A miscarriage is a real loss than can affect you physically, emotionally and spiritually. And they are common. In fact, among women who know that they are pregnant, one in five to six pregnancies do not come to term. However, we live in a society that consistently finds it difficult to talk effectively about pregnancy and baby loss. So why do couples have to suffer in silence?
The “Time” Dilemma
Technology and modern medicine have made it so we begin “parenting” much earlier. We find out we are pregnant earlier, start planning earlier, hoping earlier and loving earlier. Appointments, midwives, nursery equipment, websites all get started earlier and remain lurking around after as reminders. All making it that much harder to handle if you’ve suffered a miscarriage.
However, society, even the medical community, often advises us against telling anyone that we are pregnant until at least three months in- “just in case”. So we find out we are pregnant earlier, but we are not allowed to share it? This contradiction leads to a lot of grief for many couples who do end up suffering the loss of a baby nobody knew was coming. The silence, secrecy and lack of public knowledge often lead to isolation, loneliness and segregation.
This helps nobody. By not talking about it earlier, others will not be aware of the painful process the couple is going through. It doesn’t allow for them to support or console their loved ones in their time of need. By not knowing, some may even feel the pregnancy was not significant, that it didn’t really count or assume that the couple is “ok” with it. It leaves the couple to mourn a life that seems someone never lived. I’m not saying every couple should yell they are pregnant from the rooftops at the point of conception, but we shouldn’t be afraid of sharing our joy earlier as a means to avoid sharing grief later. The first trimester of pregnancy is a time when most couples could use a lot of support. The woman is generally tired, fatigued, nauseous and both parents are often quite anxious. Talking about this with friends and family not only helps you deal with the first trimester, and any problems that may arise, but on a positive note, it also gives them time to join you in the joy of hoping and dreaming for the future at hand.
How Do I “Fix” It?
First and foremost, just because a pregnancy may have been short, doesn’t mean the love and bond weren’t formed. There is no relationship between the amount of time a woman is pregnant and how much the parents will grieve the loss of the child. Yet society for some reason dismisses the grief involved in miscarriage.
“The most important piece of advice I can offer is to acknowledge the hurt. I spent 4 months after the first miscarriage pretending I was OK which didn’t help anything. Talk to your partner and a few best friends about what you’re going through. Personally I would recommend speaking to a professional either a counsellor or psychologist, I found this the most helpful for me.” Leah Muma to Lucas.
Grieving is a normal and healthy response to any loss, and that includes miscarriage. And it’s something that MUST be done. Everyone’s healing times and ways they cope are different. However, as I’ve said, a lot of people try to avoid talking about it. Generally not because they don’t care, but because they don’t know what to do or say. In today’s society we live in a world where people try to “fix” things. In fact, a lot of professionals, friends and family members will try to “fix” the problem by helping you move past it as quickly as possible. Urging you to move on. But healing does not come from simply moving on. Healing comes from facing the feelings and questions you have. Moving through them at a pace that is uniquely yours. Trying to move through this quicker than you are ready just suppresses the feelings making them fester and last longer. Only you can truly chose when you are ready to move on, and how exactly you move on. For some it’s trying for another pregnancy, for others it may be an entire refocus. There is no “fix” as you are not broken, you are grieving.
How to Grieve?
For many couples finding out how to grieve a miscarriage is one of the toughest things. There are generally three steps involved in the grieving process. Again everyone will go through these at their own pace, but learning to identify them and the phase you are going through are often very helpful in the healing process and help you deal with each step.
Step 1: Shock/Denial
“This isn’t happening”
“How? I’ve done EVERYTHING right”
This is a very emotionally suppressed stage. Some couples may find themselves “stuck” in this stage and refuse to move on or deal with reality. By not moving through this stage the brain never fully comprehends (or heals from) what has happened. But it will always be there and should be dealt with.
Step 2: Anger/Guilt/Depression
“If only I had…..”
“This isn’t fair”
“I will always be sad”
This is a time when the raw feelings start coming to the surface and they can change quickly. One minute you may be angry at society, the next self-blaming, depressed the next. Again it’s important to let yourself go through these feelings. Talk, cry, scream, laugh, but let it out. These are questions that will always be there unless you face them and express it all.
Step 3: Acceptance
“I have to deal with this”
“I’m not the only one”
“I need help”
Once you have thoroughly moved through the first two stages, acceptance will come. It may be hard to acknowledge when you are in the throws of grief earlier but have faith. Accepting it does not mean you don’t care anymore, it means you are actively caring and dealing with it.
The time it takes to go through the stages is unique to everyone. But the more support you have and the more open you are makes going through them more tolerable. There may be times when you think you’ve moved on from anger and then one day there it is again. That’s natural. Learn to identify what it is you are feeling, and let yourself feel it. Some other ways to help you move through grief are:
- Know the facts about your miscarriage and it’s potential implications for the future.
- Make decisions about what you would like to do with your maternity items. Do what makes you feel comfortable, not others.
- Protect yourself by avoiding situations that may trigger your grief. Perhaps it’s a baby shower or even simply walking past a preschool. You won’t have to do this forever, but be gentle with yourself in the short term.
- Give yourself TIME. There is no right or wrong amount of grieving time if you are actively processing the grief and not suppressing it, things will fall into place eventually.
- Get support. Whoever brings you joy, comfort and stability should be around you. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or a therapist/doctor/midwife, find those that make you feel good and surround yourself with them.
- Be sad, happy, mad, crazy, silly- just feel. It’s ok to feel sad at times and it’s equally ok to feel happy. Don’t sentence yourself to a life devoid of emotion or soaked in sadness. Remember celebrating life’s joys doesn’t dishonour your loss.
- Remember your baby. Healing doesn’t mean forgetting. Some couples find comfort in naming their child, memorialising their child with a tree or something tangible to remember them by, or even donating to a charity sharing the love and hope you had for your child.
- Most importantly, don’t forget your partner. They went through what you went through, they may have done it differently, but they did. The love you share started this journey, now let that love help you get through it.
I want to take this time to talk a bit about how the father may feel going through a miscarriage. In general, everyone asks about the woman as she is the one to physically suffer the loss. But for men, the loss is just as real, and the silence even more likely. Men will go through the same range of emotions as women, but they may take on more blame for feeling they did not “care” for their wife properly. Or they may feel they need to be “strong” for their wife. Add to that there is little to no advice online or even in books on dealing with miscarriage from a man’s perspective. Miscarriage is a very lonely time during a man’s life. A lot of men will respond that they are “fine”, or try to downplay their grief. But for them it equally as painful and must be dealt with. As a man, try to find those you can be open with. Whether it’s a best mate, a friend of your wife, therapist or even your own parents, look for that person who will listen, understand and help you move through this. It is your grief too and it is real.
“The first one was a complete surprise: nothing was indicated in the scans, and despite having heard about how many pregnancies end in miscarriage, I never thought it would happen to us. In my mind I KNEW we were having a new child in 7 months, and it was so hard to let him or her go.” Dave, Dad to Lucas
A recurrent miscarriage is three or more miscarriages in a row. These occur for many different reasons, and sometimes for no reason at all. But the fact is they often leave a couple utterly drained of hope. Suffering one miscarriage is disheartening, but when it happens time and time again, unfortunately some couples start blaming themselves. They can occur for various different medical reasons, and in these cases the couple has the benefit of knowing and comprehending physiologically why this is happening (not that it makes it any easier). 1 in 100 women suffer recurrent miscarriages and in almost half the cases there is no known cause.
“After a healthy pregnancy and the birth of my son I suffered two miscarriages in 6 months. The first only days after I heard my baby’s heartbeat. It was devastating. We conceived again 3 months later, after 4 weeks we realized the baby was not growing. Although the pain never entirely goes away, looking into my son’s eyes makes me realize I am capable of having a healthy baby and the joy he brings to me everyday.” Michelle, Muma of Julian
These miscarriages have a very different effect on the psyche of the parents. The grief is compounded and the sense of failure lingers. And unfortunately these are the couples that are less likely to discuss it as they feel they are burdening friends/family etc with more bad news. As I said suffering in silence for many reasons both psychologically and physically is extremely detrimental. These couples need to know what the future holds for them. Is it possible to eventually conceive? Do they want to continue? How can others help? If medical, can it be fixed? If unexplained do they know most unexplained recurrent miscarriages eventually lead to a successful pregnancy and birth? Getting support, being open and not keeping it a secret are key factors in healing. Remember it’s not your fault, you are not alone.
Miscarriage is real and it’s something we should all be more open about. Whether it’s sharing the joy of a pregnancy earlier or opening up about a loss more freely, we need to acknowledge the grief of miscarriage and give those who have suffered the time and room to grieve. As someone who has gone through it, you also have to allow others to support and console you. Miscarriage should not be a secret. It’s a conversation that has to be had, sometimes time and time again. Don’t suffer alone, you didn’t create the baby alone and you shouldn’t mourn alone. Be open and honest with yourself and others, and with a lot of love and support, you will find a way back from grief.
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