Fear vs. Fact
Whenever there’s a traumatic incident that receives a lot of media coverage I’m reminded that too much news is not a good thing. Local news tends towards sensationalistic stories since they garner the highest ratings. Unfortunately, our parenting sense of safety is what pays the price. When we turn on the television, open the newspaper or load our homepage on our computer and we hear and see repeated coverage of a horrible event in which a child was victimized, we lose perspective of how rare such events actually are.
If we are a parent who has experienced the loss of a baby or child in our past, this experience is even more extreme. Typically, parents who have survived child or pregnancy related loss tend to be more vigilant when it comes to ensuring their children’s safety than other parents. We must come to terms with our sense of anxiety when we perceive a threat or loss and evaluate whether the perception is accurate or a distortion based on our past loss.
An example of such a misperception is seen in the recent comment of a friend. He shared how much he fears that someone will break into his home during the night and snatch one of his two elementary school-aged daughters while she sleeps. He happens to be a parent who has never been affected by a child-related loss. Yet, he has a tangible fear that this event has a pretty high chance of occurring. Having such fears about safety conveys to our children that the world is a dangerous place. Of course, real dangers do exist and we must take care to protect our kids and educate them to make wise choices. What is essential is to have a realistic sense of what constitutes an actual threat.
If we believe our children aren’t safe in the world, it isn’t a big jump for us to want to spare them any difficult emotion. A vital part of healthy parenting is allowing our kids to experience disappointment, frustration, anger and discomfort while they are in the supportive care of their family. If we rush to spare them these experiences, they mature into adults who do not believe they can tolerate such challenges. This leads to the creation of young adults who are ill-prepared to thrive whenever faced with less than ideal conditions.
By limiting one’s exposure to sensational media that leads to the belief that we are surrounded by threats and danger we reduce the chance of developing a skewed sense of the world’s dangers. Whenever I receive an alarmist email that details, often in a convincing first-person account, of a new threat lurking in our environment, my first response is to go to snopes.com to check the veracity of the story. Nine out of ten times the story is a fabrication; an urban legend.
It requires an active response on our part to question these fear-engendering missives that come disguised as helpful cautionary tales. Developing the “muscle” that makes this more of an automatic response is well worth the effort as our children will benefit significantly.
Support for Parents
1. Be patient with yourself and your partner.
Each of you will experience your grief in different ways and often on different timetables. Feelings will vary in intensity and are likely to come in a random fashion, rather than proceeding in a linear manner. Accept the feelings that come without judging them. Recognize the distinctions in how you and your partner experience the grief process and support each other as best you can.
2. Postpone making any major decisions for at least a year after your loss. Avoid the urge to lose yourself in your work.
Permit yourself time to grieve and heal. Although it may seem a tempting distraction, resist the urge to make any immediate, significant change in your life, as it will likely result in additional stress.
3. Ensure you are eating a healthy diet, getting adequate rest and include some form of exercise in your day, even a short walk in the beginning.
Grief takes a great deal of energy. Make sure to drink plenty of water. Avoid drugs and alcohol, which will ultimately cause you to feel worse.
4. Expect your memory and focus to be off.
Thinking of your baby will be foremost on your mind.
5. Let people know if their well-meant advice or platitudes cause you to feel resentful.
Let them know what would be helpful to you.
6. Let others know how they can be of help.
Loved ones wish to help, but often don’t know how. Tell them, specifically, what would be helpful, such as: running an errand, walking your dog or simply sitting with you as a quiet companion.
7. Ask family and friends to mention your baby by name.
Most parents long to hear that their baby will be remembered by others.
8. If you have other children, take time to explain what’s happened in simple terms.
“The baby was born too tiny to survive,” or “The baby was very, very, very, very sick and was not able to get better.” Anticipate that they may act out or regress to younger behaviors for a time. Be as patient as possible.
9. Know that it’s okay for your other children to witness your grief.
Grief is a part of life and tragically, it has become part of your family’s present life. It is healthy to express your sad feelings in front of your children. At the same time, recognize and respect their limits. If you feel as though your pain is interfering with your ability to care for your children, seek outside support. Eventually, grief’s overwhelming qualities will begin to recede.
10. Find a way for your family to remember your baby.
He or she will always be a part of you and creating a ritual or place to honor him or her can provide healing. When you feel ready, consider ways to memorialize your baby.
Coping with the loss of your baby is an incredibly difficult task. Accept that there is no ‘right’ amount of time, nor a time table for grief. Rather, a goal is simply to get through this difficult time. Resist allowing anyone to pressure you into grieving according to their expectations. Coming to terms with the loss of your baby can be a life-long process.
When a baby or child dies, family and friends want to comfort the bereaved parents, but often are unsure how to do so. These practical suggestions offer a guideline for ways to help grieving parents following such traumatic loss.
10 Tips for Friends and Family of a Parent Who Has Lost a Baby or Child
1. Refrain from giving unsolicited advice or offering platitudes (e.g. “He’s in a better place now”).
Though well-intended, such statements often give the parent the sense that you don’t understand their pain.
2. Offer a caring, listening presence. Invite the grieving parents to talk about their child freely.
Parents often feel isolated and alone in their grief. Family and friends frequently try to distract the parent from the topic of their deceased child, mistakenly thinking such discussion will only serve to compound their grief. Typically, the opposite is true; parents desperately need to simply speak openly about their lost child.
3. Share your own memories of the baby or child with the grieving parents. Refer to him or her by name. They long to know their child will not be forgotten.
Frequently a parent feels as though their beloved child will be forgotten by others, due to their young age. Sharing special memories of the baby or child and what he or she meant to the family can provide solace.
4. Include the grieving parent in offers to spend time together. Express your understanding if they decline. Make another offer in the near future.
Understandably, grieving parents may avoid social outings for a considerable period of time. Gradually, they will welcome opportunities to focus on something other than their pain.
5. Convey your support if the parent finds him- or herself able to laugh at times. Bereaved parents need breaks from the hard work of grief.
Grieving parents may feel as though any expression of light-heartedness on their part will be taken as a sign that they are betraying the memory of their child. Reassure them that there are times when there is lightness in the dark.
6. Refrain from the urge to box up or remove the baby or child’s belongings. Typically the parent is most in need of remembering their baby or child, rather than having all traces of him or her removed.
Family members or friends may think they are doing the grieving parent a service which would spare the parents unnecessary pain. Each parent finds their own timetable of when they are ready to take on this task. Despite it being painful, this undertaking is very healing for the parents.
7. Offer your presence for the parent to sift through cherished belongings of the child or baby.
The parents may or may not welcome your company during this difficult time. If you are invited to be a part, the parent may welcome your gentle interest in particular objects or clothing items belonging to their child that seem particularly meaningful for the parent. They were denied the opportunity to watch their baby or child experience such keepsakes; you may be granting them the chance to share their ideas and hopes around such possessions. Be sensitive to their cues and follow their lead.
8. Offer to run errands or do household chores for the grieving parent. Be specific (e.g. “Can I walk your dog?”), rather than vague (e.g. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”).
Typically a bereaved parent is at a loss to know what they need. By making specific offers to help with everyday tasks, you will be doing a valuable service without burdening the parent. As with any offer, convey your understanding if they decline your assistance. Offer again soon.
9. If there’s other children offer to take them on an outing or spend time with them.
If the other children have a pre-existing relationship with you, they may welcome an opportunity for some time away from the house. Children grieve differently from adults. They need the chance to process their feelings through play and imagination as well as quiet time. Withhold expectations of how the child "should" act and provide your companionship and acceptance.
10. When spending time with other children in the family, don’t hesitate to share memories of the deceased sibling. Remember they are grieving, too. Avoid the suggestion, “Be strong for your parents.” It’s not their job to be strong. It’s their job to grieve.
1460 7th St. Suite 303, Santa Monica, CA 90401 MFT #35446
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Amy Luster, M.A., MFT
Copyright © 2014. Parenting After a Loss Amy Luster, M.A., MFT.. All Rights Reserved.
Email: email@example.com Phone: (310)844-4414
As an interactive, solution-focused therapist who has experienced such loss first-hand, I provide support and practical feedback to help you resolve current problems and long-standing patterns. With sensitivity and compassion, I help parents find solutions to the unique challenges of parenting after experiencing profound loss.
A Guide for Fathers – When a Baby Dies, Tim Nelson, A Place to Remember, 2004
Don’t Take My Grief Away - Doug Manning and Glenda Stansbury, In Sight Books, 2005
When There Are No Words: Finding Your Way to Cope with Loss and Grief, Charlie Walton, 1999
The Bereaved Parent, Harriet Schiff. Personal account of a mother’s story when her child dies.
Beyond Grief: A guide for Recovering from the Death of a Loved One - Carol Staudacher, New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 1987. (Specific suggestions on how to cope with everyday life)
The Courage to Grieve - Judy Tatlebaum, 1984
Does Anybody Else Hurt This Bad and Live? Carlene Vester Eneroth, Otis Publications
Stillborn, The Invisible Death- John DeFrain
Empty Cradle, Broken Heart- Surviving the Death of Your Baby- Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D.
I’ll Hold You In Heaven - Jack Hayford, 2003. Healing and hope for the parent who has lost a child through miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion or early infant death
When Hello Means Goodbye - Pat Schwiebert, RN and Paul Kirk, MD, 1985
Miscarriage - A Shattered Dream- Sherokee Ilse – Linda Hammer Burns, 2006
Empty Arms - Sherokee Ilse, Coping with miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death
When A Baby Dies- Irving G. Leon. Psychotherapy for pregnancy and newborn loss
Unspeakable Losses: Healing From Miscarriage, Abortion, and Other Pregnancy Loss - Kim Kluger-Bell, 2000
A Silent Sorrow- Ingrid Kohn, M.S.W., Perry-Lynn Moffit, Isabelle A. Wilkins, M.D. Pregnancy Loss guidance and support
When Pregnancy Fails- Judith Borg, Susan Lasker. Families coping with miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth and infant death
Miscarriage – Women Sharing from the heart- Marie Allen, Shelly Marks, 1993
Journeys: Stories of Pregnancy After Loss - Amy L. Abbey, 2006
MISCARRIAGE / STILLBIRTH
Coping With a Miscarriage - Hank Pizer, Christine O'Brien, 1981 - Provides information on both physical and emotional aspects of miscarriage; includes glossary of medical and scientific terms commonly used.
Miscarriage - Ann Oakley, Ann McPherson and Helen Roberts, 1984 - This book covers the medical and emotional aspects of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy.
Miscarriage: A Book for Parents Experiencing Fetal Death - Marvin and Joy Johnson, 1983 - 24-pg. booklet affirms the grief of miscarriage, deals with the parent's feelings, presents ways to memorialize the baby, and gives helpful coping tips.
Miscarriage: the Facts - Gillian C.L. Lachelin, 1996 - Provides understanding of the events of early pregnancy and factors that adversely affect the embryo. Causes and preventive treatments discussed. Also advice on future pregnancies.
Parenthood Lost: Healing the Pain after Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Death - Michael R. Berman M.D.
Life Touches Life: A Mother’s Story of Stillbirth and Healing- Lorraine Ash, 2004
Preventing Miscarriage: The Good News- Jonathan Scher, MD. and Carol Dix, 1990 - An excellent book outlining the possible causes of miscarriages. Particularly useful to those women who have had multiple losses.
Mothers of Thyme: Customs and Rituals of Infertility and Miscarriage - Janet Sha, 1990 - This is a look at infertility and pregnancy loss through the eyes of experienced couples. The author has drawn anecdotes from house-hold companions, midwifery and medical books, legends and folklore to produce this unique collection.
Motherhood Lost: A Feminist Account of Pregnancy Loss in America- Linda Layne, 2002
Miscarriage: Women's Experiences and Needs - Christine Mouler, 1990 - Discusses the emotional consequences of miscarriages.
So Few Memories, So Much Love by Shattered Dreams - An exquisitively detailed baby memory book. Specially created to help you record the events prior to, during and following the loss of your baby. Helps you work through the process of grief and pain of loss. Offers a place to express your thoughts and feelings about your loss. Embraces the importance of mourning your baby. Promotes positive resolution of your grief. Available for $10.95 through Born to Love (www.borntolove.com).
Ended Beginnings by Claudia Panuthos and Catherine Romeo, 1984 - An excellent book for anyone who may encounter pregnancy-related loss. Realistic suggestions are helpful in restoring physical, mental emotional and spiritual health.
After the Death of a Child: Living with Loss through the Years - Ann K. Finkbeiner, 1998
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir, Elizabeth McCracken, 2010
Mother less Child - Jacquelyn Mitchard, 1985 - A personal story of a woman who has an ectopic pregnancy and then faces the turmoil of infertility. Eventually she and her husband adopt an infant son.
Dancing With the Midwives- Ann Faison, 2011 - Beautifully written and illustrated by the author following the stillborn death of her daughter.
Nothing to Cry About - Barbara J. Berg, 1981 - Novel about a young woman who waits till her late twenties to plan a child, only to suffer a late miscarriage, a difficult 2nd pregnancy which results in a stillbirth, but does go on to deliver a health baby 3rd time round.
Having Your First Baby After Thirty: A Personal Journey from Infertility to Childbirth - Elizabeth Fuller, 1983 - Her own story, from the work-up, temp. charts, fertility drugs to laparoscopy, two miscarriages, amniocentisis and childbirth classes.
Tender Miscarriage: An Epiphany - Paula Saffire, 1989 - A story of the author's personal tragedy and how she seeks to transform the pain, grief and loss into a personal epiphany.
Handling the Heartbreak of Miscarriage - Nancy Rue - Sensitively written personal account of how she found healing and growth from the tragedy of miscarriage, written from a Christian perspective.
Journey to Motherhood - Alison Freeland, 1990 - One woman's true story of becoming a mother of a healthy baby after 3 miscarriages.
I Never Held You: Miscarriage, Grief, Healing and Recovery - Ellen M. DuBois, 2006
Miscarriage: Women Sharing from the Heart - Marie Allen, 1993
POETRY ON LOSS
Stolen Joy- Ann Barney. Healing after infertility and infant loss
Go Gently- David Morawetz, 1991. A parent’s grief
She Was Born, She Died - Marion Cohen. A collection of poems following the death of an infant
The Limits of Miracles - Collected by Marion Cohen. Poems about the loss of babies
The Promise of the Rainbow- Patti Fochi. After a child dies
Limit of Miracles: Poems About the Loss of Babies edited by M. Cohen, 1985 - Poignant and sensitive poems give consoling affirmations for those suffering a pregnancy loss.
A Little Book of Comfort - Anthony Guest. A collection of poems.
Mourning Sickness – Stories and Poems about Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss - Missy Martin, 2008
The Anguish of Loss - Julie Frisch, 1988 - The realities of life and loss confronted in a direct and emotional manner through sculpture and poetry.
BOOKS ON GRIEVING
Motherhood and Mourning - Larry G. Peppers and Ronald J. Knapp, 1980 - Common characteristics of grieving mothers. The stages of grief and problems in relationships, subsequent pregnancies and community support.
Good Mourning: Help and Understanding in Time of Pregnancy Loss - Judith Gordon and Nancy Gordon DeHammer, 1990 - A compassionate, creative approach to healthy resolution of grief and acceptance of pregnancy loss. Tips on journal-keeping and it's therapeutic value. Written from a Christian perspective.
An Ambitious Sort of Grief: Diary of Pregnancy and Neonatal Loss - Marion Cohen - 120 page book expressing the many aspects of a mother's bereavement, grief and recovery.
Free to Grieve: Healing and Encouragement for Those Who Have Experienced the Physical, Mental and Emotional Trauma of Miscarriage and Stillbirth - Maureen Rank - Written from a Christian perspective, the author offers guidance to the grieving and help toward the future.
Planning a Precious Goodbye - Sherokee Ilse and Susan Erling. - A unique booklet on planning a meaningful funeral or memorial service for a baby. Contains detailed burial and cremation information, sample services, suggested readings and songs. deRuyter-Nelson Publications and Wintergreen Press
The Bereaved Parent - Harriet Sarnoff Schiff, 1978 - Day-to-day decisions and hardships are confronted practically and with consolation. For parents and those who want to help them.
Hope for the Bereaved: Understanding, Coping and Growing Through Grief - Therese S. Schoeneck - A handbook of helpful articles written by bereaved people for bereaved people and those who want to help them.
BOOKS FOR SIBLINGS / CHILDREN
Thumpy's Story - Nancy Dodge - A colorful book of Thumpy, the bunny's, grief over the death of his sister Bun. It encourages children to discuss their feelings in a warm, sensitive way.
Where's Jess? - Marvin Johnson. - The grief of surviving brothers and sisters is explored with valuable coping tips included for young children and parents.
No New Baby - Marilyn Gryte - For youngsters whose mommy miscarries, this very tender book explains how you're not to blame, how we don't always have answers, and that it's OK to be sad and ask questions.
No Tendremos Un Nuevo Bebe (Spanish language version of above)
Answers to a Child's Questions About Death - Peter Stillman, 1979 - Designed to help younger children cope in healthy, intelligent ways with the shock of a loved one's death.
A Parent's Guide to Raising Grieving Children: Rebuilding Your Family after the Death of a Loved One - Phyllis R. Silverman and Madelyn Kelly, 2009
Where Are You? A Child’s Book About Loss - Laura Olivieri, 2007. Helpful for younger kids (7 and under), following the death of a loved one.
Something Happened: A book for children and parents who have experienced pregnancy loss - Cathy Blandford, 2008
Comfort Me Mommy, I'm Hurting - Diane Stephenson - Story of a young child's excitement waiting for the birth of a baby, followed by grief, anger, hurt, then ultimate acceptance of the sudden death of his unborn brother.
Life and Loss: A Guide to Help Grieving Children - Linda Goldman, 1999
Still To Be Born - Pat and Kirk Schwiebert, 1986 - Contains help for parents faced with decisions about the future. How parents decided when to get pregnant again, their feelings about their unborn child during labor and bonding after birth
What Next? - Sherokee Ilse and Susan Erling - This booklet examines the choices and options available to couples after a pregnancy or infant loss. Contains information on subsequent pregnancy, adoption and child-free living. deRuyter-Nelson Publications and Wintergreen Press
The Shadow Of An Angel - Marion Cohen - From the trauma or neonatal loss and subsequent pregnancy to the heights of ultimate success.
BOOKS FOR EDUCATORS
A Guide to Resources in Perinatal Bereavement - N.C.E.M.C.H. - Provides information about selected resources and programs for professionals working with parents suffering miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death.
Health Provider's Manual for Helping After Perinatal Death by H.A.N.D. of Santa Clara County, 1988 - A resource network for information on perinatal loss.
Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility - Sami S. David and Jill Blakeway, 2009
The Fertility Diet: Groundbreaking Research Reveals Natural Ways to Boost Ovulation and Improve Your Chances of Getting Pregnant - Jorge Chavarro, Walter Willett and Patrick Skerrett, 2009
The Infertility Cure: The Ancient Chinese Wellness Program for Getting Pregnant and Having Healthy Babies - Randine A. Lewis, 2005
Fertility and Conception: A Complete Guide to Getting Pregnant - Zita West, 2003
The Mind-Body Fertility Connection: The True Pathway to Conception - Jim Schwartz, 2008
Taking Charge of Your Fertility, 10th Anniversary Edition: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health - Toni Weschler, 2006
Kids Are Worth It! :Giving Your Child The Gift Of Inner Discipline - Barbara Coloroso, 2002
Parenting Through Crisis: Helping Kids in Times of Loss, Grief, and Change, Barbara Coloroso, 2001
The Secret of Parenting: How to Be in Charge of Today's Kids--from Toddlers to Preteens--Without Threats or Punishment - Anthony E. Wolf Ph.D., 2000
Talking With Children About Loss, Maria Trozzi, 1999.