Bereavement and Fetal Loss

by Mark Moore, MD

Handsome happy-go-lucky vice-presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards is a "bereaved parent". His teenaged son died in a car accident. Their decision to have two more children was different than some 50-year-old parents might have made, none-the-less right for them.

Mothers who miscarry or deliver a stillborn baby have a particularly under-recognized burden. That is, family and friends do not realize how important that unborn child was in the parents lives. Complicating matters is the combined grieving of the father and sometimes older siblings with its resulting stress on relationships.

Fetal demise is very common. It has been estimated to involve as much as 65-75% of all conceptions. Albeit, many occur before the woman knows she is pregnant. The vast majority occur in the first trimester. Still, when it happens to you, you may feel like you're the only one who has ever had a miscarriage.

When a fetal demise occurs, there will be bleeding or spotting, the uterus contracts and there is a delivery of the fetus. Sometimes, parts of the placenta do not completely detach and must be removed manually with a minor surgical procedure (D & C or D & E). It is no surprise that the emotional healing takes significantly longer than the physical recuperation.

Recognizing grief and allowing yourself time to pass through its stages--denial, anger, bargaining, depression and guilt, then acceptance, is the beginning of this recovery. Some personal suggestions:

  1. Share your feelings with others
  2. Keep busy
  3. Be active and exercise regularly; it releases mood-lifting endorphins and helps you sleep better
  4. Watch your diet and your health
  5. Delay important decisions
  6. Be mindful of the family you have
  7. Join a support group, such as SHARE (Click here for listing of this and other resources)
  8. Finally, if you need it, do not hesitate to get professional help

Remember--take one day at a time.

Mark Moore, MD is a pediatric and obstetric anesthesiologist in Tallahassee, Florida. He is the author of Baby Girl or Baby Boy.

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