Despite the fact that miscarriage is not uncommon, occurring in approximately 20 percent of all pregnancies, the experience is a tragic one fraught with a great deal of sadness and despair. No matter how far along a woman is when she loses her child, be it in the first weeks or after several months, a miscarriage is never something that she simply “gets over.”
“Women who experience a miscarriage go through the same emotions as those associated with grief and loss. The loss of the fetus is no less impactful than the loss of any other loved one,” explains psychotherapist Mayra Mendez, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California. “Women may recover more quickly from the physical impact of the pregnancy and consequent loss than they might from the emotional pain and heartbreak.”
Each woman experiences her miscarriage differently, especially depending on how far along she was in the pregnancy. However, the good news is that recovery is possible. It just may take longer than she, or those around her, expect. If you are coping with a miscarriage, or someone you know is, these grieving and recovery strategies may help.
Know what to expect.
Depending on how far along you were in the pregnancy, you may experience several physical and hormonal symptoms as a response to the loss. Your doctor can review your condition with you and prepare you for any symptoms that may follow. “If it is early, you should get another period in six to eight weeks, at which point if everything is fine, you should be able to start trying again,” explains Anate Brauer, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at the Greenwich Fertility and IVF Centers and assistant professor of OB-GYN at the NYU School of Medicine. “If it’s a later loss, make sure you know what postpartum symptoms to expect, including lactation and other aspects of postpartum physical recovery.”
Allow yourself time to grieve.
You just lost the life of something you love and have enormous hopes for. You deserve the time and space needed to acknowledge your emotions of loss and sadness. “Grief is a process that cannot be rushed and must never be dismissed,” Mendez says. She recommends memorializing the experience and the loss of the baby, as this may provide you with validation and purpose. Some women find it helpful to create a memory book of their time being pregnant as a way to honor their baby.
Move away from guilt.
Guilt is one of the most common emotions women who experience a miscarriage feel, along with blame for the loss of the baby. “Guilt feelings take a toll on self-esteem. They contribute to long-lasting feelings of incompetence and reticence of trying to get pregnant again for fear of loss recurring,” Mendez explains. Even though guilt is a normal feeling, try your best to move away from it. Such losses are not the fault of anything the mother does or does not do.
Try not to isolate from your partner.
In times of despair, it’s natural to pull away from loved ones, even your significant other. But experts say that doing so can make it harder to cope with a pregnancy loss. Rather, Mendez recommends communicating and sharing your thoughts with your partner. “Discuss plans for the future, and acknowledge that the grieving process is not solely the experience of the woman. Men grieve the loss of a baby as well, albeit differently,” she says. “Join forces and use the experience to strengthen and bond the relationship further.”
Take care of yourself.
Every woman experiences a miscarriage differently. Some may feel comforted by being in social situations during this time of grief. But others might prefer to avoid social interactions of all kinds while they cope. “Only you know what will trigger your emotions,” Brauer says. “If you don’t feel like going out and being social, don’t. If you don’t feel like going to your friend’s baby shower or child’s birthday party, don’t go.” If there’s ever a time to be selfish, it’s right now.
Seek outside emotional support.
In addition to the support you’ll receive from your partner, as well as your family members and close friends, it can be beneficial for a woman who experiences a miscarriage to seek outside support. “It is important to have a forum to speak freely with people who understand and gain perspective to support clear thinking and prevent misplaced guilt and blame from taking root,” Mendez says. She recommends seeking professional help or joining a support group filled with women and their partners who are—or have been—in your shoes.
Exercise is another way to take your mind off the loss. Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., a medical advisory board member at Nutritional Magnesium Association, recommends working out alongside your partner or on your own if you can. Run, swim, cycle, or go out and look at your environment. “You need to extrovert your attention instead of internalizing your pain,” she notes.
Have a plan for the future.
Many women who experience loss want to move on to the next pregnancy as quickly as possible. If this is you, Brauer recommends creating a plan. Talk with your OB or fertility doctor for when you can start trying again and what your strategy will be. This, she explains, provides a sense of direction toward closure and rejuvenated hope for the future.
No matter what your personal situation is, if you’re experiencing grief as a result of a lost pregnancy, talk to your doctor about your feelings. He or she can refer you to an appropriate counselor to help deal with your experience. If you don’t feel like you can talk to your medical professional, try a counseling phone number. Backline (1-888-493-0092) is a free hotline that provides nonjudgemental support to women facing a range of pregnancy options.