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Five Types of Guilt After Pregnancy Loss

You can never anticipate the feelings you will go through following a pregnancy loss. Nothing in life prepares you for it and no one ever thinks it will happen to them. Of all the emotions I went through after each of my three losses, the one that kept surprising me over and over again was the guilty emotions that would surface at unexpected times and in unexpected situations.

Oftentimes the guilt I felt was from some sense of having committed a wrong that was entirely in my imagination or that I had no control over. After speaking with many other women who have experienced similar losses, I know I am not alone in these feelings.

Feeling guilty for some imagined wrong is not unusual following any traumatic event. I hope the following five situations will help others to not feel alone in their own emotions after the loss of a child.

I did something that caused my baby to die

I think almost everyone goes through this. It’s a natural part of coming to terms with the grief. It goes without saying that nothing you did “caused” the death of your child. I remember how guilty I felt as I thought about what I could have done.

Was it something I ate?

Were my pants too tight? (Totally serious)

Is this a punishment for some past sin?

Maybe we shouldn’t have been intimate?

Did that one glass of wine before I knew I was pregnant make a difference?

All these questions and more go through your head. If even just one of them makes sense in your mind it can eat you up inside for months. It’s hard to get past. I remember after my first miscarriage my doctor even went over some of the above questions and told me none of them were true. She did that without prompting from me, she just knew that these were the kinds of things women can come up with and she wanted to put my mind at ease. It didn’t really help at the time, but as more time passed I’m glad she had that conversation with me. Once I could accept my loss as one of those unfortunate events that happen in the lives of many women, I could get past any guilt I had from any of these questions that went through my mind. If you have had similar thoughts, I hope you know that none of these things or anything like it “caused” you baby’s death. In our most rational moments we know that. But many of us aren’t always thinking rationally when dealing with the grief of a pregnancy loss.

I couldn’t look at my child/I flushed the remains

Immediately after a loss we are not in our right mind. Believe me, I look back now at how I was just after each of my three losses and it’s like I’m watching a movie in my head of someone else. With my first miscarriage, we never saw the baby. I was in a room in the triage unit of my hospital’s Labor & Delivery floor, I was in pain from extreme cramping, passing blood clots and tissue, and feeling completely unprepared. An ultrasound showed nothing. I went to the bathroom at one point and passed an extremely large clot. I didn’t even look, I just flushed. I had a very distinct feeling that it was more than a clot, but fear overtook me. I was all alone, I was confused, and it was very late at night.

Our third child, Brigit Ann, was buried in this box with these blankets. I was unable to provide the same for our first child, Casey Marie.

Our third child, Brigit Ann, was buried in this box with these blankets. I was unable to provide the same for our first child, Casey Marie.

It wasn’t until much later that I felt extreme guilt over my actions. Why didn’t I look? Why didn’t I reach in and save my child’s remains? What is wrong with me? It was hard to get past the guilt. Over time I came to accept that no matter what, God is in control. I depend on Him to make all things right. And I can’t go back and fix things. It’s not a lot of consolation, but it’s some.

I’ve talked to many other women who have had similar experiences. It’s nice to know I am not alone.

Along with this, some women have been unable or unwilling to hold their child after a second or third trimester loss. My first experience led me to have a great desire to hold my son when we lost him at 22 weeks, so my experience is quite different. But many women do not feel that way and may never hold their child. That can lead to a lot of guilt later on when they wish they had taken the opportunity when they had it. If that was your experience, you are not alone. Try to take some time for yourself to spend in quiet prayer, lay your guilt before God, and let Him handle it. Easier said, than done, I’m sure.

I’m so happy right now, but wait …

The very first time I felt any sort of happy/excited/joyful emotions after each of my losses I immediately felt guilty about it. How can I possibly be feeling happy after what I just went through? Whether it is a moment of laughter with a friend, the news that you are expecting again, or any kind of milestone in a subsequent pregnancy, these moments that should be happy have an undertone of sadness to them. And those joyful times then lead to feeling guilty that we felt happy for even a moment.

At first this can be so hard to deal with. Moments of joy can lead to tears. We feel like we don’t have a “right” to be happy. This can be even harder if a subsequent pregnancy happens quickly after a loss. But honestly, sometimes the length of time doesn’t matter at all. Even a year later you can feel guilty for those moments of joy and adulation.

It takes time and it takes many moments of this happening before you can truly feel joy again without that guilt behind it.

“How many children do you have?”

After a pregnancy loss, this can be a hard question to answer. For myself, I found it difficult to answer without feeling some guilt. After my first loss, a miscarriage at 8 weeks, if someone asked me if we had any children yet, I often said no. But a small part of me cringed inside as I answered. This also depended on who was asking the question to an extent. Those close to me knew of our loss, but strangers usually got the “no” answer. If I was meeting someone whom I expected to have continued interaction with, I tended to modify that answer.

Our second child, Zachary Thomas, January 11, 2009.

Our second child, Zachary Thomas, January 11, 2009.

When we lost our second child, a stillbirth at 22 weeks, I had a harder time telling people that we didn’t have any children. I had held my second child in my arms, looked into his tiny face, felt his hands and feet, how could I tell someone that I had no children. And once I started telling people that yes, we had a son who had died too soon, I then felt guilty for not mentioning my first child.

It was surprisingly freeing to be able to tell someone, even a complete stranger, that I had two children but that they were with God and not here with me. By the time we lost our third baby (a miscarriage at 9-10 weeks), I was very comfortable telling people that we had three children in heaven.

I encourage others to include their children lost too soon as part of their family as much as possible and in whatever way is most comfortable for their family. This is one way to alleviate the guilt that can come along with not including them in the count of your children. How this looks for each family will be different. I happen to be very public about my losses, but I know that isn’t comfortable for everyone. Do what works best for you.

I can’t keep track of pregnancy milestones

I don’t know about you, but I have a few half filled out or completely empty pregnancy journals laying around my house. I have attempted to fill them out, but I’ve been disappointed so many times that I eventually give up. The irrational part of my brain tells me that if I ignore it the pregnancy will be fine, but if I start filling it out, something will happen. Thus I end up with no tangible record of pregnancy milestones for any of my pregnancies.

Other women I have spoken with have confided that they later felt bad about this. There wasn’t anything to share with an older child about the milestones of the pregnancy with him or her. Should we feel guilty for not tracking our pregnancies more? Saving ultrasounds? Noting food cravings and aversions? Describing how we felt, how we slept, when we felt movement? Taking the monthly “belly shots”? I think we need to give ourselves a break and realize that we can only do the best we can do.

For myself, I’ve learned to let go of this one thing because it causes me added stress during pregnancy. I’d love to have the perfect little journals to share with my children when they get older, but not in exchange for my sanity. Sometimes we just have to be okay with how things are for us and not let others (our parents or in-laws or siblings or friends) guilt us into feeling bad for not recording all the “important” moments of a pregnancy.

These are just a few examples of the kind of guilt mothers (and fathers) may deal with following a pregnancy loss. Some of these feelings can stay with us for years. Learning to forgive ourselves, accept the things we can not change, and letting go of the things that don’t matter in the bigger picture can be a very long road. It’s nice to know that you’re not alone in your feelings. And I encourage you, if you are feeling stuck in any of these unhealthy emotions, to lay your feelings out before God in prayer and also to seek the help of a trusted priest through spiritual direction.

Have you felt similar types of guilt at times? How have you learned to live with it or get past it? What else would you add to this list?Pregnancy loss pic (2)

About Kerri Baunach

Kerri Baunach is a Catholic wife and mother of three boys (plus three in heaven). She and her family live in beautiful central Kentucky where she is active in her church, a member of Cursillo, and a Benedictine Oblate. Kerri often writes on her Catholic faith, pregnancy loss, her kids, and pro-life issues. Kerri is a former music librarian (16 years) now stay-at-home mom, was a musician for over 20 years, loves taking her kids to the library (and loves that they love it), is passionately pro-life, can’t cook, and has lived in six states. In additional to writing at Catholic Sistas you can also find Kerri on her own blog at Journal of a Nobody.

  • Michelle - Thank you for this Kerri. This is all too true and I have suffered from each one of these guilts. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone in these feelings. My prayers are with you today and will all the other mothers and fathers carrying this cross of suffering.October 15, 2013 – 11:23 amReplyCancel

  • Deana - Thanks for sharing this. My only miscarriage to date was my finally pregnancy earlier this yr. With 3 healthy and growing BOYs at home, I am often asked ‘so willing to still try for a girl?’ And so very often, I want to respond, “We did, but we lost our 4th son in pregnancy’

    I hold back with sharing the info, because I think it would make the other person feel sorry for me and weird feeling. But internally I cringe because I haven’t told them, we do have a 4th…,he just isn’t here’

    Thanks for letting me know – I am not alone in this feeling.October 15, 2013 – 12:29 pmReplyCancel

  • Shari - I remember those months after and feeling guilty because I didn’t have any concrete answers, only what I put together with the info I could find. I just remember thinking I didn’t know if he was afraid or in pain before he passed. There was a lot of fluid around his heart so it was partly heart failure and most likely caused by GBS. I kept thinking I knew something was wrong at my 32wk appointment why didn’t I push for an u/s, or why didn’t I go in to the hospital a few days before we found out he was gone because I was having so many contractions, but figured they were just my irritable uterus. Why didn’t I listen to my instincts and my body. I didn’t protect him and to think he died alone and maybe scared or in pain really was hard for me to deal with….it still is. I know it wasn’t my fault, but the guilt was still there. A friend of mine posted on my pic of him that I am blessed to have a saint in Heaven already. I know she meant the sweetest meaning by that, but I don’t feel it as a blessing, I don’t see it as a blessing. I feel robbed and teased, like waving something in front of a baby and then snatching it away. *sigh* I know its just the selfish part of me and God knows what was best. Maybe he saved Christopher and us from him suffering from cancer and going through that pain.October 15, 2013 – 10:58 pmReplyCancel

  • Chris - Excellent post, and a powerful witness.October 19, 2013 – 9:23 pmReplyCancel

  • Grieving mom - I had several very early miscarriages. I baptized the remains I could identify, but the trauma remained with me. This is going to sound very strange, but I can’t remember some of their names anymore.October 22, 2013 – 6:59 pmReplyCancel

    • GiannaT - I don’t have any wisdom or pithy sayings or anything, I just wanted to give you a hug.

      ((HUG)) <3 <3October 16, 2016 – 11:55 pmReplyCancel

  • Leah - It’s been 9 years and I still sometimes cry. I feel awful because I turned my baby over to the people at the ER, so that they could see that I wouldn’t need a D&C only to find out years later that some people bury even their very tiny children. No, I wasn’t in my right mind. I was completely numb. It was my third child and I was 12 weeks. I wondered about all the things I did that could have caused it. Sometimes I still do. I’ve had three children since and I hardly acknowledge the pregnancy until about 16 weeks at least. I hold my breath at the beginning of the first ultrasound until I see movement.

    It’s something I just don’t talk about because no one who hasn’t been through it can really understand. My mother in law even mocked my sadness because she didn’t get all worked up when she thought she may have had a miscarriage (while using an IUD, mind you) and the miscarriage I knew I had after the supposedly “safe” point in pregnancy shouldn’t affect me either.October 28, 2013 – 7:35 amReplyCancel

  • Kerri - Leah: I am so sorry for all you have gone through with your miscarriage. You are not alone in your feelings. Many, many of us still remember our babies even years after we have lost them. In my opinion it does us no good to pretend they did not exist, because they did. Don’t listen to your mother-in-law. It’s very sad that she can so easily dismiss a child, whether her own or her grandchild. It does effect us to lose a child, that child takes a piece of our heart. One day hopefully we will be reunited with our children in Heaven. In the meantime, I think we should acknowledge their existence and strive to incorporate their memory into our families in whatever way we can. Naming our children is a great first step and I encourage you to do that if you haven’t already. See if there is any sort of memorial garden or other type of space in your area somewhere where you can purchase a stone or brick or whatever to engrave your child’s name and the day he or she died. These types of places are popping up all over as more and more people realize that we need ways to memorialize our children even when we have no way of burying them. It’s never too late. Check out our pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/kasclar/miscarriageinfantloss/ for some resources. There are at least two places linked up there that offer shrines for the unborn. One is in New York City, the Shrine to the Unborn there with a Book of Life. It is specifically for babies lost before birth and they have a Mass once a month for all the babies recorded in the Book. If you send in the info, they will send you back a certificate with your child’s name on it. We have one that we have framed. The other is at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Massachusetts. There is a Shrine to the unborn there and you can have your child memorialized on one of the bricks that decorate the walls or on a candle there. There are also lots of local places too, maybe even your local Catholic cemetery has something. Doesn’t hurt to check.
    In my family, we also have Christmas ornaments for all the children we have lost that each contain their name and a date. My living children are still too young, but one day I hope this is a reminder to them that they have siblings in Heaven praying for them.
    Thank you for commenting, Leah and all our other readers who left comments. I hope some of this can help. You’re not along in your pain and I want you to know that it is okay to still be feeling regret and sadness over the loss of your children. It has been five years since my first loss and I still think about it. I don’t expect the pain to ever go away. It may change some over time, but my child will always be a part of me, no matter how much time goes by.October 28, 2013 – 9:16 amReplyCancel

  • Leah - Thank you Kerri. I will check into those resources. Even just mentioning it here was good for me. I never named my little one since I was never sure if I had a girl or a boy. I thought about giving the baby a neutral name, but I never felt good about that either and I don’t know why.October 28, 2013 – 11:15 pmReplyCancel

  • Kerri - Totally understand, Leah. And I’m glad discussing it here has helped you some. We named our first baby using a gender neutral name because we also did not know gender with that one. Even so, we gradually began referring to her as a girl. I know a lot of people who pray about it and feel that God lets them know so they can pick a fitting name. I also know people who give their child both a boy and girl name, sometimes depending on important dates and feast days that fall on those dates (like date baby was lost or buried or conceived, whatever important dates that make sense for you). Pray on it, God will lead you to the right path. {{HUGS}}October 28, 2013 – 11:36 pmReplyCancel

  • Kerri - Just in case it might be helpful, here’s a link to a post I wrote in 2008 about naming our first child: http://journalofnobody.blogspot.com/2008/04/name-identity.htmlOctober 28, 2013 – 11:45 pmReplyCancel

  • Amy - Thank you for sharing this. I just suffered (still am suffering…?) my first loss at onlyfive and a half weeks this past Wednesday. My biggest feelings of guilt are the guilt for the occasional feeling of happiness or distraction (as though I don’t deserve to feel jhappy or move on at all) and for morning a loss so early. I feel like I don’t deserve to be so upset or sad at a very early loss. Kind of contradictory, I know. But I didn’t lose a baby – only cells. Not even a heartbeat. Nothing compared to those who lose their babies later on in their pregnancies or soon after birth. I feel like I don’t deserve to count myself among the one in four who’ve suffered miscarriage. But it still hurts.November 9, 2013 – 12:14 pmReplyCancel

  • Kerri - Amy: I am so sorry for your loss. You most definitely lost a baby at 5 and a half weeks. No matter how early it is, it is still a baby and it hurts. It hurts a lot. I have had ultrasounds done around 5 weeks and have seen the little peanut on the screen and the flicker of the heartbeat. I’m so sorry you have had to go through the loss of a child. It is never easy no matter when it happens, how early or how late. Let yourself grieve and mourn the loss of your baby and remember that a soul was created and, by the grace of God, is in heaven praying for you. Hugs and prayers!November 9, 2013 – 9:26 pmReplyCancel

  • Christie - Kerri, I was reading your post about things to do for Lent since it is fast approaching, and in reading your bio discovered that you also write about pregnancy loss. I don’t need to spend hours scouring the internet for consolation, but I trust the Holy Spirit led me to this article, and it’s nice to know there is a community of support, if unknowing and silent, just as I myself am praying and supporting others unknown to me who have experienced loss.

    I just experienced my fourth (and I almost said second) loss. Our fourth, because we lost two babies in back to back cycles at about six weeks each the year before our now-8-year-old was conceived. We have four living children and lost a baby boy last year at 15 weeks and just recently another baby boy at 12 weeks. It was in the prayers being offered for a friend who just lost her fifth in five years (at 17, 20, 18, 22, and now 19 weeks, after four healthy babies) that this prayer came my way, and I wanted to share it for anyone else who might take some consolation in it. It is a miscarriage prayer by Mother Angelica:

    My Lord, the baby is dead!

    Why, my Lord—dare I ask why? It will not hear the whisper of the wind or see the beauty of its parents’ face—it will not see the beauty of Your creation or the flame of a sunrise. Why, my Lord?

    “Why, My child—do you ask ‘why’? Well, I will tell you why.

    You see, the child lives. Instead of the wind he hears the sound of angels singing before My throne. Instead of the beauty that passes he sees everlasting Beauty—he sees My face. He was created and lived a short time so the image of his parents imprinted on his face may stand before Me as their personal intercessor. He knows secrets of heaven unknown to men on earth. He laughs with a special joy that only the innocent possess. My ways are not the ways of man. I create for My Kingdom and each creature fills a place in that Kingdom that could not be filled by another. He was created for My joy and his parents’ merits. He has never seen pain or sin. He has never felt hunger or pain. I breathed a soul into a seed, made it grow and called it forth.”

    I am humbled before you, my Lord, for questioning Your wisdom, goodness, and love. I speak as a fool—forgive me. I acknowledge Your sovereign rights over life and death. I thank You for the life that began for so short a time to enjoy so long an Eternity. — Mother M. Angelica

    For me personally, remembering that my child “was created and lived a short time so the image of his parents imprinted on his face may stand before Me as their personal intercessor” and being grateful that my children lived here “for so short a time to enjoy so long an Eternity” are the things that help me most. Thank you for allowing me to share.February 22, 2014 – 7:50 pmReplyCancel

  • Kerri - Christie: I’m so sorry for your losses. Thank you for sharing that beautiful prayer from Mother Angelica. I hope others will also find consolation in it as they stumble across this blog post. God bless you!March 5, 2014 – 8:17 pmReplyCancel

  • Lena Cannon - I’m so sorry for your losses! I suffered an ectopic pregnancy in 2012, and just over the weekend miscarried at 8 weeks. This makes me feel a little better, knowing that I’m not alone in the guilt i feel! I keep trying to figure out what i could have done wrong, being as how, of 4 pregnancies (2 live births) this was the first planned, so i started prenatals months ago, quit smoking and drinking, ate better.. everything i thought i was supposed to do to ensure a healthy pregnancy. I know it’s all in God’s time tho, and I’m trying to accept that sometimes this just happens. Thank you for sharing this.March 31, 2014 – 11:24 pmReplyCancel

  • Kerri Baunach - Oh Lena, I’m so sorry for your losses. I know how it is to do everything you can for a healthy pregnancy and still not be able to keep it. That’s just the way it is sometimes, God’s plans are not ours. It’s such a mystery why we have to lose some of our children so early. I take comfort in the hope that I will be reunited with my children one day and I will have a greater understanding of God’s ultimate plan. I’m glad this article was a help to you. Many blessings to you and I hope God will bless you with another child soon.April 1, 2014 – 8:30 amReplyCancel

  • Charla - Kerri, as you know, I experienced my first loss two months ago. My guilt stems, not from anything I perceived I DID, but the things I said to God out of my own fear. “I can’t do this.” “I’m too old.”October 22, 2015 – 4:43 pmReplyCancel

    • Kerri Baunach - Charla: I’m so sorry for your loss. And you bring up an important point, I’ve heard similar comments from other women too. It’s so hard when you’re not expecting to get pregnant and you’re not sure about it at first, just to have it taken away as you just starting to get used to the idea. Thank you for bringing up this aspect, it could definitely be added as a 6th type of guilt after pregnancy loss.October 22, 2015 – 9:22 pmReplyCancel

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