If you’ve been through a pregnancy loss, you have experienced thwarted hopes and dreams. Grieving your loss takes time — different amounts of it for different women — and most importantly, you need support.
The day that you miscarry, you become part of a club that no one wants to belong to. It’s a club shrouded with secrecy, pain and even misplaced shame. You’re no longer pregnant, but everywhere you look, there are reminders of the baby that you had already loved and been preparing for. The box of maternity clothes you had just brought up from the garage. Your What to Expect When You’re Expecting book sitting on the night stand. The e-mails reminding you of your baby’s progress. Those looking in from the outside think your miscarriage is something that you can quickly “get over,” as if it’s a sickness to recover from instead of a loss that takes time to heal.
Erin Pierce, a mother who’s miscarried, says, “To the people around me, my miscarriage isn’t a tangible loss. While I might be thinking, ‘I would have been 20 weeks pregnant today’ or ‘I’d be able to feel the baby move by now,’ others see me as clearly not pregnant. They’re not aware of the baby I still hold in my mind’s eye.” How do you move forward toward healing when on the outside you look OK but on the inside you’re still hurting?
Know That You Didn’t Do Anything
“Twenty-five to 30 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage,” says Brad Chesney, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Murfreesboro Medical Clinic. “The majority of these are first trimester (early) pregnancies that fail because the pregnancy isn’t developing properly. This is, generally speaking, the body’s way of shutting down something that cannot continue to develop in a normal fashion,” he adds.
But that doesn’t mean that a miscarriage is due to a defect in the parent’s chromosomes, but rather to something that happened during the chromosomal replication process. Doctors will tell you that miscarriages are a lot more common than people talk about, and while this may not help you feel better, it might help alleviate the fear that you did something wrong to cause it to happen.
Allow Yourself to Grieve
You know the children’s story about going on a bear hunt? Grief’s like going through that tall, tall grass. You can’t go under it, and you can’t go over it. As painful as it is, you have to go through it to heal. Susan Killeen, a family therapist, says that while you can’t push a pause button on your life to process grief, it’s important to set aside regular small chunks of time to get quiet and be honest with yourself.
“Ask yourself what you’re feeling, what you wish had happened, what you’re angry about. Give voice to the places where you’re hurting,” Killeen says. Journal, listen to music, meditate, pray. Lean into your grief instead of running away from it.
“Miscarriages are often emotionally devastating,” adds Chesney, “but in most cases the patient can go on to have a normal pregnancy in the very near future.”
Find Your Safe People
Build a strong support system, starting with your husband. He can care for you best when you communicate clearly what you need most from him, whether it’s validating your feelings, holding you or doing the dishes.
Melanie Evans, a mother who’s experienced the pain of two miscarriages, suggests reaching out to friends who have miscarried or finding a support group, either at a hospital, your church or online. Talking to someone who understands what you’ve been through can help you feel less alone, even if that someone is found in an online support group.
Be Kind to Yourself
Instead of feeling pressured by deadlines or social activities, give yourself permission to step back from responsibilities or to withdraw for a season. Make time for the things that help you feel taken care of, whether it’s gardening, exercise, reading or playing with your children. Let friends make meals or take your kids for a morning.
Prepare for Insensitive Comments
“You’re young — you can have more kids … There must have been something wrong with the baby … It was God’s will.” Sometimes, when people don’t know what to say, they unintentionally make statements that bring pain instead of comfort.
When unwelcome comments happen, Killeen recommends cutting the conversation short to protect your heart from being further hurt. If you don’t know the person well, say something simple like, “I appreciate your compassion.” If it’s a close friend or family member, tell them that while you’re sure they mean well, what they’ve said isn’t helpful. Follow up with specific ways that they can help (just listening or helping out with your kids, for example). In a perfect world, everyone would know the exact right things to say, but by having a response ready, you can keep an awkward situation from deteriorating into something even more painful.
Honor Your Baby
Without a gravestone to visit or a body to bury, miscarriage can feel like an ambiguous loss. Finding something tangible to represent your baby can help validate his existence. Give him a name, release balloons, buy a plant, a figurine or a piece of jewelry to remind you of him. Make a scrapbook or a memory box and fill it with ultrasound pictures, cards and other mementos. Spend time as a family making a list of what you’ll miss about not having a new baby; then make another list of things you can look forward to in the future. No matter what you choose to do, finding a way to honor your baby will help give some closure to your loss.
You can’t force a timeline on your grief, but eventually, your good days will start to outweigh your bad ones. Until then, when you open that baby shower invitation or see that pregnant woman in the grocery store, don’t be ashamed of your tears. Those tears water a seed in your heart that will one day grow into hope. And when it’s your turn to reach out to others who become part of this painful club of miscarriage, you’ll find that you’re a braver, stronger you.