There is no language to adequately describe the experience of losing a pregnancy or an infant. Our culture often hopelessly unaware of the grief experience. Neonatal death, stillbirth, and pregnancy loss are parts of life many don’t want to acknowledge. If you have experienced the loss of a pregnancy or infant, we are here to tell you that you are not alone. Marriage and family therapist, bereaved parent and founder of NICU Healing, Kara Wahlin, shares her with us her experiences and advice for living with love and loss.
Listen to Hand to Hold founder and CEO Kelli Kelley and Kara Wahlin’s discussion on love and loss in the NICU in episode 13 of the NICU Now podcast.
Tell the story of your grief
Grief takes many forms. There is often not a lot of time spent on the grief process after losing a child. Yet grief is an important part of life.
Wahlin recommends thinking of processing grief as “telling the story of your grief.” After her son William’s death, she found comfort in selecting a day to reflect on her his life and the impact he had on her own life and on all the lives that he touched. Wahlin stresses that it’s important to acknowledge the child, regardless of how young they were or how long they were on earth. Parents don’t want their baby to be forgotten.
“I knew I never wanted him to be forgotten,” says Wahlin. “Trying to keep the story alive is how I found meaning in his death.”
Let go of self blame
Everyone has their own path towards processing their grief. Embrace yourself, love yourself, and realize that the love you have for your lost child is extraordinarily strong.
Seek out a community of other parents who have experienced a loss. It helps to hear other stories, to know you’re not alone. But there is no way of getting around that pain.
Create positive memories out of a terrible experience
While there is no silver lining to losing a child, parents can create memories that they can later cherish. Try to find things that have meaning for you. Holding your baby for an extended period of time, participating in skin-to-skin contact, playing soft music, choosing their outfit and taking photographs are all ways families can exhibit a little control in a devastating situation. Wahlin admits that in her grief, she was unable to think of many of these decisions, and she’s grateful her husband chose some of their favorite classical music to play in their last moments with their son.
Parents may not be able to view photos, outfits and mementos or listen to music that reminds you of your baby right away, but in time, they can become some of your most cherished memories and items.
There is no closure
“The hurt does not go away,” says Wahlin, “but it will not be this intense forever.” As life continues, parents are often reminded of the things their child would be doing: meeting milestones, starting or graduating school, starting a family. It’s important to find the right support for you and your family, so you can grieve in a healthy way and continue to tell the story of your grief.
How others can help
Acknowledge their baby
Help parents keep their baby’s story alive by acknowledging their life, however short. Say their name. Recognize and acknowledge the impact this life has had on the life of others.
You don’t have to have the right things to say. Listen to your loved ones. Let them tell the story of their grief and their baby’s life.