Living with pregnancy loss

Pregnancy loss is common, impacting approximately 150,000 Australians each year, but it’s a topic that is still largely shrouded in silence.

12 Nov 2020

The intense grief that comes with the loss of a child through a miscarriage or stillbirth can be devastating and leave parents at greater risk of perinatal anxiety and depression during future pregnancies.Living with pregnancy loss

Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) advise that when a parent’s grief is not given time and space to be heard and validated, their grief may become protracted and complex and can lead to postnatal mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

According to PANDA, once a healthy baby is born, new mums and dads are often encouraged to forget these losses, or there is an expectation that the losses no longer matter.

Anna-Marie Thompson, Director St John of God Community Mental Health Services, who heads up Raphael Services, understands first-hand the long-term impact that losing a baby can have on parents.

Raphael Services provides specialist perinatal (antenatal and postnatal) mental health care to mums, dads and families free-of-charge with a GP referral.

“I was 29 years old when my daughter, Sophia, was stillborn – she died unexpectedly during labour,” Anna said. 

“My eldest son was three and I hadn’t experienced any issues during his delivery. I had been textbook healthy throughout my second pregnancy so the idea that something could go wrong during the birth hadn’t ever crossed my mind.

“After my baby was stillborn, I felt overwhelming loneliness, grief and fear. 

“My GP was very supportive but back then there were no support services available in Ballarat where I was living and very few even if you were in a capital city.

“One of the midwives from the hospital where I delivered my daughter stayed in touch with me and kept an eye on my mood - she had experienced stillbirth 20 years earlier so she understood what I was going through.

“I was also fortunate to have a mental health background so I was able to monitor myself for signs of anxiety and depression.

“That said, I would have benefitted so much from specialist support. I looked everywhere for books on stillbirth but I couldn’t find anything.

“There were very limited resources available for women who had experienced pregnancy loss but there was absolutely nothing for men – it wasn’t seen as something that impacted the father, they were expected to just get on with things as though nothing had happened.

“Losing our baby was incredibly hard for my partner and I am so glad that nowadays organisations like Raphael Services are available for dads to access.
“My family were extremely supportive but there were no resources for them to go to for guidance and advice either.

“Losing a child doesn’t just affect the parents, the death of my daughter impacted my whole family – we were all so excited for her arrival. It was a very difficult time for everyone.

“I am so passionate about the work Raphael Services does and of course, I am incredibly proud of the work the service does to support families who have experienced and are still impacted by pregnancy loss.

“I cannot overstate how significant it is that Raphael Services supports the whole family.

“My son was three when his sister passed away but I always talked to him about her. Thankfully, because of my mental health background I had an understanding of how to approach the situation with him. He’s 26 now and still says he had a sister who died, as do my other two sons.

“That isn’t the case for most parents though and walking a child through this type of loss can be extremely difficult, especially when you’re trying to process your own grief.” 

Anna was inspired to share her story for PNDA Awareness Week because of the ongoing lack of awareness around the long-term impact that stillbirth, miscarriage, a traumatic delivery and fertility issues can have on parents during future pregnancies. 

“I think it’s something that we, as a society, need to talk about more so that we can support the many women, men and families who have been through these incredibly difficult situations,” Anna said.

It is her hope is that people will make a conscious effort to be more sensitive when talking about pregnancy, the gender of a baby and having conversations with people who don’t have children.

“You just never know someone’s story, what they may have been through or the grief they might still be living with every day,” Anna said.