This picture is from a memorial dedicated to all children regardless of their age. It states:
My Precious Innocence
You are part of me and will live in my heart forever
I will always remember you
For many people who have experienced one or multiple miscarriages, the sentiments expressed in this memorial are real. Grieving by itself is a very complex process which is not easy to explain to someone who has not experienced it. In the case of grieving after a miscarriage, it really gets more complicated. There are multiple reasons for such a struggle and it is important that if you have experienced an early pregnancy loss to be gentle with yourself and know that what you are going through is normal. Some of the challenges that women and couples who experience early pregnancy loss face are the following:
Dealing with disfranchised grief. This term could be intimidating but simply it means sometimes miscarriage is not considered by some people (health professionals, friends, family members ) as a "real or valid" loss. Personally, when my husband and I lost our babies (yes, for us they were our babies), we were surprised how many people didn't know what to say to us, didn't express any sympathy and inundate us with comments such as "don't worry, you will get pregnant again" or "well, it was not actually a baby". The lack of validation and people's reactions can add to the pain already experienced by the couple. It is normal to feel a terrible sense of loss after a miscarriage but unfortunately many suffer in silence.
Lack of rituals. When a loved one dies, there are rituals in place by society to process the loss and to allow us to grieve. With miscarriages, these rituals sometimes are not available. This situation makes the grieving process more difficult and isolated. My husband and I had five miscarriages and only one hospital offers us the opportunity to honor one of our babies through a memorial service. For the first time, I felt that my loss actually happened and that I was allowed to openly grieve my baby.
Couples experience grief differently. In most cases, women are more open about their grief and their emotions. They expressed their grief through crying, sleeping, and sharing their loss with close friends and family. However, it is very common that men get into action and protective mode instead of dwelling in their feelings. Their main concern is how to support their wives/partners during this difficult time. They may not share their pain and could act as if life goes on. His reactions could also be hurtful to his wife/partner, specially when we think that there is only one way to grieve. I remember the day that after our third loss, my husband got two dogs (and we already had one at home) and shortly after a tattoo (a cross with three tears representing our losses). I knew that this was his way of grieving and I support him the best way I could.
Guilt and Shame. Experiencing an early pregnancy loss carries sometimes a sense of responsibility in women. Questions and thoughts such as what did I do to cause this? "I should have not exercised", What if I didn't eat this? etc. These type of questions and thoughts are normal part of the grieving process since we are trying to make sense of what happened. Trying to find a reason for the miscarriage provide us with some sense of control of the situation. However, it is important to know, that there are multiple reasons of why we experienced miscarriages and those reasons have nothing to do with something that we did or didn't do.
So, where do we go from here:
- Be gentle with yourself. You are going to have good days and not so good days and that is fine. You just experienced one of the hardest experiences for women and their partners.
- Engage in activities that may help you in understanding what the loss mean to you. Some of these activities include writing in a journal, blogging, joining a support group such as RESOLVE. These activities can help you share your story and make meaning of your loss.
- Create your own rituals. This is a very personal thing to do and it all depends on what makes sense to you. Some ideas could be: planting flowers, creating an album, writing a poem to your baby, performing a ceremony at home or at church, or lighting a candle.
- Advocate for yourself. It took me a while to learn to how to advocate for myself after my miscarriages. I learned that many people say inappropriate things because of lack of knowledge and understanding. I found myself "educating people" and advocating for myself many times. This is true with friends, families and even doctors.
- Do what is best for you and your partner. It is fine if you are not ready to try to get pregnant again, if you don't want to go to baby showers or if you want to see an infertility doctor...it is all ok! People have opinions but what counts is what you think will be helpful to you and your healing process.
- Counseling/Couples Counseling. After a miscarriage some women may need the support of a therapist to help them make sense of their situation. Sometimes, couples counseling is necessary to understanding how each other are dealing with the loss. There is nothing wrong in looking for support and help!
From my heart to yours,
Ana Baratta, PhD., LPC