Miscarriage:  The Need to Grieve

By Barb Grady

            This article is dedicated to all my students who have gone through miscarriage and know what it means to mourn a dream, an child that never was and yet was somehow already a part of you.

            Most people do not realize the depth of mourning that many women go through after a miscarriage, or understand how long recovery can take.  The worst part frequently is not the miscarriage itself (although horrible), but constantly being aware of where the pregnancy “would be,” noticing all pregnant women and feeling obsessed with the loss.  There is also very little understanding of exactly what causes miscarriage and what can be done to prevent them.  Women tend to blame themselves for the loss, when in reality they do not have that power, and could have done nothing to prevent it.  Guilt is a common emotion after miscarrying.  It is important to realize that the day-to-day things we do have very little effect on miscarriage. Perhaps the hardest part is how rarely such loss is acknowledged by those around us, and how few miscarriage rituals exist.  

            The silence our society casts over the topic makes it hard for women and families to get the information and help they need to go through this surprisingly common experience.  It is important for people to realize just how devastating this experience can be emotionally and how hurtful comments like, “It was better this way” or “At least the baby died before you got too attached” or “This happens all the time” are to the mother.  Our culture is not very good at mourning this type of loss and medical personnel can be insensitive to women’s feelings.  No one who is dismissive of this event recognizes the pain of the mother or the attachment she already had to the baby, thereby compounding the grieving process. 

            Many experts suggest that the mother try to see the fetus, if possible.  I know that this can be perceived as more painful, but every woman I know who has seen her baby after a miscarriage took comfort from this experience.  All the feelings about having a real baby are confirmed.  One mother I know went to her doctor and found out her near term baby no longer had a heartbeat.  She had to wait over a day, knowing the baby was dead, before delivering this baby.  Thankfully, she had support and was assisted in the mourning process.  She held, named, and had a meaningful funeral service for her child. 

Many women find that, to varying degrees, most people are not comfortable discussing loss.  Sometimes the woman herself avoids discussion of her loss.  One of my students expressed that knowing what to say in response to questions about the pregnancy was a difficult hurdle for her.  We role played possible encounters together and that helped her become more comfortable when seeing other people.

  The quickest way to get through grief is to stand directly in it and to allow yourself to feel the sadness and loss, so that those feelings can finally be released.  Embracing the loss is the first step in the grieving process.  Having to deal with unmet expectations and life plans is painful but necessary. To many, the loss of a parent is terribly painful (regardless of your relationship with that parent). With the loss of a parent, you lose the present and the past.  With a miscarriage, you lose the future.

A partner’s reaction to loss can have a large impact on a woman and on the relationship between them.  Most of the women I have interviewed commented that their partners grieved differently than they did.  The mother’s grief is centered on the loss of the fetus.  While also grieving this loss, a lot of the partner’s pain is centered instead on the woman.  Watching a partner’s physical and emotional pain can be very hard.  Usually the partner is not as focused on the pregnancy, since it is not in his body.  There is not a kick in the belly or the extreme exhaustion, symptoms whose disappearance serves to emphasize the enormity of the loss. 

I recommend setting aside time to talk about the loss every day.  A husband may come home from work and see that his wife is not crying and so he thinks, ‘I won’t bring it up, if I do, it’ll just depress her.’  The wife may think, ‘If I bring it up it’ll just depress him’ so she does not.  After awhile she starts to think, ‘Maybe he didn’t care about the baby the way I did.’  Try to communicate how you felt that day and why you felt that way.

Telling small children about the loss can also be challenging.  If you have questions about helping a child through the grief process, please access my article “Guiding Children Through Grief” from my web page: www.parenting-plus.com. Children will ask many questions and those questions need to be answered as simply and honestly as you can.  When you feel sad, tell your child that you are sad and that nothing is too sad to talk about.  It is very important to give children some explanation and not to avoid talking about it.  Some children blame themselves, thinking that the baby did not grow because they had ambivalent feelings about it.  Parents need to be aware of major changes or regressions.  When explaining a miscarriage, or any death, to a child, do not describe it as “like going to sleep” as this can cause some children to be fearful of going to bed at night or to see parents sleeping.

Other techniques that many have found helpful to the entire family include holding a ceremony to honor the baby or creating a memory book.  Many parents give names to miscarried babies.  Planting a tree or flowering bush in the baby’s name can help.  Writing poetry can be cathartic too.  Below is a poem that was written by a family member of one of my students who miscarried.

A NEW ANGEL IS BORN

 

 

You were born an angel.

You are here and you will always be with us.

 

I do not know you, but I do.

I didn’t get a chance to hold you,

But I love you.

 

Your beauty I did not see,

Your breath I did not feel,

Your cry, Your laugh I did not hear.

So many things I did not say.

I love you.

 

Why do I feel so sad?

I’m not your mother or your dad.

It’s because you are with our lovers now,

Those that we long to hold.

You are there and I can’t be with you.

 

But the day will come

Sooner than I know,

That my eyes will be opened,

And all that I missed, I will see.

 

Until that time comes

You know that I love you.

I know that you will help me find the way,

So I can be beside you,

And take my turn to hold you,

As I will be held by those who hold you now.

 

You were born an angel,

An Angel of God,

Dear Angel, please help watch over us here.

 

                        John Blom

   April 26, 2002

Seeking professional help is beneficial and sometimes absolutely necessary.  Private counseling is an option that has helped many families.  Women who miscarry will experience the same kind of postpartum depression that full-term pregnancy can bring.  Much of this is due to hormonal changes, but the presence of grief makes it more acute for many mothers.  There are support groups for women who have miscarried.

Coming to terms with miscarriage involves a fundamental shift in how we look at the world and ourselves.  It can shake a person’s faith and create opportunities for growth.  Some women face a big decision after they have gone through their initial grieving.  Should I try again?  Am I ready to try again?  What if this happens again?

 Many women who have experienced miscarriage, or know someone who has experienced it, take the opportunity to help others as well.  All it takes is a willingness to take this grief seriously, to listen, to talk, and share.  We all need to create our own places, inside our homes and with our friends, to honor the babies never had.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do bring up the subject. Ignoring a person’s loss is painful, so express your sadness and regret for their loss.  Listen with empathy to what the person may share.
  • Do not minimize or trivialize a person’s loss or pain.
  • Do not ask why it happened—it’s not the mother’s fault and frequently there is not an answer to that question.
  • Do grieve, cry, and take the time necessary to heal. Don’t expect people to move on before they are ready.
  • Do create a ritual, baby book, keep the cards people send, or anything else that helps.
  • Do get help if you need it.

For More Information

Allen, Marie and Shelly Marks. Miscarriage: Women Sharing from the Heart. John Wiley & Sons, 1993.

Faldet, Rachel, and Karen Fitton, eds. Our Stories of Miscarriage: Healing with Words. Fairview Press, 1997.

Friedman, Lynn, with Irene Daria. A Women Doctor’s Guide to Miscarriage: Essential Facts and Up-to-the-Minute Information on Coping with Pregnancy Loss and Trying Again. Hyperion Press, 1996.

Kohn, Ingrid, and Perry-Lynn Moffitt, with Isabella Wilkins. A Silent Sorrow—Pregnancy Loss: Guidance and Support for You and Your Family. Routledge, 2000.

Lanham, Carol Cirulli. Pregnancy after a Loss: A Guide to Pregnancy after a Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or Infant Death. Berkley Brooks. 1999.

Support Group

National SHARE Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support Inc., St. Joseph Health Center, 300 First Capitol Drive, St. Charles MO 63301-2893; 800-821-6819; www.nationalshareoffice.com.  This organization sells memory books, remembrance boxes, and other items helpful for creating rituals appropriate for miscarriage.