Mourning a Miscarriage
Grieving after a miscarriage can feel overwhelming. Taking the time to understand your own feelings—and your partner’s—is key.
Think you might've had a miscarriage? Find out more about the signs of a miscarriage.
Ellen sat numbly in my office, the tears welling in her eyes seeming to hold the heaviness of her sorrow. She spoke haltingly, barely above a whisper. “Maybe if the baby had been born...had lived for a little while...others would feel the loss, and I wouldn’t be so alone. As it is now, it’s as if no one cares...or remembers...My mother, my husband...they’ve all moved on...Why can’t I?”
Miscarriage. The word itself evokes images of toppled dreams, and broken promises. For over one in five women this unintentional loss can happen any time in the first few months, although for most it occurs within the first several weeks of pregnancy. The reasons can be as unique as the pregnancies themselves, but usually miscarriages happen because biological abnormalities make it impossible for an embryo to survive. And once a miscarriage begins, there’s little that can be done to stop it.
But for Ellen and countless women like her, the logic of a medical explanation often provides little comfort. Whether the miscarriage happens early or later in a pregnancy, the one thing that remains consistent is that this loss can leave a woman feeling grief-stricken and alone. Reproductive science has made huge strides, allowing us a window on fetal life from its earliest stages. But ironically, there is no similar acknowledgment that the attachment a woman forms, along with powerful hormonal changes, can begin from the earliest days of pregnancy.
If infertility has been an issue, the grief of miscarriage poses an additional challenge. During fertility treatment, pregnancy is often perceived as the “brass ring” of success. When a miscarriage occurs under these circumstances, everything changes. Now moving forward in treatment can be filled with trepidation, born of the hard-won realization that what was extraordinarily wanted can sometimes be attained...and then lost. Women who suffer recurrent miscarriages probably know this lesson better than anyone else. But whether this is a woman’s first miscarriage or her fourth, it’s not unusual for her to try to distance herself from her grief. Yet this instinct to emotionally shut down will only prolong the pain. Grief is a process; it’s also a gateway through which you must pass to become whole again.
Honoring Your Grief after a Miscarriage
Many women are surprised by the shock and enormity of grief they experience after a miscarriage. But the truth is, no matter how early a miscarriage occurs, it is still a loss, and as such, it’s natural to be bombarded with a roller coaster of emotions: denial, anger, sadness, guilt. There may also be physical symptoms, such as loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, episodes of crying. It is so important to be patient with yourself, and allow yourself the time to work though these feelings and grieve this loss. Listen to your spirit and the way it needs to heal. For example, for a while after your miscarriage you may find that you need to avoid child-centered celebrations. You may notice that you need to slow down and cut back on your commitments.
Create space in your world to process your grief. Make time to sit with your feelings each day; you may want to process them by putting words to paper. Seek out support from those around you. If you have family and friends that can be there, reach out. If not, there are miscarriage support groups you can find in your community, or on the web. If you’ve been undergoing fertility treatment, and are involved in a support group, returning there can provide you with the comfort you need. Seek counseling if you find that you’re struggling to move forward.
Even though grieving a miscarriage is hard work that only you can do, don’t feel that you have to do it alone. Sharing your grief with others who can be there for you fills the critical need to be acknowledged, and supports you in finding your way to accepting the pregnancy loss.