October brings along Baby Loss Awareness Week, which as the name itself suggests, the week focuses on having conversations around child loss and grief. It is a time for bereaved parents, and their families and friends to unite and commemorate their babies' lives. The week also raises awareness of how pregnancy and baby loss affects thousands of families each year.
Grief is all the feelings you have when someone close to you dies. You may find it hard to believe that your baby died. You may want to shout or scream or cry. You may want to blame someone. Or you may want to hide under the covers and never come out. At times, your feelings may seem more than you can handle. You may feel sad, depressed, angry or guilty. You may get sick easily with colds and stomach aches and have trouble concentrating. All of these are part of grief. When your baby dies from miscarriage, stillbirth or at or after birth, your hope of being a parent dies, too. All these create intense feelings which can have a long lasting impact on Mental Health and thus needs our attentions. Most often the narrative around child loss during this week tends to focus on miscarriages, stillborn babies or complications post birth, but we rarely talk about abortion related grief. Additionally, the grief of men is not spoken about enough as well. This piece will focus on both these issues which are often left out in the traditional conversations taking place around Baby Loss awareness.
Abortions may be something which someone may opt for but that doesn’t mean it comes without any pain. We need to understand that an individual or couple can have their own reasons for opting for an abortion but that doesn’t give us the right to question the legitimacy of their grief and emotions. In the case of an unplanned pregnancy, this is when the fear, confusion, anger, blame, conflict, guilt, shame, isolation, and anxiety often begin. When a pregnancy is unplanned or unwanted women are often in crisis, feeling overwhelmed by emotions, alone in their coping, and yet facing a tremendous decision. Abortions are harrowing experiences and it is always advised that counselling also be given to the mother or couple as the case may be before and through the process to help them manage bereavement. Many studies show that women who have had an abortion are no more likely to experience long-term psychological or emotional problems than women who have not had an abortion. Women undergoing abortion experience negative emotions such as guilt, regret and shame - all very strong emotions which need to be addressed keeping in mind their Mental Health and wellbeing. It is important that anyone going through an abortions gives themselves the right to grieve. One struggle with abortion is that it is a disenfranchised loss, meaning it is a loss that society doesn’t always validate. In the case of abortion one of the commonly reported feelings is that people don’t feel they have the same right to grieve the loss because it was their choice or because of the judgment and stigma around abortion. It is important to remember that, though this loss is not identical to other losses, that does not mean it is not a valid loss. It is an experience that individuals have the right to grieve. It is part of them and their story and it is their right to feel, process, and integrate every emotion that comes with that, the good, the bad, and the complicated.
Next is issue of recognising and acknowledging the feelings of men around grief and child loss. Men are often looked at as the ‘forgotten grievers’. One study has shown that up to 40% of men experience vulnerability and powerlessness after the loss of a baby yet many feel unable to talk about it. We need to open up the conversation around fathers and baby loss to show men that it’s alright to grieve. Men often don’t grieve in that they don’t feel the failure of their body. Women’s grief is more intense and self-blaming as they feel let down by their bodies in the entire process as well. Unlike women, men are also not as oriented to express the loss. They’re afraid they if they show hurt or sadness, it will bring their partner down and this pushes them to conceal their emotions.
All in all, when we have conversations around grief and Baby loss, we need to understand that any loss is a loss and grief is grief irrespective of the circumstance. We need to be more empathetic and compassionate while having these conversations, remember, we are no one to decide whether someone has a right to grieve, how they should grieve or for how long they should be feeling that feeling. The best thing we can do is be supportive and be there.
Written by: Yash Mehrotra