“Supporting Women with Pregnancy Loss” – with Dr. Shira Billet

Host Dr. Fox welcomes Dr. Shira Billet, who since experiencing pregnancy loss herself counsels women and families through this trauma. Dr. Billet holds a PhD in philosophy and religion, and outside of her professional career has carved a niche for herself in helping others deal with the grief of losing a child. She and Dr. Fox also discuss the stigma regarding pregnancy loss and how the grief compares to a death. This episode is the first in a new mini series: “When Bad Things Happen in Pregnancy.”

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In this episode of Healthful Woman, Dr. Fox welcomes Dr. Shira Billet, who experienced a pregnancy loss and has since spoken publicly on the subject and counsels women and families going through the experience. Dr. Billet says that “even if it hasn’t happened to us, it will happen to someone we know at some point in our lives,” and that even if the subject doesn’t feel relevant to you, it’s useful for everyone to be informed about pregnancy loss. Dr. Billet further explains that every story and experience with pregnancy loss is different, but there are some universal themes.  

Dr. Billet feels strongly that it is helpful to destigmatize the topic by talking about it more. She notes that after a friend had an early-stage miscarriage, after opening up to several people they found that they had actually all experienced the same thing. She also finds in her work that older women who have had losses in the past, when it was even more stigmatized, are still trying to process their trauma. Dr. Fox comments that it is an “interesting phenomenon” that most people don’t tell anyone they’re pregnant until they’re “past a certain point” so that they can avoid telling people about an early pregnancy miscarriage. However, both he and Dr. Billet agree that an early pregnancy loss is “a real trauma,” and “not something you just get over.” Further, Dr. Billet explains that in terms of the effect and grief, there is little difference between a lost pregnancy and a death.  

Dr. Billet explains that because all stories are different, she often doesn’t share her own story of losing twins because she doesn’t want to impose it on others. However, she explains that initially, helping other women and families was very painful, but “felt like something I was doing for my babies.” She expands on this, saying “the way it kind of worked in my mind was that if I could do something that would make the world better and help other people…then that felt like some kind of alternative version of being a mother.”  

Dr. Billet and Dr. Fox also discuss the grieving process after a pregnancy loss. Dr. Billet explains that the experience is tremendously painful, but she believes that this “has to be lived through.” She also disagrees with the idea that grieving beyond a few months is unhealthy, and instead advises people to give themselves a year or to trust that they will know when something is wrong and they need to seek professional help or other means of healing. She explains that rather than worrying about timing, women and families should judge the grieving process and intuit whether it is healthy or unhealthy.  

Dr. Fox adds that doctors and other supporters of a grieving family should validate their pain or anxiety in a future pregnancy as a normal part of the process. However, both he and Dr. Billet acknowledge that supporting someone through grief is difficult because they become self-absorbed, in a sense. Dr. Billet explains that this is “because they have to be, they’re in survival mode,” and notes that it’s common for people to not notice or be thankful of support or help. She also encourages friends and family members to take a break if they need to.  

Dr. Shira Billet holds a PhD in Modern Jewish Thought from Princeton University, where she completed research on Jewish philosophy. She is also a post-doctoral fellow in Philosophy and Judaic Studies at Yale University.