Death is an obvious grief. That loss is tangible. Everyone sees that and feels that for you. But knowing you are going to lose the baby you are carrying brings so many other unseen griefs, unanticipated secondary losses, which the mother silently bears alone.
- People see your belly and automatically congratulate you or ask friendly questions about the baby or pregnancy. Do you smile, say thank you, and pretend you are as happy as they are? Or awkwardly break the extremely personal news to strangers? Either choice leaves you feeling conflicted, reigniting the grief.
- You don’t get a baby shower. You don’t need or want clothes and supplies that will clutter your house and taunt you with their never getting used. There are no fun celebrations of the anticipated child. No fun of getting to open up gift bags of cute clothes, surrounded by a whole community sharing their joint excitement and blessing. But you don’t get that rite of passage. Yes, it feels like a RIGHT of passage that you’re being denied.
- You don’t get to enjoy shopping for clothes or baby supplies. What’s the point? They won’t be needed. There is no fun looking, dreaming, and picking out the kind of cute outfits I want my baby to wear. No need to stock up on diapers, wipes, blankets, diaper cream. No need to get cute organization supplies for the nursery. No need to shop for a bassinet. None of it would be used. Life will go on as normal, without a baby. But NOT going shopping feels like you’re ignoring the life in your womb.
- If you do go shopping (say, perhaps, because you just need to do something for your baby, or more practically, because you need something to dress your baby in for burial), there is a whole new set of emotions. Tears threaten as you browse through the preemie section of baby clothes. You only need one outfit. It’s not about which outfits (emphasis on the plural) you like. It’s “Which ONE is good enough, which one is the RIGHT one for my baby? (Will it even fit?).”
At checkout, cashiers like to make friendly small talk, especially about babies. Obviously, the baby outfit goes with your pregnant belly. So obvious, innocent questions like “Are you having a girl?” make you want to run away and bury your face in a pillow. You don’t want any small talk about your baby. You just want to pay and get out of there so you can sob all the way home.
- Any place in the community you frequent—the grocery store, the library, your child’s school for pickup—people notice your pregnant body. They are the people you see often enough to recognize you and maybe make small talk, but not close enough to really know you or your situation. They will notice when your pregnant belly disappears and is not replaced with a baby in arms. What do you do then? What do you say when they ask about your baby? What do they THINK? Not that it matters what strangers think. Yet you FEEL the silent (or imagined) questions or judgements of these near-strangers. Or else brace yourself for their friendly, innocent questions.
These hidden griefs make it hard for the mother anticipating loss to participate in the broad community of normal life. These hidden griefs make it ESSENTIAL that she be surrounded by a close-knit community of intimacy and knowing—church, family, close friends, whatever—that understand and don’t need explanations.
She needs a safe place to live as normally as possible. A safe place to break down. A safe place to do whatever she needs to do to handle her grief.