by Sherel Burrows
The loss of a loved one is always difficult but when a new life is being created the loss is even more poignant as grief is laced with mixed feelings of missed celebration and shared excitement that cannot be. There is much mystery in both the creation of life and in the conclusion of life; with one there is joy and celebration and with the other there is pain and sorrow. As babies are welcomed into this world so, too, we deal with the bitterness of loss of loved ones as their time on this earth comes to a close.
When Sarah was 21 weeks pregnant she learned that her mother had been diagnosed with a terminal lung cancer. For Sarah there were conflicting emotions as she dealt with the illness of her mother and her feelings about the birth of her baby that her mother might never see fulfilled. As with most pregnant women Sarah’s emotions were already in turmoil due to surging hormones and grief was a constant part of her life as she dealt with the rollercoaster of emotions that flooded her as her mother grew weaker. It was a struggle for Sarah to take care of herself and her expectant child as fear and grief overrode all her thoughts. When Sarah was 38 weeks pregnant she attended the funeral of her mother.
There are many women that experience grief and loss during the time that they are carrying a child in their womb. Loss can come from death of a beloved friend or family member, a pet or from separation or divorce. Expectant mothers deal with loss in many ways and for some it can become dangerous if their grief plummets them into depression affecting their appetite and preventing the nourishment of their body and that of their growing child.
In Barbara Harper’s “Gentle Birth Choices” the author notes the connection between mind and body and remarks how the emotions that a personal feels can affect the cells of the body. It is suggested that the pregnant women release her emotions as she feels them and does not try to cage them up inside as this can be detrimental to her health and thus the health of a growing fetus (Ch. 7).
Many experts in grief counselling promote the need for the body to feel and release emotions as those who mourn move through the stages of grief. Mothers who grieve during their pregnancy do not give birth to children who are upset and hard to deal with; however, expectant mothers who are unable to express their emotions and release their feelings of grief, may have difficulty separating the birth of their child from feelings of sorrow and loss. These feelings may prevent maternal bonding and can lead to other problems, such as postpartum depression.
Traditionally, in many cultures death was an accepted part of life. Children were birthed at home and family members died at home with their loved ones gathered around them. Within our culture the role of the hospital has created a place for birthing, where illnesses are treated and cured, and death occurs. There is no longer an understanding of the sacredness of birth and death as it is rare that death occurs naturally and peacefully. With death occurring in the hospital there is a lot of fear that surrounds the end of life along with fear of the unknown.
Whether supporting those who grieve or suffering from your own grief and pain, the best help can come by allowing the expression of grief through tears or anger and by mourning with those that mourn. Nothing we can say or do can take away another’s pain; however, having an empathetic ear and a listening heart can do more healing than any hushing or consoling. Holding a person and letting them cry can help a person to release their pain and move on to a place of acceptance and peace. Death is the miracle at the end of life where those who came into this life through the miracle of birth depart to a new life that waits on the other side. Grief must occur for us as we continue through life and we need to recognize the effects that pent up stress can create in a pregnant women experiencing grief with an unborn child. Our role is to grieve and then to accept and move on until it is our time to move on from this world and reunite with loved ones on the other side.
Reference: Harper, B. (1994) Gentle birth choices: A guide to making informed choices about birthing centers, birth attendants, water birth, home birth and hospital birth; Healing Arts Press, 1st Ed.; Ch. 7.