Pregnancy and infant loss: through the lens of a doctor’s practice

By Beth Helgerson, M.D., OB/GYN

 

This is a tough subject. Losing a baby, losing a pregnancy – it’s life-changing. Even though it’s not always talked about, it’s very real and very painful to mothers and their families.

We’re in the midst of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, a fitting opportunity for me to express thoughts and emotions I’ve seen throughout my practice.

A mother and father holding the hat of a premature baby.There’s not always a reason

Early pregnancy loss is quite common, according to some sources. But we don’t always know when it happens because it might manifest as a late heavy cycle. We aren’t always aware of the reason for early loss, but it’s often due to abnormal chromosome numbers in the fetus.

Mid to late pregnancy loss is far less common. Again, we don’t always have answers. Causes could include abnormal chromosomes, prematurity, genetic/structural makeup, uterine or cervical issues, or poorly controlled medical illness in the mother.

Because we’re not always sure what causes pregnancy loss, it’s important to do everything you can to be healthy if you’re looking forward to motherhood. That might mean taking care of diabetes or hypertension, being in good shape, taking vitamins, maintaining a healthy weight – all before you get pregnant.

Strong support mends broken hearts

Grief is hard enough, but when I talk to women who lose a pregnancy, they share that they feel even worse based on what their friends and other people have said.

People mean well. They don’t mean to cause pain. But phrases such as, “You’ll have another baby” or “Thank goodness you have another baby at home,” contribute to grief. Almost every woman tells me a story of how she was made to feel worse because of well-meaning words, and that stays with her.

If you know someone who has had a pregnancy or infant loss, it’s OK not to say anything. You don’t have to offer advice in hopes of cheering her up. More often than not, it has the opposite effect. It’s OK to simply give her a hug.

If you have experienced a loss and have been hurt by someone’s words, know that there is a place that can help. You can find solace in a support group, where you’ll meet people who are dealing with their own losses. It will show you that you’re not alone, that somebody there has gone through this successfully and wants to help. Lots of candles on dark background


Children are always remembered

While it’s true that time helps with grief, a part of us never lets go of that grief. When I speak to elderly women and ask about their life history, they often want to discuss their own pregnancy and infant losses.

One woman in her 80s described it as always being painful, that it’s been painful for 60 years. Yet, she’s glad that it brings her pain. Not that she enjoys that pain, but it reminds her that her child is never forgotten.

Her sentiments struck me as beautiful and profound. It’s a viewpoint we don’t often hear, and I think it’s important. I’ve shared these thoughts with young women who are experiencing loss right now. While it might not bring them relief, it makes sense to them and, in a way, helps them feel connected to other mothers in their grief and remembrance.

TCHC offers two support groups that might help: Grief Support Group and Parents Who Have Lost a Child Support Group. For more information, call 218-631-5228 or click here.

 

Beth Helgerson Professional PhotoAbout the Author: Dr. Beth Helgerson specializes in general obstetrics and gynecology, offering women individualized care and surgical procedures. Dr. Helgerson enjoys spending her days off experimenting with new recipes or, even better, finding new restaurants to try. She and her husband have two grown daughters.

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