Many people are surprised to learn how common pregnancy loss is. Estimates indicate one-third of all pregnancies will end in miscarriage or stillbirth. But doctors believe the figure is probably higher with many women miscarrying even before they know they’re pregnant.

Those figures, unfortunately, suggest that many women and their partners will experience pregnancy loss. And even though in most cases these parents never see or touch their baby, their loss — and their grief — are just as real.

It’s important not to minimize the loss. Parents typically begin bonding with their unborn baby as soon as they know they’re expecting. You begin planning for the baby, subordinating your own needs to what is best for your developing baby. When the pregnancy ends in miscarriage or stillbirth, you not only lose your child, you also lose those hopes and dreams.

If you lose an unborn child, you will likely experience wide-ranging emotions, including shock, confusion, disappointment, jealousy, guilt or self-blame, anger, frustration, sadness and depression. Expect to grieve as you would with the loss of anyone important to you. Grief is an important process that helps you move forward. Grieving can take a different amount of time for everyone. While you may not be able to speed or slow the process, you can take steps to help you cope better.

First, talk to people who understand. That begins with a supportive medical provider who can gently help you understand the medical aspect of the loss. It also helps to talk with other parents who have experienced a similar loss and to talk with clergy.

Most medical facilities also offer support groups for parents who experience miscarriages or stillbirths. Talking with people who understand and do not minimize your loss can be very therapeutic.

Second, express yourself. Writing in a journal can help you process difficult emotions. Additionally, a number of Web sites offer discussion boards and chat rooms where you can communicate with other parents experiencing loss. Writing about your experiences in these safe, anonymous forums can help you work through complicated feelings, hopes and fears that can help ease your heartache.

Third, take care of yourself. Follow your doctor’s instructions for self-care, eat healthfully and get the rest you need.

Fourth, get out of the house. Whether going to the grocery store or the park, engaging in the outside world can help restore a sense of routine while also serving as a promise of less painful times ahead.

Fifth, acknowledge your loss. Many people find it helpful to acknowledge their loss and memorialize their baby in a symbolic way. Some people plant a tree, add a special charm to a bracelet or hold a memorial service, particularly if the baby was stillborn.

Finally, get help if you need it. If three or four weeks following your loss you still have difficulty functioning day to day, seek help from a medical provider. Even though you don’t have a baby, you still have fluctuating hormones and may suffer from postpartum depression. That’s why it’s especially important to keep your follow-up appointments with your doctor.

When a friend or family member experiences pregnancy loss, acknowledge that loss and be supportive. Offer to listen, go for a walk with her or him and acknowledge the reality of the loss. Above all, bereaved parents need loving support. The best thing you can do for them is offer a safe, nonjudgmental space to grieve.

As published in the May 2006 Edition of the Vernon County Broadcaster.