In the time that it takes to carry a baby to term, many unforeseen events can unfold, including the death of a close family member or friend. Sadly, there is not much literature on the topic. I know about this first-hand. When I was four months pregnant with my first child, my older brother died as the result of injuries sustained in a tragic fall. I searched for information on grief and pregnancy, but all that I seemed to come across were articles on miscarriage. Because of my difficult struggle for information, I wish to share with you what I learned and experienced in my journey in hopes that you will be able to take comfort in the fact that somebody “gets” it and, hopefully, find a little guidance in my words.
The number one thing that people told me (and, perhaps, have told you) was not to grieve because my grief would harm the baby and may even risk the pregnancy. In my case, nothing could’ve been further from the truth. My OB advised me that grief was natural, normal, and should have no detrimental effect on the baby, while holding my grief in was more stressful on us both. However, while this was my experience, every pregnancy is different and you should see your obstetrician as soon as possible to discuss your recent loss and to find out if there are any precautions that you should take.
My next concern was that the baby was feeling all of my emotions through the placenta and would come into the world depressed and void of any joy whatsoever. To my surprise and delight, he turned out to be one of the happiest babies that I’d ever laid eyes on. While it is true that babies feel their mothers’ emotions through the placenta, they are also incredibly resilient creatures with minds and emotions of their own. Your baby will have a lifetime of ups and downs and in-betweens, just like the rest of us. In comparison, a few months of sadness, though it may not seem like it now, really is a minimal experience to your baby that he or she will, thankfully, not remember.
In addition to feeling concerned about how the baby was feeling, I was worried that when he was born, I wouldn’t feel joyous, as I should, because I would be focused on the fact that my brother wasn’t there. What I did to remember my brother on that day and to include him in the event (and, feel free to adapt this idea to your situation if you like) was to take one of his guitar picks into the operating room with me. Although I couldn’t be the one to hold on to it, I gave it to my husband to keep a hold of throughout the delivery. Doing that allowed me to feel watched over, as though my brother was there to celebrate with me, in spirit. When my son arrived into this world, the joy was unstoppable and I couldn’t believe that I had once worried that it wouldn’t be there. It was. It will be for you, too. Of that, I am positive.
After the arrival of my son, I was worried about developing postpartum depression, as it had been explained to me that I was at a somewhat increased risk, due to my recent loss. Life and death are, by far, the largest events that we can go through as human beings and they are, no doubt, polar opposites. To experience both at the same time is just indescribably bewildering. Even before your baby arrives, I strongly recommend seeking psychological counseling to deal with the weight of these issues. I cannot say, for sure, whether I experienced postpartum depression or not, because I really couldn’t have told the difference from my day-to-day state of mind. All of the symptoms seemed the same. If you are like I was, seek help for the sake of yourself and your child. No therapist can take away your pain or your anger or bring back the loved one that you lost, but they can help you manage your feelings in constructive ways that will make you a more stable and better-equipped mother for your new baby. That is something that you both deserve.
Dealing with the death of a close friend or loved one in the midst of a pregnancy can seem insurmountable, at times. The best thing that you can do for yourself is to let go of expectations and suppositions that you may be placing on yourself. If someone says, “Think of the baby” when you’re clearly upset, and it doesn’t magically make you feel better, don’t beat yourself up about it. If you find yourself so wrapped up in decorating the nursery that you forget to go to the cemetery, cut yourself some slack. Allow yourself the freedom to feel, guilt-free, whatever emotions it is that you are feeling. Be your own best friend.
Finally, try as much as you can to remember that your friend or loved one would never begrudge you an ounce of happiness. Experiencing joy is not letting go, forgetting, or dishonoring someone that has passed, nor are you horrible person for doing so because the person who has passed cannot be here. Joy is a deep appreciation for and a celebration of life. The person that you are grieving lived this life gloriously to be loved as deeply as they were by you, so I encourage you to live with joy and freedom in their memory and to celebrate your new baby’s life without reservation.
The pain never goes away, but it does lessen over time. The joy also never goes away, and the best news is that it continues to grow over time, getting greater with each passing day and, once the baby is born, there is always something to new and exciting to look forward to. The circle of life is certainly bittersweet – painful and joyful all at once. You have tasted of the bitter and now, the time has come to open yourself up to experiencing the sweet. Best of luck to you in your journey and, most importantly, congratulations!