Stillbirth Grief & Loss
“You were born silent. Perfect and beautiful. Still loved. Still missed. Still remembered. Everyday. Stillborn. But Still born.” ~ Author Unknown
What is Stillbirth?
In the United States, one out of every one hundred and sixty pregnancies results in stillbirth. Stillbirth is defined as when a baby dies in the womb after twenty weeks of pregnancy; prior to twenty weeks, the loss is considered a miscarriage. Most stillbirths occur before labor; however, some do happen during the labor and birthing process. Regardless of when, stillbirth and other pregnancy losses are deeply impactful and grieved by many mothers and families.
What are the Risk Factors?
Although the cause of stillbirths is largely unknown, some common causes are believed to be infections, birth defects, and other pregnancy complications. In addition, some groups are more likely to experience stillbirths due to sociocultural issues. Black women experience double the rate of stillbirths than other groups, which may be due to health disparities caused by medical racism and chronic stress. Being older than thirty-five, lower socioeconomic status, certain medical conditions, multiple pregnancies, lifestyle characteristics, and having experienced a previous pregnancy loss are also factors that can contribute to a higher risk for stillbirth. It is important to remember that being a part of these groups does not mean you will experience a stillbirth, and more research is needed to determine underlying causes and prevention.
Grief After Stillbirth
Women who have experienced a stillbirth are significantly more likely to encounter increased anxiety and depression not only immediately following the loss but also in subsequent pregnancies, particularly during the third trimester. There is also a higher risk of postpartum depression. It is imperative that families who are grieving do what feels right for them and their unique needs. For example, families may want to spend time alone to care for their baby through holding, naming, bathing, and clothing their baby as well as to partake in any cultural or religious traditions or customs. Some people may choose to create memories through saving a lock of hair, making footprints, taking photographs or asking for keepsakes from the hospital. Families may experience triggers or other painful reminders of the loss when they hear the name of their baby, have breast milk come in, or see others who are pregnant or with children. The hospital may offer grief and loss programs for families; in addition, grief counseling can provide vital support during this difficult time.
Maternal Mental Health Resources
Any emotions that arise after a stillbirth experience are valid, and anyone undergoing this loss deserves adequate support and resources. While most people who have a stillbirth and get pregnant again can have a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby, families that have experienced stillbirth will always carry its effects as they navigate how to honor their unique loss and hold space for their grief.
Embrace Therapy is an advocate for pregnancy loss and grief as well as maternal mental health. We are honored to partner with Kimberly Constable, who channeled her own personal grief into creating the Baby Loss Library Project. This nonprofit is housed at Embrace Therapy’s Campbell Hall, New York office and provides resources that support families and friends grieving baby loss.
Another wonderful resource is stillbirthday.com, which aids in honoring children lost to stillbirth and the families who grieve their loved ones in addition to offering education around births and planning.
If you have any questions or are seeking support around this topic, contact Embrace Therapy, click here.