The loss of a baby — whether it be through miscarriage, childbirth, neonatally, SIDS, the heart-wrenching decision to end a pregnancy due to issues discovered through early screening, or any other reason — is without doubt one of the most painful and traumatic experiences to endure. The process of attempting to make sense of this catastrophe is complicated and layered and it leaves most women with uncertain and raw emotion that is not easily understood. I work with many women through their grief and eventual healing once a baby has passed, and while these women would give anything to have their babies with them in the ways that they had dreamed, they are usually aware and accepting of their own need for support during this impossibly difficult time.
But what about those women who go on to have healthy babies after losing a child? Are they finally happy and content and able to “move on” now that they have brought their babies home? Many people think this should be so … but in reality, a large number of these women are hit hard with a depression or anxiety that is unwanted, unwelcome, and unexpected when the new baby arrives. And because these emotions are occurring at a time when these women want so desperately to be happy and connected to their babies, feelings of guilt, shame and insecurity abound.
Each woman’s experience is unique, and there are so many different faces of conflict:
- > There is the mom who is pregnant again or who carries her newborn and who must negotiate the all-too-frequent question of “is this your first?”
- > There is the mom who looks at her baby for the first time and feels “nothing.”
- > There is the mom who wants to feel joy as her new baby rolls over for the first time, but finds that she cannot.
- > There is the mom whose new baby is a boy but who, secretly and all on her own, is disappointed that he is not a girl like the baby she lost.
- > There is the mom who is riddled by anxiety and scary thoughts that her new baby will become sick or die.
- > There is the mom who realizes that she does not enjoy breast-feeding and whose expectations around this opportunity in motherhood are lost.
- > There is the mom who finds that she is unable to enter into her new baby’s room without crying and who suffers great anxiety when she dresses her baby in the clothes that were saved from her first pregnancy.
The experiences go on. Still, there are similar themes that cross over between women and their unique stories. Many of these women are unsure of how to both love their new baby and also grieve the baby they lost. They may feel that they need to choose which baby to be loyal to, and worry that if they become happy and engaged with the baby they brought home, that they might, in some way, be forgetting the one who is no longer here. This confusion and conflict can, in many instances, make it very difficult for these moms to bond and connect with their new babies, no matter how much they have “wanted” them and no matter how much they know that they love them despite it all.
While the outside world sees some of these women as first-time mothers, moms in this situation know that they are not. And yet, the story and life of their first child often goes unnoticed and denied by so many. People are unsure of how to talk about infant loss with the women who have this story. Friends, family and neighbors often become silent rather than reach out to these moms in an effort to honor the lives of the babies who were lost. The comments that understandably upset the women who I work with the most are those that sound something like this: “Well, you are young. You can always try for another.” Many of the moms who I see have taken this comment as an expectation that another baby is supposed to somehow take place of the one who was lost. And when this is the case, these women may feel that there is neither opportunity nor the room to be a mother to both.
The way of the mind is complicated, and it fools many of us most of the time. How, on earth, at a time of such joy can a mom feel so much sorrow? She feels this way because our society does not make much room for grieving and joy together, and we often feel as though we must choose between happiness and sadness … the “either/or” dilemma. Either I am ecstatic to bring a healthy baby home, exude joy, and have “moved on,” or I am filled with grief and sorrow and therefore must not love my new baby as I should.
Ugh. What a painful and complicated place to be.
So, my friends, if you are a mom who has experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or any other loss of an infant or child, please know that the way that you feel is normal and valid and real. With support, you can certainly find ways to integrate the baby you lost into your new developing family and there is, by all means, room to love all of your children. As with most of the work that we do, none of this is easy and it all takes time. There are no “shoulds” around grieving time and healing is certainly NOT the same as moving on. As with most posts that I offer here, I encourage self-forgiveness and empathy and understanding and patience with yourself. It is okay to be confused and to miss the dreams and hopes and opportunities that came with the baby who is no longer here. Because I have worked with so many women and have seen shifts and changes occur over and over again, I am quite certain of this: as you make space — perhaps once again — for your conflict and grief and loss, and if you take care of yourself in the process, you will find more room for love and connection and presence with your experience as a mom in this moment.
— Kate Kripke, LCSW
P.S. From Katherine: I found this lovely site for parents who have lost their children and wanted to share it with those of you who may need it: Glow in the Woods
Photo credit: © Bernd S. – Fotolia.com
Thank you for this. It is beautifully well written and brings a peace to my soul.
This: our society does not make much room for grieving and joy together, and we often feel as though we must choose between happiness and sadness
Sums it all up, thank you so much for this.
Very nicely written, some points hit home.
This: "Either I am ecstatic to bring a healthy baby home, exude joy, and have “moved on,” or I am filled with grief and sorrow and therefore must not love my new baby as I should." Is spot on. It wraps it all up into a neat package.
As a mother who had a son after our first son died at 24 days old, THIS is exactly how I felt. How I still feel sometimes, even 8 years later…
This is SUCH a wonderful article. I hate having to say, "no this is my second baby, 4th pregnancy." I hate that I am supposed to "feel better" now because I will have two to "replace" the two that didn't make it.
I could have a million babies and the experience of losing those first two will still be etched in my heart and mind. It was physically, emotionally, and mentally horribly painful.
"“Well, you are young. You can always try for another.” Many of the moms who I see have taken this comment as an expectation that another baby is supposed to somehow take place of the one who was lost."
This was the WORST comment EVER that I received after our pregnancy loss. It was so insensitive.
Losing my pregnancy had to be one of THE WORST experiences I ever had in my life. I have since given birth to a healthy baby boy that is now a 2 year old going on 20. 🙂 I know that if I hadn't lost that pregnancy that he would not be here, but he has not taken the place of the child we never got to meet.
Thank you for this. It's always nice to know that I'm not alone, as much as I hate the thought that anyone else has to know the pain of losing a baby.
I have a close friend who just have a miscarriage. She felt devastated as if the world is going to crash on her. I will have to share your wonderful post with her reminding her that she's not alone and there's still hope after a precious lost.
Such moving post replies from all of you. Thank YOU!
Thanks for the great post!
I had a loss after two children, and then went on to have two more babies. The worst comment I received after my loss…. "I don't understand why she's so upset, she's got two others." That was from a pregnant family member, no less. PPD and anxiety have left me disabled since my third child. It is interesting to connect the dots between the grief over the loss, and the fear or replacing the love for one child with another, and the still constant fear that my 4th child, and only son, will simply die at any moment.
My children are not an accessory – they are a part of me, each and every one of them.
Thank you. Just, thank you. I truly needed to read this.
This is a great article. I have book marked it to refer to once baby arrives. But for now I am in search of anything to help with my anxiety about labour. I am now just over 39 weeks with baby number 3. I have a beautiful 4.5 yr old girl which everything was pretty textbook. 2 years ago now we lost our little boy to heart complications at 23 weeks, still laboured, held him and loved him. After a tough time falling pregnant again and having surgery we are now very close to the arrival of this baby. I have struggled throughout this pregnancy as the due dates of my son and this baby are only a few days difference just 2 years later. I have continued on antidepressants but still find the anxiety to be horrible. I have had on and off contractions for several weeks building excitement and nerves. Now I’m to the point of exhaustion, I just want this baby in my arms to know she is safe and healthy. I worry that my anxiety has stopped labour several times now and find it very frustrating. I have reoccurring dreams that she will be stillborn although everything seems medically stable. I know its all in my head but still can’t control this anxiousness.
Selena, having a baby after a loss is so hard! I lost my son in 2006 at 33 weeks. I gave birth to my healthy daughter in 2010. I had a LOT of anxiety during my 2nd pregnancy and her early years and I still struggle with it. Do you practice any mindfulness techniques? Even deep breathing and trying to bring your mind to the present moment’s sensations and thoughts can help to loosen the grip of anxiety. I wish you all the best as you await the arrival of your 3rd child.
My girlfriends baby was 6 months old and was murdered by her father …this happened two years ago and to this day she cries hard…now shes pregnant and im scared that shes scared she refuses to talk to anybody or seek help…as the father of th oh s new child wat do i do how do i help.
Michael, thank you for reaching out. What a horrible thing to live through. I’m sorry this happened, and I’m sure the grief is so hard to live with. It is so good of you to be asking questions and trying to figure out how to help. This means you are doing what you can–learning and seeking help are the two things you can do for right now. And being there for your girlfriend, of course. If she refuses to talk about it or get help, you cannot force her unless it seems she is a danger to herself. So while you watch and wait (and I’m sorry that is so hard), you will have to learn to trust yourself to know how to help depending on how she is doing. You never know, she may become willing to see someone for help. It sounds like she could really use a counselor or therapist. You can plant the seeds, reminding her that we all need help sometimes and that she has been through something terribly traumatic. No human could come out of that without needing help. You can remind her that it could get a lot worse if she does not learn to let go and rely on help. She is dealing with hormone changes and mixed feelings. She is probably experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is not her fault, and she needs to be reminded of that over and over. I wish there was an easy answer when someone is refusing help, but there is not. Waiting to see how it goes is so hard, but you will have to continue to trust that you will know what to do when the need arises. It would be so good for you to see a therapist that can work with you ongoing, being there to navigate things, giving you ideas on how to help so you don’t feel so alone and helpless. You would have someone to reach out to if things get worse and they could walk you through what to do. I’m so sorry, Michael. Your new baby is a gift, and I will be hoping right with you that things improve, that your girlfriend can heal and the three of you can be happy. It is entirely possible, with help for both of you.
I suppose all i can say is thank you for your response and that we will see where this goes shes only 23 and i love her and want her to be happy and to realize this here is a blessing…but she doesnt smile and she mentioned that I dont understand no one does…so i suppose with time and patience i will and that she will also…we will see thank you again.
My wife had a miscarriage on August 28th (our first miscarriage experience), and I can honestly say as a military veteran and former police officer (disabled while on duty) it was the most gut wrenching and sorrow filled day of my life. I am the strong one that always protects my family (we have 3 daughters ages 11, 8 & 6) from everything and takes care of my wife and kiddos against anything that can hurt them but nothing ever prepared me for the helplessness and utter lack of control I felt when my wife screamed for me to help her and I walked in and saw what was happening. She had been having cramps and spotting at about 5 and a half to 5 weeks in and I kept calling her OB/GYN to get a sooner appt. but they were booked solid and no other doctor could see her any sooner so we spent many a night at the ER where we were constantly told everything looked fine and to go home. As her symptoms got worse I got more frustrated with the hospital and her doctor, I know there was more than likely nothing they could have done at that point but I still feel that had her doctor double booked her based on her symptoms or squeezed her in between other patients maybe my son would have had the chance to be here with us now. To be honest, we were quite terrified when she suspected she was pregnant, a fourth child is crazy difficult to raise especially when all of them are still living at home and rely on us to take care of and nurture three of them majority of the time and a new baby requires 24/7 attention. However, we just embraced the news and decided we were going to welcome this new little one just like our three before, and we were both pretty sure it was going to be a boy so we were extra excited although we just wanted he/she to be healthy and happy. Then the 28th of August came, and there is no feeling like seeing your wife in so much pain, shock and so emotionally destroyed and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to make it go away or stop. I came into the room and after catching my breath and swallowing my own tears and choking down that lump in my throat I got my wife all cleaned up and cleaned up the room and got her into bed, I barely processed what had happened by the time she finally cried herself to sleep in my arms and I laid there the remainder of the night trying to figure out what I DID wrong. Of course I realize neither of us did anything wrong but at the time my rationale was that if I could find some kind of tangible excuse or reason behind it or even make it my fault, then my wife wouldn’t focus on what SHE might have done wrong or could have done differently; it may sound stupid now but I thought at the time even if she was mad at me at least she wouldn’t think horribly of herself or believe she was to blame. Since that day I have been trying to help her navigate her grief as best as possible and at what ever pace she needs to go while dealing with my own grief in the process and it has proven to be an extremely difficult task. If she knew how hard it is for me to choke it all down and help her she would feel awful and then she would be even more depressed and distant because she herself has said she doesn’t know what she would do if I wasn’t there for her and I’m afraid of what would happen if I was lost in grief myself, I’m afraid of what might happen and worry about my children’s quality of life while we are going through this loss. I will say this though: sexually, I am fine I mean I am ready to get back in the swing of things like normal before the miscarriage but completely understand how it must feel as a woman going through the same loss just felt in a completely different way and she knows that I am ready as soon as she feels okay to be intimate and I haven’t nagged or egged on about sex or intimacy since it happened, I just let her know I still love and am in love with her, find her sexy, attractive and a wonderful wife and mother and that nothing was her fault. I am far from perfect and still have, dare I say it, “man needs and desires” but a man can still feel that way and still be a loving provider and emotional “rock” for his wife, even if he himself can’t or doesn’t understand what his wife or partner is going through personally. That being said, I think a large majority of men simply cannot process emotions or feelings at the same level or capacity of their spouse or partner and I think a lot of women cannot grasp how some men process complex emotions like the loss of a child. I know, I’m a man and the first emotion that came to me was anger, because my wife was in pain and it was an enemy I could do nothing to stop or protect her from it and it killed me that I couldn’t make it go away and it still angers and upsets me that I can’t do anything against this intangible force that is threatening to unravel her sanity and emotionally wreck the woman I’ve loved and been in love with since I met her 15 years ago. So as far as your husband/boyfriend is concerned, I can almost promise you the issues he is having with this loss has more to do with how powerless he feels rather than his actually feelings towards you or your pregnancy and loss of your child and you have to both lean on each other instead of expecting your partner to carry all your weight; God bless them if they try too but you both need each other regardless of what gender roles or society has pounded into us how it should be, but you must recognize that there may still come a point where you have to just focus on yourself and your own grief and coping with it before you get dragged under a current so strong that you lose yourself instead of your husband or partner. Just my opinion about our struggle to cope and recover from OUR loss, and I know everyone’s situation is different and varied but I wish you all the best in this world and hope each and everyone of us finds the peace we need and deserve. God Bless.
Douglas Sutherland I’m was also in the military, I’m a marine corps veteren , anyways i want to ask you for advice my fiance lost her first son in January of 2016 and a year later we found out that she’s having another baby, however she’s scared it will happen again I am scared to but I want to be optimist, and I want to help her and comfort her , the other night she cried on my shoulder and it broke my heart because she is scared that it will happen again
As difficult as it is, this article explains how I feel and I am hopeful that with time, I am able to cope well.
Thank you for this. Lost a lovely 3 months old daughter, she was really close to my heart. Since last year friends are not close to me, after work I lock myself inside my bedroom griefing. How can I make them close to me. Should I replace with another child to fill this emptiness inside of me.
I’m so sorry for your loss. I don’t blame you for wanting to hide and grieve. I hope you have found someone to talk to, you really need that. Anyone in your situation would need help. If you don’t have a therapist, it would feel so good to talk through this with someone while you heal. Peace to you…
Hi I hope my post makes sense I’m 31 yrs old with a 13 yr old son I always wanted to have another baby and I would always ask God to please make sure it’s a girl and born in the month of April like me and her big brother. Well my prayers were answered on Labor Day I found out I was pregnant I was extremely happy nothing or no one could come between my joy. I work and made sure I went to all my doctors appointment ate right and still enjoyed life. While at work last Thursday I started to spot and have cramps ent to the er was rush straight to labor and delivery they told me it was nothing they can do my cervix was open next morning new shift comes in oh if you are not completely open we can stitch you up. Well there was no hope was ask if I wanted to take anything to induce my labor I said no I can’t I rather it happen on its on plus my baby still had a heart beat and was moving. I went the full weekend nothing happen I just prayed and cried asking God to please let my baby make it until December 14th I will be 24 weeks and my baby can have a chance at life well Monday I went into labor and was extremely happy because it was a girl she was everything I could ever dream of she lived for a whole hour after that I lost it. I feel so lost I’ve never lost a child before this was my second time ever being pregnant and I couldn’t help my baby I feel so lost and friends and family are calling and texting saying kind words and prayers but I feel empty I want my daughter back.. I did tell my spouse I would like to seek therapy at first I was extremely against it because I feel like the therapist can’t bring my baby back not help me get pregnant again so why do I need to talk to them. It’s pointless
Thank you for this. I was starting to feel alone
On the 22/02/14 I miscarried my first baby at 2 months pregnant, I never knew a pain so deep(or so I thought) my husband and I were zombies for a while. But we continued with life. In July 2014 I concieved again-what joy that brought my life! On the 31/03/215 I gave birth to the most tall and beautiful babygirl!!! We were filled with so much joy,”finally we were parents,I was someone’s mom” but that was cut short. On the 23/12/15 only at 8Months old my precious babygirl,my joy giver passed away due to aspiration! Oh!I literally thought I was going to die, the pain and agony I felt and still feel today is enormous. The thought of having another baby for me is traumatic because I am full of ‘what if”(i miscarry or baby dies) I really dont know. Being a mother is a joy to me but I really don’t know.
Thank you for the above, I share the sentiments.
Oh mama, I’m so very sorry. I hope you have so much support and love surrounding you as you grieve. Grief is one of the greatest weights to bear in this life, and we cannot do it alone. If you aren’t in counseling now, it may really help to work through your fears about having another baby. It makes sense that you have these fears. I would too! Anyone would. Learning how to hold on to hope and joy while you struggle is hard and it takes time and help. I’m sending you peace.
I can’t move on or let go. Whatever words you choose to put there. My first born died wks before she turned 6yrs old. I still had one younger than her. I was fixed after my 2nd child. Now 6yrs later I’m expecting again. I’m excited one minute and then I can remove myself from the bed the next day.
Malinda, you have been through so much. I’m sorry for the pain and I’m sure there are so many mixed feelings right now. I hope you are surrounding yourself with help from family and friends and a professional support system. Peace to you….
I no this is an old thread but writing this has helped me already my husband and I have a beautiful 2 and a half yr old called Rupert we had our 2nd son in Feb this year he was healthy and perfect weighing 8.5 His name was Patrick at 5 weeks old after a 3 hour breastfeed I passed him to his daddy, he thought he was asleep it was that sudden he had passed away to SIDS Now 6 months on I am 13 weeks pregnant I am so excited but feel so much guilt it’s just so hard 🙁
I’m really struggling.
I am worried so much that I won’t bond with this baby, I didn’t suffer anything at all with the boys I loved them eternally but I just miss my son so much.
Brogan, I am so sorry for your loss. You have been through an awful trauma and you are grieving. You don’t have to feel guilty about that. You are going through something no one should ever have to endure, and I really am truly sorry. Please seek grief counseling if you have not. It would help so much to talk through all the emotions of grief and pregnancy. There is such a mix of emotions, and any one of us would need help walking through all of it. Nothing you feel is *wrong*. You are free, allowed, to feel anything and everything and accept that these are human responses and they will change with time. You will never forget your sweet baby. You will never feel nothing when thinking of him. You will always love him, and you can learn to love your new baby, and connect, with time and help. If you don’t bond right away, that’s normal. It will come, like I said, if you keep reaching out for professional help and leaning into all the support of those you love and who love you. Peace to you and yours.
Lost my precious baby boy 11 hours after he was born. I was devastated and crushed. If it wasn’t for my daughter I wouldn’t have made this whole ordeal. One of the comments on the day of his death was ‘don’t worry you can just make another one’. Oh good, how is that working out for me now to just have made another one. I am pregnant now again and have so many bad thoughts. For starters, I haven’t even felt one bit happy about this new pregnancy. I think of how I am betraying my baby boy for ‘making another one’. I think of the first ultra sound I will have and their might not even be a heart beat. Or I might miscarry or this baby could just die anyway after he is born. I think of why bothering me with how would you like to want your baby shower questions and most of all how do I explain to my dear daughter AGAIN that her brother or sister did not make it again! How do I put her through that pain AGAIN. Most of the times I think to myself maybe hubby and I didn’t thought this whole thing through and that we got pregnant way to fast or sometimes think that this is a mistake. I am completely negative and feel like I can not see this whole 40 weeks through… as it would end in pain again anyway…
Nadia, I’m so very sorry. Of course you have these feelings and fears. Of course. You have been through a horrible trauma. I believe it can get better, but allow yourself to feel all mixed up. There is so much emotion to work through. I hope you are receiving professional help. We all need that help, especially with grief involved. If you are not in therapy, please consider that so that you can work through this and have support through your pregnancy and postpartum period.
Thank you. I’m thinking about trying again a year after loss, and it is hard to explain why that makes me sad and guilty and frightened– some people tell me that means I’m not ready, but I think I will always be scared and sad–and I do want a new baby, but I’m having a hard time being excited about it because I know what I risk. I just need it to be okay for me to be excited and scared, happy and sad, when I do decide I am ready. And I really need this to be a separate child, not a replacement for my son.
You’re so wise, mama. YES, you are allowed to feel a thousand things at once. Grief is not concrete, or black and white, there are no rules. Allow yourself to feel. I hope you’ve been in counseling. That really helps to work through all the various feelings as you go. A new baby would be a precious gift, even if you didn’t feel that all the time. That would not mean that you are a bad mom or incapable of attachment. It would just be normal after loss. I’m sending you peace…
Hi Rosalind, I know exactly how you feel.I also want to have another baby,scared to be loose another child and having my heart break into pieces again.Counselling is good but I was and still is helped by my relationship with God.I have my sad days and feeling like giving up but I hang on trusting in God and the hope of having a family with my husband gives me strength.I also do not want a replacement child,becuase no-one can take my daughte’s place in my heart.I am praying to God that I will love my ‘child’ fully and not feel guilty about moving on with my life.
May God bless and keep you, and may He bless you with another angel.
I find this very interesting, my fiance lost her first son liam a year ago , we found out she was pregnant in January and were so excited however she is terrified that the same thing would happen again, I love my fiance more than she would ever think, but when she cries because she’s afraid that it will happen again , I cry as well , I just want to see her smile again , and I want to help her out and make her optimistic for she done the same thing for me . Liam passed away in January ,I was still in the Marines and I never met my lovely fiance yet , I get home and a month later my mom passes away , I met my fiance and by the way her name is savanah , in June and git together in July she was my light , she brought me out of the hole , and I maid her happy. She maid me feel comfortable and at ease with myself. But the other night it broke my heart to watch her cry , and tell me that she’s scared , i try letting her know it’s going to be ok , but she tells me that we don’t know that , and I want to know how I could make her feel optimistic aher pregnancy.
Hello Steven, thank you for reaching out and for being such a great support to your fiancee.
There are so many mixed feelings in this situation and it’s hard. It often takes professional help, like therapy, to work through it. You may want to suggest that as an option for sorting through the grief and fear. It would be good for both of you to go to counseling together, to learn more about supporting each other. Seeing someone who has helped people as a grief counselor would be super helpful. Other than that, you simply caring and being there for her is the best thing you can do. It’s hard to see someone you love hurt, but sitting with her while she cries is a huge help. You can’t always fix things, but you can simply be there next to someone, letting them know you love them and will see them through the dark times. Peace to you both.
Thank you so much for your blog, and for the posts. This is very comforting. My wife and I lost our newborn son a few months ago, and we still don’t know the cause for sure. I have lived through the death of my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, as well as friends – but my son’s death is the most horrible experience I have ever faced. My wife is having an even more difficult time with it. I miss him so much.
We have a soon to be 2 year old daughter, and a frozen embryo in cryogenic storage, and all I can think about is bringing the baby to life. However, my wife is unsure she will ever be able to go through the process again. She blames herself, and feels deep regret because of the negative thoughts she had during post-Partum depression. I am so worried about my daughter that I’m constantly checking her when she’s asleep. The toll everything has taken on our marriage is so intense I’m not sure how the story will end. I feel like my family is slipping through my fingers and I can’t stop it. I don’t even know if having another child would be a good or bad thing, but I do know we need to stabilize our marriage before making any decisions. Hopefully the therapy we’re in will help. The trouble is we are in our 40s, and time is ticking if we’re going to try again. I’m so sorry anyone else has had to go through this.