Losing a child is one of the most excruciating pains anyone can experience. Miscarriage also involves the loss of a child, but unfortunately, society does not generally give the same level of sympathy to parents after miscarriage as to those who lose a child at birth or after. This often exacerbates the terrible grief parents feel. Most couples benefit from the help of a counselor who has experience in pregnancy and fertility issues to help them grieve and reach wholeness again.
How miscarriage is different from other loss
The death of a loved one is always painful, but in most cases, you have memories of the person to give you some comfort as time goes by. With miscarriage and stillbirth, it is the future that has been taken from you, with your only memories being those of anticipation.
When your baby dies before birth, you feel robbed of the future as well as the past. Both parents bond with the baby in their own way and after a miscarriage you leave the hospital empty-handed, with no days of future joy together to look forward to. The grief can seem truly unbearable.
In our culture, we unfortunately, do not have an established tradition for acknowledging the loss of a child pre-birth that allows the parents to publicly grieve and receive sympathy. Thus, most people who have not experienced this kind of loss do not know how to respond and even with the best intentions, their comforting words may feel painful. Perhaps worse, they may act as if your loss is not very serious.
Commonly, people may ask questions, like when you will “try again,” as if your child was just “something” you were “trying” to accomplish. Or they will offer advice on what you should do differently to prevent miscarriage next time. Though generally well-intended, these comments can be salt in your wound.
Beyond how others treat you, there is the issue of how you treat yourself. Everyone handles grief and trauma differently, but most people go through what are commonly defined as “the five phases of grief” and when pregnancy loss is involved, parents often turn in on themselves in the process.
Working through the stages of grief
The five stages of grief are generally listed as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Not everyone goes through all these stages and not always in this order, and some are experienced simultaneously. But it’s important to recognize them and work through them in a healthy manner. Again, a trained counselor can be instrumental in this process.
Denial may present itself as isolation. You may not want to admit to yourself or to others that you have lost your child, so you isolate yourself in order not to face it. Being alone is sometimes necessary to help us process, so rather than hiding, turn your isolation into personal time. Don’t leave your partner out of this period of isolation, either. Be alone together, at least part of the time, holding each other and acknowledge your love for each other, even if you spend most of your time in silence.
Anger is a powerful emotion that appears when we feel we have experienced a grave injustice. Surely, losing a child feels like the most unfair thing that could possibly happen. Seeking some explanation for this injustice and someone to blame, you may turn your anger upon your own body for failing to keep your child safe. You may blame your parter for doing something wrong, or blame the doctor for not doing the right tests to prevent this. You may turn your rage upon anyone who says the wrong thing. If you do discover a reason for the miscarriage, the “blame game” can really ramp up. In most cases, however, pregnancy loss is no one’s fault. Sometimes, it just happens.
In order to overcome this anger, you must constantly remind yourself that nothing was intentional: your doctor didn’t intentionally refrain from offering you a test that may have revealed a problem; your body didn’t purposely develop the condition that led to the miscarriage; your mother or best friend didn’t mean to hurt your feelings and was probably trying to help. This is the first step to forgiveness, which is the only way to overcome the darkness of anger.
Bargaining can include making a “deal” with God, promising to change this or that lifestyle decision if He would just let you have a healthy delivery next time. Or you could just bargain with yourself that if you eat better and exercise, you could prevent another miscarriage. Healthy food and exercise are always good choices, but choose them in order to be healthier, not with the sole goal in mind of avoiding pregnancy loss, because that keeps your mind always focused on the pain of the past.
Depression can set in when you feel like you are helpless to prevent another miscarriage, when you feel like you aren’t getting pregnant again fast enough, or when you feel that another baby will never replace the baby you lost.
Depression due to pregnancy loss should be handled with the same sensitivity as with any depression, and often with some of the same solutions. Try to get out in the fresh air, especially in nature. Participate in fun activities like exercising with your parter in order to build up the happy memories from interests that you share together. Talk to a counselor who has expertise in depression, especially depression caused by miscarriage. And the mother should keep in mind that some of these emotions are actually associated with sudden hormone changes, which should make it easier to forgive yourself for the anger and depression and help you overcome it.
Please remember that you don’t have to go through the grief of miscarriage alone. If you are in the New York City area, reach out to see how I can help you.