Perinatal Loss and the Holidays

There are so many emotional expectations packed into the Holiday season. It’s a time of anticipation, excitement, anxiety, and for some, heartache. For those who’ve experienced perinatal loss, the holiday season after will look very different from one that was previously imagined — and this is often challenging and charged. 

Grief is not linear. It comes in waves, subsides in waves and crashes into the shore at full velocity. The over-emphasis on family, togetherness, milestones, and celebration can be crushing for someone who is moving through grief. The approaching new year and the focus on resolutions, new beginnings, and gratitude isn’t often where a bereaved family lands after loss. As a whole, the holiday season is not really one of nuance. From bright lights to feasts, there aren’t many spaces to hide from such big displays of cheer. 

Perinatal loss may feel like such a taboo subject to discuss, especially during the holiday season. Yet, it is important to acknowledge it in a way that is meaningful to the individual or the family. Silence, even if well-intentioned, can feel unbearably isolating, create shame, become the source of resentment, and sow many tangible, negative experiences. This is the opposite of what a loved one aims to do. 

There are some ways we can be more mindful and supportive of someone who experienced perinatal loss, stillbirth, terminating a pregnancy for medical reasons (TFMR), abortion, neonatal infant loss, ectopic pregnancy, or another kind of loss.

How to Support Loved Ones During the Holidays

  1. Offer a way to honor the baby. Consider lighting a candle or putting up a special ornament in honor of the baby and the bereaved parents. 
  1. Remain thoughtful about those who may be joining a gathering who have infants or are expecting. Of course, not inviting a pregnant relative isn’t the answer, however, addressing it gently and lovingly might be. Say to the bereaved, “I imagine this may be hard for you. I love you.”
  1. Be charitable. Make a donation in the name of the baby or family to a children’s charity or another meaningful organization of choice. If the baby was named, please use the name of the baby. 
  1. If there is a partner, father, or non-gestating parent involved, don’t ignore them. Recognize their grief too. 
  1. Talk to the parents about their loss. We acknowledge the loss of a parent or a friend, so why not a perinatal loss? Pain should have space to air out, not be cooped up. It should be supported with love. 

There is no wrong way or right way to grieve or honor a perinatal loss. Let the bereaved family decide by creating a space for them to feel like they can. Perhaps they may not want to attend a party this year, perhaps they may request support in finding bereavement groups or counseling, or perhaps they may want to talk often about their experience, either way, to love them is to let them grieve how they need to. 

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Therapist New York, NY