Grief is not a noun, Dr. Mary E. Polce says.
Grief is a process. Grief is work. And experiencing the devastating loss of a baby is the hardest work of all.
Shock, denial, anger, sadness and guilt are all normal feelings associated with grieving, says Dr. Polce, a licensed professional counselor and developmental psychologist with the Virginia Women’s Center. “The work of grief is to let the feelings come, experience them, and let them go, without any judgment,” she says. Often grief comes like ocean waves: A powerful sadness washes over you, and then it passes.
“There’s no right or wrong way to grieve,” she tells moms and dads who have lost a baby. But there are ways to help the grieving process, which parents can learn at Dr. Polce’s free monthly miscarriage and infant loss support group.
How the Compassionate Caring: Miscarriage and Infant Loss Support Group can help
“When a parent is grieving after a miscarriage, they are mourning the loss of their baby,” Dr. Polce says. “It is a real loss. It is a real grieving process.” But not everyone understands this.
Friends, family members and strangers may say hurtful things that are meant to be comforting, such as “Well, you can always try again.” Others may ignore or minimize the loss. “Everyone just wants you to feel better. But feeling better takes time.” Dr. Polce says.
In the group, people support each other without expecting you to feel better. Everyone is experiencing their own grief process, but everyone understands what loss is like. And, Dr. Polce says, it’s an empowering process. Moms and dads discover that they can both offer and receive help, as well as learn comforting coping tools.
Strategies for coping with the loss of a baby
Know that moms and dads grieve differently. While both parents feel the heavy burden of loss and grief, there’s a biochemical aspect unique to the mother in the grieving process, because she’s experiencing postpartum hormonal changes. This means moms may have fewer inner coping resources to help manage their grief. These biochemical changes will lessen over time, Dr. Polce explains; some may require medication to help reset biochemistry.
Set aside time to talk. Partners need to talk to each other about their grieving, but that can be hard to do. Instead of avoiding the topic, or talking about it all the time, Dr. Polce suggests setting aside a specific time to check in with each other. This, she says, can “give the grief some walls, or a container.”
Find a way to honor your baby’s memory. Dr. Polce encourages moms and dads to begin with their values: religious beliefs, cultural traditions or family traditions. That can help guide them to a meaningful way to honor the precious memory of their baby.
Make self-care a priority. When mourning the loss of an infant, it’s absolutely crucial to protect your sleep. “Sleep is one of the primary biochemical resets for all of us,” Dr. Polce says, and when grieving parents don’t sleep, it can even make it hard to cope with normal daily challenges. Sometimes short-term medication is needed to restart the sleep cycle, she says. Other self-care strategies include developing a nurturing, compassionate inner voice; eating healthfully; and doing any kind of physical activity, such as yoga, fitness classes or simply walking.
The Miscarriage and Infant Loss Support Group meets from 5 to 6 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month at the VWC West End office located in the Forest Medical Plaza building, 7611 Forest Avenue, Suite 200. The workshop is offered free of charge to VWC patients and their partners. Call 804.288.4084 to reserve your place.
For patients who prefer an individual or couples’ counseling, this can be scheduled by calling the same phone number and is usually covered by health insurance.