Jenny was eight months pregnant when she received the news that her best friend of 12 years had passed away in a terrible accident. She would have been the baby’s Godmother and was Jenny’s maid of honor at her wedding. This sudden and unexpected news of Lee’s passing opened the gates of grief for Jenny, as she didn’t know how to live in a world where Lee didn’t exist. She was in active grief while heavily pregnant as the loss was painful and immense, but she was also afraid for her baby’s health.
Jordan and Tim shared a passionate relationship where emotions ran high, and their relationship often experienced several highs and lows. When she was six months pregnant with Tim’s baby, they decided to split up since the relationship wasn’t healthy for either of them. Jordan found herself grieving the passionate relationship as she started to navigate life without Tim as she loved him from her nose to her toes.
Unfortunately, pregnancy doesn’t give anyone a free pass from experiencing grief. It is a reality that everyone deals with at some point. If you are currently in the grieving process, it’s essential to know that you aren’t alone – even though it may feel that way at times. There is always someone ready to talk to you and listen to your concerns.
It is essential to make sure that you allow yourself to grieve healthily. Particularly if you are grieving during pregnancy. Grief is a process that includes a series of honest emotions. Even so, everyone experiences grief in their way. If you listen to your body and needs, you will intuitively know your best way through the grieving process during your pregnancy.
That said, there are several things most people consistently experience during the grieving process. We’ll help you understand the different emotions you can anticipate while grieving. You will learn that you’re neither going crazy nor doing anything wrong.
Does Grief Bring on Labor?
The stress associated with grief may cause your pregnant body to temporarily flood with even more hormones than you are already dealing with during pregnancy. It can also raise your heart rate and blood pressure.
These changes in and of themselves aren’t necessarily going to bring on premature labor.
Unless you don’t healthily deal with your grief, Doctors believe that chronic stress –that you don’t deal with can cause bodily “changes [that] might contribute to preterm labor.”
Grief that’s dealt with healthily is considered to be acute stress. This is a temporary or “short-lived” stress that allows the body to return to its normal state… as normal as bodies are during pregnancy.
Don’t be fooled by the term “short-lived.” Nobody is trying to put a time limit on your grieving process. It means that even at the beginning when you don’t feel that way, you already know there will be a time when you will see things differently than how you’re feeling in the midst of your loss.
Effective and Healthy Coping Strategies that Help Manage Grief During Pregnancy
Grief can be challenging and intense, and it’s crucial to healthily process your emotions and allow your body to grieve so that you can start accepting the new reality you might find yourself living in.
Research evidence suggests that physical activity can impact your psychological wellbeing after you’ve experienced loss.
You may loathe getting outside and taking a walk, but getting your body moving helps move the hormones that keep you triggered. If you don’t like walking, consider working in some stretches, or basic yoga poses to keep the toxins out of your muscles.
Therapy or Counseling
Talking to a professional can help you understand your grief in a safe space wherein you can process the several emotions you may be feeling. A mental health professional can provide you with several healthy techniques and coping mechanisms during this tough time.
Most insurance plans will cover several therapy sessions under their mental health sections. It can help you process your grief and give you the added assurance that you need that you’re not hurting your baby.
Seek Support from Your Loved Ones
Your friends and family can prove to be excellent support systems while you’re dealing with grief and provide you with a safe environment and words of encouragement during this undeniably tough time. Leaning on your support system can prove to be beneficial for your mental health.
Grief Support Group
For some people, talking to those who are in the same shoes can help them process their grief. There are several grief support groups that you can join or online communities where you’re able to share your story with non-judgemental people.
Different Events That Can Result in Grief
Often when someone mentions grief, the immediate assumption is that a family member or very close friend has passed away.
Although that is one event that leads to people experiencing grief, it is not the only way. Here are some other things someone may encounter that could result in grief:
- The loss of a pet: Our pets are our family members and have been there for us with unconditional love and without judgment. The loss of a beloved pet is a painful time.
- The loss of a job: Whether you chose to leave or were asked to leave, there is still a loss associated with leaving a job. You’ve made friends and have routines that are now going to change. Taking time to look back helps you close that door.
- The loss of a vehicle: You may think it sounds crazy, but giving up that favorite car is an emotional experience for some. For others, it may mean loss of independence, an era, or a part of themselves. A vehicle can be symbolic, and it is essential to let yourself acknowledge it.
- Cancellation of vacation: You’d been saving for two years and dreaming about your vacation the entire time, and then something happened that interrupted your plans. It is not being shallow if you grieve the loss of that particular dream. True, you will have other dreams, but this dream had to be sacrificed, making you sad.
- The loss of a relationship: Whether it’s a breakup, a divorce, or a torn friendship that can’t be repaired, it is a loss of something that has become part of your life. Losing a relationship can feel like a personal failure.
- Moving: You may be excited about moving to your new place, but at the same time, it’s not unreasonable to be disappointed about moving away from a place where you made memories.
- Pregnancy: Although they may be thrilled to be pregnant, some mourn the loss of the life they’ve always known and will never know again.
- Anticipatory Grief: Similar to the grief someone may experience about their pregnancy, there is also grief that comes when someone has been given a difficult diagnosis. They are still with you, but their threat of not being there for long is looming. It is natural for a grieving process to begin at this point.
All of these things have one common thread. They’re all requiring a change in a person’s life. Some may say they like change and believe that’s true. When they say that, they’re usually talking about change from a philosophical perspective.
When the things that we consider the “anchors” in our lives change, we tend to be thrown off-kilter. And that’s okay. The important thing to recognize is that everybody’s amount of “tilt” when they’re thrown off is different. One person may work through the grief process in a few days. It may take someone else months or longer.
There is no right answer as long as you are working through it and not stuffing it down, hoping your grief will disappear.
The Stages of Grief: Acknowledging the Natural Phases of Grief
The more studies conducted about grief, the more is found that there isn’t a right way to grieve. Everyone has their own path. Certain stages are typical for everyone who experiences grief, but there isn’t a specific order in which they necessarily occur for each individual.
It isn’t uncommon for a grieving individual to experience a feeling that “someone is playing a callous joke on them.” We don’t want this new reality to be true. We want to continue experiencing the life and bonds before this event.
“If I had only…” There’s a reason the proverb says that “hindsight is 20/20.” We can’t change the past, but the lens of grief seems to make it crystal clear. Suddenly it becomes easy to focus on things we wish we had, or hadn’t, done.
This can be a bit of a gift. Take time to examine those things you feel guilty about. How can you incorporate action into your other relationships that will help you avoid feeling this way in the future about them?
Feelings of helplessness to change your reality can easily morph into anger. You may be angry with yourself, your partner, other family members, the doctors or first responders, God, and even the person who passed away. Regardless of where your anger is directed, it’s essential to acknowledge that you are, in fact, angry. Allow yourself to tell your loved ones that you’re mad at them for leaving you. It’s okay.
You’re not crazy for wanting to do it, nor are you crazy when you allow yourself to do it.
Some develop feelings of depression when they are grieving. Some tell-tale symptoms are:
- Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy.
- Loss of interest or excessive eating or sleeping (apart from the changes brought on by your pregnancy).
- Difficulty making daily decisions.
- Difficulty concentrating.
If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms for a prolonged time, see your doctor and have an honest conversation about how you’re feeling.
Envy or Yearning
You may resent or be envious of people who haven’t experienced the kind of loss you have and complain about their relationships.
You have the gift of clarity of the value of those relationships that others who haven’t experienced loss don’t. Here’s the thing, though. Not everyone is ready to hear your perspective. The fact is you may not even be ready to give it.
When you feel that stab of envy or longing for what was, notice it. Examine it in your private way. Try to find a way to turn that into the joy of memory. In time, that will become second nature. This leads to…
One day you may be walking along and find that the thought of your loved one doesn’t cause the pain it once did. You may even find yourself smiling.
The thing to note is that grief is not a linear process. You may find yourself skipping around at the different phases of grief.
Your emotions that are tied up in your grief are layered. You will peel back layers and find new things about yourself. It’s your journey.
The only wrong way to grieve is not to allow yourself to grieve and pretend your grief isn’t there.
Giving Yourself a Chance to Grieve During Pregnancy
Let’s talk about that. How does one grieve in a “healthy” manner? It’s going to be different for each person because everyone is different. The basic tenants of a healthy grieving process include:
Allowing yourself to acknowledge what you are experiencing without feeling guilty
Grief is a personal experience. It is yours and nobody else’s.
Don’t give in to the temptation of telling yourself something like, “There are so many others who have it much worse than I have. I shouldn’t feel like this.”
What you feel is no less important or more important than what is going on elsewhere. Your life is yours and yours alone. You can’t honestly compare yourself to someone else’s life because that is their life, and you don’t have to live it just as they don’t have to live your life and can’t possibly know exactly what you’re experiencing.
It doesn’t mean that nobody can empathize and relate on many levels. You’re not alone in experiencing grief – even in experiencing grief during pregnancy.
Allowing yourself to go through the grieving process without putting someone else’s expectations – or what you think someone else expects, on yourself
We already said this, but there isn’t a time limit for your grief. Nobody can put a clock or a calendar on you, not even you.
Many times, we think others have an expectation that they don’t. They would be shocked if they knew what you thought they expected you to do …. Fill in the blank for yourself.
Allowing yourself to feel happy
Especially if you are grieving the death of a loved one, it is not disrespectful to their memory to enjoy life.
It is okay to smile at the giggle of a child. To raise your face to the warmth of the sun. To enjoy the sound of the birds singing. To laugh at a joke. To enjoy the taste of a good meal. To live.
Mourning the loss of someone or something dear doesn’t mean that your life has to stop. Give yourself permission to enjoy the gift of life that you have. That leads us to the next point…
Allowing yourself to feel the joy of being pregnant
It may seem to be a total contradiction to be excited about this new life inside of you while another life has ended.
It can be a lot to wrap your head around this thing called “the circle of life.” It may even seem to be a bit unfair. It may also be scary to think of bringing a new life into a world that ends. That’s all okay. The unknown can be scary.
Possibilities, on the other hand, can also be exhilarating and blissful. Let yourself acknowledge the unknown while you live the joy of the possibilities.
Allowing yourself to rest when you need to
Emotions associated with grieving can suck a lot of energy out of you.
If it is expected that expectant mothers will need to rest when they’re pregnant, how much more so would a grieving expectant mother need to allow herself to rest?
Resting doesn’t mean you’re weak or lazy. It means your body needs time to generate more energy. Let your subconscious work on your grief while you rest.
Besides, after your baby is born, you will be glad you allowed yourself the gift of rest before your little bundle arrived.
Allowing yourself to cry when you need to
When society decided that crying was a sign of weakness, they were saying that they didn’t want to know when someone was upset because they didn’t know how to deal with it.
For the record, crying is not a sign of weakness.
Studies show that crying is one of your body’s natural responses to various emotions and balances out your stress hormones through your tears. Here are a few of the scientific benefits of letting yourself cry:
- Reduces your distress,
- Helps you regulate your emotions,
- Relieves stress, and
- Aids sleep.
- Crying releases oxytocin and endorphins, which help
- Relieve pain,
- Promotes a sense of wellbeing
- Enhances mood.
- Crying improves your vision by keeping your eyes moist and produces a chemical called lysozyme, which can fight bacteria that could enter through your eyes.
Letting yourself admit you need and reach out for help processing your grief
You may be accustomed to handling everything that comes your way on your own, but you don’t have to. Whether you reach out to a trusted friend or a counselor, some people can help you process your grief.
If you don’t feel that there is anyone you can easily reach out to, consider reaching out to griefanonymous.com and request to join their Facebook community. Their website states that they are a “grief support organization dedicated to assisting those grieving the loss of a loved one.”
There is always someone you can talk to.
Ways to Process Your Grief in a Healthy Way
Sometimes moving through grief requires some sort of action on your part. There are several ways you can process your grief to be healthy for you and your baby. Here are a few:
Make time to journal your thoughts and feelings.
Allow yourself to get a journal that is special as it relates to your grief. Whether your new journal be:
- A loved one’s favorite color, flower, or pattern,
- A photo that’s similar to your pet,
- The color of your last house or car
- A landscape that holds fond memories
When you take time to get your thoughts on paper, it’s easier to see them for what they are. When you keep everything in your head, your thoughts can start feeding on themselves and become bigger and bigger than they are.
Find things you can still be grateful for
Gratitude has been proven to be a complex emotion that our brain processes as activities that involve:
- Interpersonal bonding
- Moral judgment
There is a direct correlation to better mental health when we intentionally choose positive thoughts instead of negative thoughts. One study found that by simply acting gratefully, participants experienced authentic gratitude. In other words, they tricked their brain into being happier.
One popular and effective tool in helping people toward better mental health is The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes per Day. This journal is structured to help you focus on gratitude daily and has space for daily journaling for up to six months.
Listen to music that makes YOU feel good.
This is your journey and should be about what you need. Granted, others are experiencing their form of a journey, but this is about how you can process your grief.
For some people, listening to pop dance music lightens their mood. For others, though, melancholy music helps them think through what they’re feeling.
There’s no right or wrong. Nobody tells you that “you shouldn’t be listening to that kind of music; it’s not helpful.”
Only you know what will work best for you. Only you know what you need in those moments.
Permit yourself to mix it up too. The chances are excellent that you’ll need different things at different times.
Talk to your baby about what they would have liked about what you’ve lost.
This will help you not only process what you’re going through but also help you bond with your baby through this experience.
In addition to talking about what the baby would have liked, let yourself laugh by telling the baby what would have driven them crazy about what they won’t get to experience. Maybe you want to tell your baby, “That dog would have stolen your stuffed animals and claimed them for herself.” Or “Your grandfather used to chew his food so loud you could hear him in the next room.”
Talking to your baby about these anecdotes will give you a way to work through your grief.
Make your own decisions about going through things.
You will know when you’re ready to start combing through the belongings left behind. If others want to box everything up and you want to go through it later, so be it. If you’re not ready to go through things, communicate that honestly and set your timeline.
Make a scrapbook or a collage.
Gather some of your favorite photos and memorabilia and put together some remembrances of your loved one or the thing you no longer have.
Not only will going through these items help you recall fond memories, but it will also help you move toward the acceptance of your new reality.
Have conversations with your loved one who is gone
If you are used to talking to someone daily or weekly and suddenly that part of your routine has been disrupted, you can still find ways to work that in.
Do it if you want to give your loved one an update on the baby’s last checkup. If you want to rant because they’re not available to ask how to do something, do it. You are still connected to them whether they’re present or not. It’s okay.
Join an exercise class for expectant mothers
If you don’t want to go to the local gym or YMCA, that’s okay. There are several online options that you can stream to get you moving and release some of those feel-good endorphins.
To find one of these online classes, you can simply type “online exercise classes for pregnancy” into your browser search bar. You will end up with many options to choose from.
Talk to someone
We may seem like a bit of a broken record on this one, but there’s a lot of value in bouncing what you’re feeling and experiencing off of someone else.
That someone may be a close friend, your significant other, or a professional therapist. Regardless, you’d be surprised at how healing it is to:
- Give voice to the thoughts and feelings swirling in your head and body.
- Ask questions – and, when appropriate, get answers about what you’re experiencing.
- Be accountable to someone for any action steps you decide you will take.
- Know that someone expects you to show up and wants to show up for you.
A Word of Caution
You will have an entirely new wave of hormonal fluctuations when your baby arrives.
Even if you feel that you have thoroughly worked through your grief, it would not be uncommon for you to experience grief again during the post-partum process. If that happens, don’t be shocked.
The work that you have already done to process your grief is still intact. Revisit your strategies, and you will be able to recognize what is happening.
Have your support network prepared for the possibility of a new wave of grief. If it doesn’t come, great. If it does, you will already know that your world will still go on and that your baby will have the benefit of a mom who loves them more than ever.