Parents navigating the emotional challenges of pregnancy loss need more support and understanding. Arabella Gibson, Gidget Foundation Australia CEO shares how we can help ease the burden.
By Arabella Gibson
Pregnancy loss is devastating and impacts each parent differently whilst leaving an intense emotional burden. Every day in Australia six babies are stillborn, two babies pass away during the neonatal period (28 days post birth) and 285 pregnancies end in miscarriage.
Every single one of these numbers embodies a baby, and a family whose lives have been dramatically and irrevocably changed.
For the month of October (which is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month) the focus has been on acknowledging the families who have experienced this loss, by raising awareness and encouraging difficult conversations to support loved ones.
And this is something that needs to continue all year round.
“IT IS CRITICAL TO CREATE A SAFE AND EMPATHETIC ENVIRONMENT WHERE PARENTS COPING WITH A LOSS CAN FEEL COMFORTABLE, HEARD AND HEAL.”
Isolated in Grief: When Parents Feel Alone in Their Loss
Earlier this year at Gidget Foundation Australia, we surveyed Australian parents and those responses found that following a miscarriage, two in five (43%) Australian parents felt alone in their grief and two in five (40%) did not want to burden others while navigating their grief.
These statistics underscore the essential need for the enhancement of support systems within both family and community settings to effectively address the emotional needs of parents who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss.
It is critical to create a safe and empathetic environment where parents coping with a loss can feel comfortable, heard and heal. This is something we strive to achieve through our clinical support services such as free, GP referred face to face and telehealth counselling services at Gidget Foundation Australia.
Silent Suffering: The Unseen Impact on Fathers in Grief
Our data sheds further light on the profound impact of stillbirth and infant loss on fathers. Two in five (42%) grieving fathers report encountering dismissive attitudes or a tendency to downplay their grief, this is considerably higher than the one in three (34%) mothers who reported similar experiences.
These findings underline the unique and often overlooked struggles that fathers face in the aftermath of such devastating events and highlights the need for whole-family grief support.
In addition to the disparities in emotional support, our data brings to the forefront the complex issue of communication and expression of grief among Australian fathers. Sadly, one third (30%) of Australian dads reported struggling with the daunting task of explaining their loss to family, friends, and work colleagues.
This difficulty in articulation is identified as one of the most formidable obstacles that fathers grapple with during their grieving process. This further emphasises the necessity for more empathetic and supportive approaches to assist grieving fathers in navigating their bereavement.
The Lingering Pain: Long-Term Effects on Parents in Grief
On an annual basis, a staggering 100,000 Australian couples find themselves confronted with the heart-wrenching reality of pregnancy or infant loss. This deeply traumatic experience leaves a lasting impact on the parents involved, manifesting in a multitude of challenging emotions, including sadness, guilt, and shock.
These emotional scars can persist over time, affecting not only the psychological wellbeing of the parents but also their overall quality of life.
This emotional turmoil is particularly concerning for mothers who have experienced a pregnancy loss before the arrival of their first live-born child. Research has shown that these mothers face a significantly heightened risk – approximately 35% higher – of requiring postpartum psychiatric treatment.
Therefore, early and appropriate support is undeniably crucial in not only reducing the rates of depression but also in improving the resilience and emotional wellbeing of grieving parents during this incredibly difficult period.
Supportive Strategies: How to Help Your Loved One Through Challenging Times
If you know someone in who has experienced child loss, asking, “How can I support you best?” is a good start. This gives the individual the opportunity to direct where you can support most, whether it be emotional or practical needs.
Increasing your awareness of the signs and symptoms of perinatal depression and anxiety (PNDA) is important. Some symptoms include prolonged irritability or anger, constant crying or tearyness, hypervigilance focusing on routine.
If you notice signs of distress, take them seriously, validate their feelings, and offer to provide access to support. Practical gestures like preparing meals, helping with childcare, or sending thoughtful messages can be incredibly valuable.
Respect their boundaries, acknowledge their challenges, and offer support.
Gidget Foundation Australia: Our part to make a difference
Our annual Gidget Foundation Australia ‘Bun in the Oven’ fundraising campaign is happening through to the end of November. By raising funds for the Gidget Foundation, you can make a meaningful difference for expectant and new parents, ensuring we can provide the ongoing life-saving support for those facing challenges.
For additional information and to sign up to host your own Bun in the Oven event, visit our website gidgetfoundation.org.au.
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