Common Symbolism in Perinatal Grief

Common Symbols in Perinatal Grief

A small representation that would hang on my Christmas tree forever of the angel that I had gained with the loss of my baby.

Last week, my best friend Kelly came to visit me. I was so excited because I hadn’t seen her in months and we were finally going to have time to catch up in person and not over text message. Also, we were going to exchange those pesky Christmas gifts that we hadn’t gotten around to sending to each other. Who needs the post office when you can exchange gifts in person a month late?

The thing you need to know about me and my best friend is that we tend to know each other better than we know ourselves. Christmas had been hard for me, as I was three months out from my miscarriage and was still devastated. The physical pain of it haunted me and I was still working through the emotional toll it took on me. Kelly, somehow, understood that without me having to say anything. Her Christmas present to me was a simple, yet incredibly meaningful thing that it almost brought me to tears when I unwrapped it.

A dove ornament. A small representation that would hang on my Christmas tree forever of the angel that I had gained with the loss of my baby.

I had already begun to think about symbolism in grief, especially in the grief I was feeling and I know other women feel as well. A lot of people look for different symbols to embody their grief, to put it into a physical form that they can look to for hope and comfort. But what were the specific symbols for women who had gone through the loss of a baby? What list could I compile for the woman seeking relief from the ever-present sadness that lingers afterward?

Doves were something that had come up in conversation with another amazing woman who I had spoken to about the loss of a baby, how she had found a Willow Tree Design statue of a woman releasing a dove. These beautiful birds are symbols of love, devotion and are believed to be messengers from God. Those are extremely comforting symbols after the loss of a baby, and this is what really got me thinking about other symbols that women who have experienced this kind of grief could find hope in.

The most popular symbol that I have come across are flowers, specifically Japanese Cherry Blossoms. These delicate pink flowers bloom primarily in the spring and fall short time after that. They even have an entire celebration dedicated to them. Traditionally, the cherry blossom represents the cycle of life and how fleeting life can be, but primarily they represent hope. For a woman who is grieving the loss of a baby, the hope and beauty symbolized by the tiny flowers that bloom from cherry blossom trees are the perfect way to represent the brief moment that they got to hold their child, be it in the womb or in their arms. And the hope that someday they will have a healthy baby and meet their angel in heaven.

Another symbol that has become empowering as awareness for perinatal and infant loss has grown is the awareness ribbon. Awareness ribbons are simple, with a color specific to each campaign awareness is being brought to. After I experience my miscarriage, I stumbled across the awareness ribbon for miscarriage and infant loss on one of my nightly journeys through my Pinterest app. It is a simple design, half pink and half blue for the unknown gender of the little angel now in heaven. After finding this and realizing that I wasn’t alone, that there was a community of women out there who wanted to share their stories, I felt an overwhelming amount of hope that I could overcome the sorrow of my loss.

Other symbols that I have come across in my search come once again from nature. Butterflies have been a popular choice, with their feminine beauty and delicate nature. Dragonflies are also widely popular, with their representation of purity and strength. The story I found about dragonflies was that they know their lives are short, so they live their lives to the fullest while they can. Once again, it is hope that we find in these symbols of our losses, and finding that hope is an important part of getting through our grieving process.

Sometimes, though, it is the symbols we find ourselves that give the most meaning to us. Women that I have spoken to about this have something in common with this, and that is the importance of a memorial tattoo forever inked into their skin. Some women have the teeny tiny footprints of their baby tattooed on them, as they have left their mark on their hearts forever.

Another beautiful symbol that one, very inspiring, woman got was her husband’s fingerprint in the shape of a heart over the place where she felt the most physical pain during her miscarriage. She shared with me a picture from the birth of her son where this little heart can be seen as she holds her son for the first time, a beautiful moment shared with the memory of her first child.

For me, my symbols have always come from the ocean, because that’s where my heart has always been. When I was pregnant, I referred to my baby as my “sea monkey” if that tells you anything. So while I think about a way to immortalize my angel, I turn to where my heart lies. And that is what you should do, turn to what has meaning for you be it the cherry blossom, a delicate butterfly, or something you come up with on your own.

Choose something that will always have special meaning to you so that when you see it, it brings you hope and happiness in the memory of your angel. Be it in nature when you see a dove flying overhead or forever inked onto your skin.

Photo credit: adapted from Ryan Vaarsi | Flickr

What symbol do you find comfort in?


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Tessa Marlatt

I am a 2014 graduate of the University of South Carolina and married to an Army officer. We cheer loud for Gamecock and Buckeye football. When I’m not self-publishing novels or reading, two dogs and a cat keep me busy. In a past life I think I was a mermaid, but until I grow a fish tail I get my underwater time with scuba diving. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my angel baby.

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