Mind Women’s Health

Black Women Coping With the Grief of Child Loss

Written by Jessie Kimani

Child loss is one of the most devastating things you can ever experience in life. It causes a greater amount of stress than any other kind of loss. Worst still, the pain lingers for a long time and becomes part of your life. Whether you lost your child in the early days of their life, from a pre-term birth, or miscarriage, healing may take a while.

After losing a child, you may have to deal with a range of emotions, including pain, rage, guilt, or even losing your sense of purpose. While all those feelings are valid, learning how to cope with child loss grief will help you heal faster.  In this article, we explore the coping strategies that Black women use following their miscarriages, fetal deaths, ectopic pregnancies, and stillbirths.

How Child Loss Grief Affects the Mother

Child loss among Black women usually hits hard regardless of how it happened. Although the thought of losing a child is unimaginable, it can happen when you least expect it. Due to the intense emotions associated with the loss, many parents become overwhelmed and confused. Most are left feeling isolated and alone as they grieve the loss. You may feel:

  1. Intense Shock: It is common to deny that the child is dead. You may be unable to process what happened or accept the loss. While this is normal for many people, staying in this state for long can result in emotional stress.
  2. Guilt: Some grieving mothers often feel guilty for not protecting their child. After the traumatic event of losing a child, you may feel you did not do enough to save them. You may find comfort in accepting what happened and that there is nothing you would have done.
  3. Anger: Losing a son or daughter may leave you feeling angry. You may be angry at the situation because it happened, at God or fate. Some women even feel anger toward those around them because they are alive and well. It may be helpful to talk about your anger with friends and family to release some of your intensity of emotions.
  4. Sadness: Any mother who has lost a child will spend the next few days crying and feeling sad about the loss. While your emotions may have taken control over you, it is good to allow those tears to flow freely and make space for healing.
  5. Anxiety: Most black women grieving child loss tend to be anxious about upcoming events like birthdays and holidays. Any significant dates will likely spark painful memories and make you feel sad even if you have already accepted the loss of your son or daughter. Engaging in activities that bring you joy like visiting places with happy memories or spending time outdoors can help you overcome the anxiety.

How Black Women Cope With Child Loss Grief

Child loss is a more serious issue in Black women compared to other races. In the United States, Black women experience child death twice as much as any other ethnic or racial group. Despite the high number of women in our community suffering child loss, many of them go through the experience alone. They rely on their inner resources to develop self-help strategies to cope with child loss grief.

After child loss, many Black women experience intense feelings of guilt, loss, and isolation. The negative emotions affect their physical and psychological health, impacting how they interact with the world around them. Parental grief may also be associated with depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Without adequate support, the experience may increase the risk of psychiatric hospitalization, chronic diseases, and suicide.

Although social support is important in grieving, Black women are usually not enthusiastic about attending bereavement support groups. In addition to now wanting to keep reliving the experience, they do not want to feel out of place. The lack of diversity in these groups prevents Black women from sharing their feelings. As a result, grieving black women will appear apathetic and unaffected by the loss.

In the attempt to cope with the loss of an infant or a miscarriage, some Black women choose not to communicate the experience. They focus on moving forward as this kind of silence is interpreted as a demonstration of inner strength. However, spending less time discussing the loss only leads to greater grief intensity and can lead to poorer outcomes.

Do White Women Experience Child Loss Grief Differently?

Parental grief among white women after the loss of a child is slightly different from Black women. Although symptoms of depression when grieving child loss are often the same, how they manage the symptoms and seek help is different. Black women will usually turn to religion to deal with their feelings and rarely seek formal treatment. On the contrary, White women tend to seek formal pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. Most of them receive counseling or attend support groups, which goes a long way in helping them cope better with child loss grief.

 How Can You Help a Mother Grieving Loss of a Child?

Child loss grief is different for everyone. No two parents will experience the loss of a child the same. It is important to harness the influence of friends, family, religion, and cultural traditions when assisting women who are processing emotional, cognitive, and social traumas associated with child loss. Helping them to recognize grief responses after the loss and how to manage these responses effectively can help in preventing adverse outcomes to their mental and physical health:

  • Allow her to talk about the loss and acknowledge their feelings
  • Be patient with her reactions as they cope with the traumatic event
  • Provide comfort and support by listening to her, giving hugs, and being available whenever needed
  • Encourage healthy coping mechanisms like participating in activities that bring joy
  • Allow time to grieve and do not rush her into getting over the loss

To put it in sum, Black women need culturally appropriate bereavement support to fully cope with child loss. They need compassionate communication and accurate information to feel cared for. They also need support from their mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and other women from their community of faith who have experienced child loss.

To Learn More:

Coping With Grief After Involuntary Pregnancy Loss: Perspectives of African American Women. https://www.jognn.org/article/S0884-2175(15)34043-0/fulltext

Grief and The Black Mother. https://psychcentral.com/health/psy-70212#The-police-violence-crisis

Experiences of African American Mothers Following the Death of Their Infants. https://www.nwhjournal.org/article/S1751-4851(21)00212-9/fulltext

The Role of Strength: Navigating Perinatal Loss Among Black Women. https://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7183&context=etd

Social Determinants of Grief: The Impact of Black Infant Loss. https://nichq.org/social-determinants-grief-webinar

For Mothers Navigating the Loss of a Child. https://therapyforblackgirls.com/2021/03/24/for-mothers-navigating-the-loss-of-a-child/

About the author

Jessie Kimani

Jess is a dedicated natural hair enthusiast, stylist, and writer. From tips on how to style your curls to product recommendations, she is your go-to source for all things natural hair care. She is passionate about helping women embrace their natural beauty; a firm believer that every woman should feel confident and beautiful in their natural hair.

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