Losing a baby at 20-24 weeks of pregnancy

Coping with loss of a baby at 20 to 24 weeks of pregnancy

Experiences of grief

For parents, the loss of their baby was extremely painful and represented the loss of a whole future. Carly described how: “Your whole world's destroyed in a second and all the things that you thought you would do, you just - you can't do them any more”. Michelle explained: “You've lost a baby, but you've lost everyone's expectations, you know, all the life you were expecting“.
Some parents had only recently lost their baby (6 weeks), some were talking many years later. For many, coping with grief took months or years and they felt they were never going to be the same person again. While the loss was devastating, Michele and Iain felt that “we're definitely nicer people, more empathetic”.
Many parents described experiences of extremely profound grief. Emily described how she’d “never known grief like it”. Kirsty, Sarah and Liz described times when they didn’t want to get up out of bed. Sharon found it really helpful when her psychiatrist told her “‘You're just sad’… that's what I needed to hear. It's like 'yeah, I've not gone mad, I'm grieving'”. 

Anxiety

Some experienced panic attacks and anxiety after the birth while others had trouble sleeping. For Maxine’s anxiety felt like a physical pain “where you can’t breathe”. Many women developed anxiety about health problems. Vikki Z said she “had a real problem with anxiety afterwards… It was as if my brain had changed its way of thinking. It was like I was always on high alert”. Michelle felt she lost confidence in trusting her own instincts about her body because she hadn’t been aware that her baby had died during her pregnancy.

Anger

Several parents talked about their feelings of anger after the birth especially when seeing women who were not looking after themselves and their baby by smoking during pregnancy. Kamie questioned why life was so unfair “when you don't do nothing wrong, and you do everything by the book, and you still don't get your prize at the end”.

Grieving at different paces

Parents experienced grief at very different stages. Michelle described how “You know, if it doesn't hit you on the bum in three months, it might in a year, and that's okay.” Kerry unexpectedly found her baby’s memory box many years after her loss which triggered renewed grieving. Parents felt their grief could be brought on unexpectedly by anything such as seeing a picture, or hearing music played at their baby’s funeral.
Anniversaries of the baby’s due date or birthday were particularly painful. For a long time, Maxine found Thursdays hard as that was the day her baby was born. Christmas and holidays were also difficult. Michelle found it hard when she was with her older children on holiday knowing “there should be another one there”.
Parents often found it very difficult returning to hospitals. Carly found being in hospital brought the memories and grief back and the smell of the hospital was particularly painful.
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Questions such as “Where’s your little one?” after the birth or “Have you got children?” often triggered strong emotions. Pregnancy announcements or being around babies and small children were often difficult for some parents too. Some parents described avoiding events where people might ask if they had children such as weddings. Sharon described how she was “not close to people with children, because I try and lead my life where there can't be any gaps for children”.
Coping strategies

Parents found a variety of ways to help them cope with their grief. Some parents found they needed to get away from the house they lived in when they lost their baby. Kirsty felt “We had to move house, once we'd had her because I'd started to have her in that house and I didn't want to stay there”. 

Many parents felt taking time off work after the birth was essential although parents’ entitlements to leave depended on whether or not their baby was live born. Others felt the need to get back to work and be “busy, busy, busy, busy”. Sam found it helpful to always take the week off work of her baby’s birthday to spend time on her own.
Some parents felt an overwhelming need to try for another baby very quickly to help cope with their grief after their loss. They talked about needing to fill the “void” in their lives. Becoming pregnant again offered parents hope and something to focus on.
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Talking about loss was important to parents, they often felt more support from friends and family who had experienced the loss of a baby or they sought support and friendship with people they met through baby loss support groups. Others found talking upsetting and tried not to talk to other people about it because it upset them.
In the longer term many parents we spoke to found doing something to make a difference for future parents suffering a loss, to thank people for the care they had received and to ensure that their baby hadn’t “died in vain” was a helpful part of their recovery process and kept their baby’s memory alive (TS:21 Moving on while keeping memories alive).

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