When you have a miscarriage, even early in the first trimester, you will experience feelings around that loss. It doesn’t matter whether you have an active miscarriage or a missed miscarriage, were at home or in the hospital. It doesn't matter whether you purposefully conceived or accidentally became pregnant. Some feelings will arise as a result. You will have felt that baby grow within you, imagine what he or she will look like and be picking out possible names. Then that child-to-be is gone from your body, your dreams and your life. Similarly to a death, you will be beginning a grief process.
Every woman who miscarries will react according to her own reality. Having that baby would have altered that reality by his or her mere presence, changing the focus of the mother, affecting her relationship with the father, her social life, her expendable income and her priorities. She would have used her pregnancy as a trial run on her new, hopefully healthy lifestyle: the change in sleeping habits as well as the elimination of caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, shellfish, un-pasteurized cheeses, certain medications and more. Then, suddenly, none of her responsible choices would seem to have been required or worthwhile. All that mental energy may feel wasted.
There are seven stages of grief:
- Shock and Denial – often described as feeling numb; "this can't be happening"
- Pain and Guilt – “Did I do something wrong?”
- Anger – “Why has this happened to me?” “I don’t deserve this”
- Depression, Reflection and Loneliness – Feeling unenthusiastic about life, disconnected from the world around her
- Upward turn; beginning to feel okay – realizing that she has gone 10 minutes, 10 hours or a whole day, without thinking about the baby
- Reconstruction & working through it - “What should we do now?”
- Acceptance and Hope – finding a way through it and beginning again; "I'm ready."
These stages don’t necessarily run in order. You may find that you have progressed to stage 5 and then begin to feel depressed again before moving toward the end. One step forward, one step back. Some of that has to do with your personality. For instance, some people hold on to anger for a longer period than others. There may be an underlying or parallel storyline tothe pregnancy that makes the guilty stage or the depressed, lonely stage more significant.
As with everything in life, women react or respond to the miscarriage of a particularly wanted pregnancy in many different ways. She may repress her emotions, in an attempt to protect herself from the pain. She may express the desire to move on rather quickly and become pregnant again. Alternatively, a woman may allow herself to feel the pain acutely and fear a future pregnancy in case it ends the same way. Some women process by openly sharing their pain with others about their feelings, such as close friends and family, a Helpline Volunteer from the Miscarriage Association (UK), on internet forums or in a Support Group. This last group of women tend to feel more secure the more information they can absorb. They release emotion, ask for support and discuss their options in order to heal.
When we talk about women building resilience and sustaining hopefulness that does not mean that she has to bounce back immediately. It means authentically working through the 7 stages of grief to arrive at a position of strength. It’s that strength that will pull her through when she is feeling low or fearful.
I advocate journal writing, fertility coaching sessions or bereavement counselling to help women make sense of the jumble of thoughts and feelings she will experience. It’s very helpful to talk things out with someone who is not close to you in order to get the most unbiased help. A fertility coach or counsellor will listen closely and guide you toward achieving a degree of closure in regard to your miscarriage. Having helped you achieve that clarity and self-acceptance, they will support you in your efforts to decide what step you will take next. This is not to say that the woman’s husband, parents or friends won’t be needed or supportive. They certainly can be, however, you may hold back certain thoughts or feelings that you believe would upset them or make them worry about you.
If you choose journaling instead, I recommend that you alternate between streams of writing, without thinking too hard about what goes on the page, and more brief notes written whenever feelings come up spontaneously. The journal is a useful tool, allowing you to go back and read what losing your baby felt like to you at each stage. When you have finished your writing, it may be helpful to realize how far you have actually come since those raw feelings you experienced in the immediate aftermath of your loss.
It’s never too late to ask for help, especially if you never dealt with your feelings about the miscarriage before. An unrelated incident can instantly trigger your memory of a miscarriage in the distant past, causing the grieving process to begin again. It can feel quite lonely to grieve a miscarriage, whether it is recent or past. It’s a subject that past generations of women didn’t talk about. Even now, it’s not discussed much, compared with the umbrella term "infertility." What you need to discover is that you aren’t alone with your feelings; the feelings of shock, anger and depression are completely normal. However, if you recognize that you have not moved through all or most of the seven stages of grief within 3 – 4 months, or that you are not functioning very well, in your home, work and social lives, it's time to seek help. It’s out there, in private care and public assistance. All you have to do is ask.
If you need the focused attention of a qualified coach to help you cope with your feelings about your miscarriage and/or becoming pregnant again, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a phone session. Fertility coaching can help you restore your confidence and move forward.