When we lose a baby, we of course grieve the loss of a child we deeply loved and deeply wanted. But while each loss is unique, we grieve so much more than what so many might consider to be simply an "idea" of a baby. Whether we have had a miscarriage, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancy, or said goodbye to a baby due to a life-limiting diagnosis, we know our baby existed. We know our baby lived inside our body. We know our baby was real.
And we know we are missing so much more than just an "idea."
No matter if we lose a baby early in pregnancy, later, or after our baby is born, we grieve not just for our child, but for their life as a whole. The life we thought we'd watch unfold. The life we thought they would have the chance to experience.
The grief resulting from pregnancy loss has many layers. Here are seven things we grieve that are easily overlooked because perhaps, they are just below the surface of what others see and recognize.
Dreams: When we first see the positive pregnancy test, we begin dreaming about what our child's life might be like, and what our life will be like in mothering our child. We think of long nights comforting our baby in a rocking chair. We imagine bedtime snuggles and cozy evenings watching movies together. We consider what we will teach our child—everything from the tiny wonders of our own backyard, to riding a bike, to becoming (mostly) self-sufficient as an adult. But those dreams come to a halt when we find out our baby is no longer alive. We grieve the normal parts of motherhood we'll never get to experience with our child.
Firsts: Parents look forward to their child's milestone moments. First smile. First Christmas. First step. First birthday. First day of school. The list of firsts is endless. The milestones too—think kindergarten, high school, college, wedding, even grandchildren (yes, sometimes our brains can't help but zoom into a far-away future.) But pregnancy loss means our baby will have no firsts. We grieve the milestones our baby will never have the chance to reach. We grieve the seasons of life we won't get to experience and celebrate with our child.
Holidays: We particularly look forward to the holidays that have a heavy focus on child-centered activities. Christmas. Halloween. Easter. We can't wait for fuzzy holiday pajamas, adorable costumes, and pastel colored baskets filled to the brim with goodies. But holidays become painful after losing a baby. We deeply grieve what—and who—is missing.
Family Photos: In our digital age, we are always just one scroll away from seeing someone's beautiful family photos. We can't wait to share our own. Maybe we've even hired a photographer for newborn photos once our baby is born. After pregnancy loss, seeing happy family photos can be painful as we grieve the photos—and memories—we'll never have with our child. Even if we have other children, we don't forget the child who is missing from our family photos.
Bonds With Loved Ones: When we become pregnant, we share the news with our loved ones. Grandparents. Children. Siblings. Friends. They celebrate our pregnancy and share in the excitement of preparing for a new baby. We look forward to introducing our loved ones to our baby after they are born, imagining the relationships that will grow and develop between our baby and those we love most. Sadly, when we lose our baby, these relationships never get to bloom. We don't get to enjoy watching our baby interact with their grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, or other loved ones. We grieve the relationships that never had a chance to take root.
Birthdays: We can't wait for the day our baby is born—their actual birth-day. And we look forward to years of birthday celebrations. But after loss, days that commemorate our baby's life are filled with grief. Even if we eventually come to a place of being able to celebrate the short life they had and our ongoing love for them, the grief over their absence remains.
Future Pregnancies: Research indicates that soon after losing a baby, many women are already thinking about trying again. But we experience pregnancy differently after loss. We know it doesn't always end with a baby in our arms. We grieve the innocence of pregnancy we felt before loss entered our life. We grieve the loss of a "normal" pregnancy, one that isn't tainted by loss and grief.
This list is not all-encompassing. What would you add?
Losing a child is the most heartbreaking thing a parent can experience. Loved Baby is a beautiful resource to help grieving parents of faith through their darkest days. Pregnancy AFTER loss can also be disorienting. Courageously Expecting is an empathetic and encouraging companion for those who are pregnant after losing a baby.
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