If you mention the word “miscarriage” to a group of women, it is likely that you’ll hear more than one story of a deep, gut wrenching loss. Miscarriage is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy; most miscarriages happen in the first trimester before the 12th week of pregnancy. About 10-15 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, but this number only represents women who know that they’re pregnant. Given the high prevalence of miscarriage among women, it continues to be a wonder why it is not something that is more commonly discussed or acknowledged.
The moment a person finds out they are pregnant, they start imagining their future through a different lens than they may have previously. Having a child—something that likely felt like a distant fantasy—becomes more real and a sense of excitement for the future sets in. Regardless of how cautious a person is, it is a natural instinct to imagine what this new life will look like and to dream of what your baby will be like, who they will look like, and what kind of parent you will be. You will likely start to think about what the next nine months will look like, what you will look like, and the imagined joy of family and friends when you share the news. This shift—this excitement for this life-changing journey—happens in an instant – which is why when a person finds out that they’ve miscarried, they haven’t only lost the baby, they’ve lost this wondrous future as well. This loss is difficult to conceptualize when often it’s a private loss—sometimes the pregnancy hasn’t been shared with family or friends and more often than not, people do not share that they’ve miscarried. So, they grieve alone.
Based on the way we grieve when a person dies, we know that we do not heal in isolation after a loss. When someone dies, we have rituals to follow that help us—depending on your belief system, you may have a funeral or service to pay tribute to your loved one. You may have a wake or sit shiva—and have friends and family surround you with flowers or food. You are joined in your grief. You are held up by the love of others, and while the pain remains present, it is far less lonely. Often times when someone has a miscarriage, they grieve in the complete opposite way. They are usually alone, and if they do tell people about the loss, the person is often encouraged to “move on” and reassured that they will get pregnant again soon. They may even be reminded that it was early in the pregnancy, with the implication that they likely haven’t had a strong bond with the baby yet. The message is clear—the goal is to get rid of the pain or sadness that the person feels and to replace it with something more pleasant and palatable. The person may be told that they’ll feel better as soon as they’re pregnant again. The grief is diminished—it is not acknowledged as a real loss, and this in turn continues to isolate the person who is going through the loss. As hard as it is to miscarry, the loneliness felt after miscarriage can be just as devastating.
Based on what we know about grief and loss, it is hugely important to create rituals for oneself to cope with the loss. If someone is part of a couple, both partners should take part together. Doing something to memorialize the loss can be helpful in acknowledging the life and story that was lost— not to feel like it wasn’t something that happened, can be replaced and will be forgotten, but that it was something that is meant to be a part of your family’s story. It doesn’t matter what is done, but what matters more is that something is done. Some people write notes to the baby and save them or put them in a safe place. Other people may plant flowers or a tree in memory of the baby. Some people name the baby, while others do not. Regardless of what it is, find something that’s meaningful and feels authentic to you. It won’t take the pain away, but it can help the healing process. Remember to be kind and gentle to yourself. If you’re feeling like you could use additional support or are experiencing prolonged symptoms of anxiety or depression, seek the help of a mental health professional. Talking with someone about what you’re going through can help, and is a tool you can use beyond your immediate sense of grief. If in a couple, talk to your partner about how you are feeling, and check in with how they may be grieving as well. Remember to recognize your feelings and the loss, but also know that the pain you’re feeling now won’t last forever.
This article was written by Alyssa Barron.