it so difficult to talk about our experiences with miscarriage or to gain more effective support?

Let me throw the first heavy weight on the table.  Many miscarriages happen early and typically resemble an extremely heavy menstrual cycle.  Even during these modern times with so much focus on social justice and breaking down social barriers we still cannot discuss menstruation in most social circles today.  Think about it.  When we have a cold, we can tell our boss that we do not feel well and commonly receive well wishes or understanding.  If you were to tell your supervisor you did not feel well because you have severe cramps and a backache due to menstruation there would be far less sympathy and possibly offense that you dared to bring up such a topic.

Yet, women expFebruary 2007erience menstruation far more often than any illness.  If we cannot talk about menstruation, then how can we possibly talk about an experience that often resembles an intense menstrual cycle?  Therein lies the first problem with lifting the taboo of miscarriage.  Please do not misunderstand me; I am not suggesting we run down the street announcing to the world that we are presently menstruating.  We should, however, be able to acknowledge menstruation is more common than the common cold and experienced with varying levels of discomfort/distress.

The second heavy weight I am throwing onto the table is individual belief systems regarding higher powers, no higher powers, when life begins, who is in charge of who’s body, etc.  Let me reassure you that this post is not political, nor will it try to persuade you of a belief system.  The fact remains that miscarriage forces us to confront our own beliefs and others.  When loved ones in our life do not share our beliefs we may experience some strong feelings toward them that make us uncomfortable.  It may become difficult to talk with loved ones who have different belief systems because it leads to conflict.  Isolation in our grief, or lack of grief, could occur.  Oftentimes, intensity and length of grief post-miscarriage is connected to our belief system regarDecember 2007ding life, though it can also be related to our physical experience.

Out of our belief system stems our ability to comfort, support, condemn, etc.  Our view of life dictates how we view pregnancy, and our loss of one.  Someone who views pregnancy strictly as a matter of science may view miscarriage as a medical situation that is treated much like any other medical circumstance and have minimal grief.  Not believing in life at conception or during any part of pregnancy means you are healing from an injury like any other medical need.  Your uterine lining needs to heal post-excretion/extraction.  Your body’s hormone levels need to return to typical levels, which will often include many side effects.  The physical healing of your body may take up to 90 days.  After your hormone levels return to normal and your physical body heals your experience is over.

Someone with strong convictions about life beginning at conception may view miscarriage as the death of a loved one and experience debilitating grief.  This grief could last for years or be a readily recalled memory long into the future.  Some women have tattoos to remind them of their miscarried child or children.  Some women have memorabilia that reminds them to continually honor the life that was lost, such as an ornament oMarch 2011r framed ultrasound photos.

Then there are those who fall somewhere along the continuum and may or may not be able to manage their grief.  For this reason, every experience of miscarriage is different, even within the same woman.  Grief can become like a developed skill if we experience multiple miscarriages, so each grief experience is unique.  A woman who experiences multiple miscarriages may develop a detached relationship with her grief or she may experience each miscarriage with deeper sorrow each time.

Miscarriages are often different based on the age of the woman who miscarried as well.  Our life experiences impact how we grieve and our resilience to difficult circumstances.  A woman who miscarries in her early 20’s may experience a future miscarriage in her late 30’s very differently.  Same woman.  Different experiences.  Number of weeks gestation can also make a significant impact how a woman grieves.  The same woman could have a miscarriage at five weeks and be unaffected while experiencing debilitating grief over a loss at 20 weeks.

Did she have an ultrasound?  Did she feel the baby move?  Did she know the baby’s chromosomally assigned gender?  How attached did the woman become to her unborn baby or fetus?


For reasons mentioned above, it can be difficult to find the support you need during a time of miscarriage.  Family, friends, or other loved ones often say well intentioned, yet hurtful, things during our time of grief because it is either difficult for them as well or they have a different view of our circumstances.  They could also say or do things that are difficult for us to receive due to the cultural or generational context of their personal experiences with miscarriage.

While I do not intend to persuade you of a specific belief system, I do wish to perNovember 2013suade you to reach out to a support group near you if your circumstances make it difficult to feel supported.  In the local Saint Louis Metropolitan area, SHARE offers support groups as well as local hospitals.  As a SHARE trained therapist, I will begin a support group on January 24, 2018.  Please see the details below if you might benefit from this group.


Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Group:

This FREE six-week group is designed to meet the needs of those who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of an infant under one year of age. Collaboratively we will honor the grief of these losses. The group facilitator will lead memory making activities, address navigating challenging interpersonal situations, and provide a safe space to explore those difficult topics that arise. Facilitator will also assist the development of an effective support system through the grieving process.

When: Wednesday @ 6:00pm -7:30pm

Where: Baue Funeral Home, 311 Wood Street,  Dardene Prairie, Missouri 63366

Sign-up: 314-328-4702 or



Baud, D., Goy, G., Osterheld, M., Croxatto, A., Borel, N., Vial, Y….Greub, G. (2014). Role of Waddlia chondrophila Placental Infection in Miscarriage. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 20(3), 460-464.