Originally written October 15, 2012 for Atlanta Birth Center’s blog.
My husband and I had recently started trying for our first child when I got the positive pregnancy test. We were thrilled! I immediately made an appointment with my OB-GYN for a few days later. At that appointment, though, she looked concerned. I was confused, not understanding what was happening. She had me give some blood to send to the lab, and told me to return in two days for another blood drawing to see if my hcg levels were doubling, as they do in a normal healthy pregnancy.
I was still waiting for a phone call about the results when I discovered one evening I was bleeding. I started crying. I wasn’t even yet 6 weeks along, and I had only known about this baby for a week, but it didn’t matter. All I knew was that I was losing my little one, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.
That was my first miscarriage. I did go on to have a healthy pregnancy 6 months later, and my daughter recently turned 3. However, I always say that miscarriages rob something from you – they forever robbed me of that early pregnancy excitement and joy.
All total, I’ve had four miscarriages and two live births; my younger daughter was born this past July. I spent the first four months of her pregnancy incredibly anxious about losing her, and I hated that I couldn’t seem to just relax and enjoy the excitement of growing a little one. I’ve been both angry and so sad about my losses. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to hear about a friend’s loss without going through all the emotions again myself?
Miscarriage: a silent loss
A miscarriage is a pregnancy loss before 20 weeks of gestation. Most losses occur in the first 7 weeks of pregnancy. This is a unique situation in that many times, you have no physical baby to hold. You have no experiences with your baby outside the womb, but yet you still feel that throbbing ache deep in your soul. Life around you is moving on, but for some reason you can’t understand why the sun is still shining and why people are still smiling.
A sculpture in Slovakia, commissioned by a group of young mothers and sculpted by Martin Hudáčeka. This sculpture resonates beauty, pain, sorrow, and hope. Source.
There are several different types of miscarriages, which I hope to go over further in a future post. For now, I want to focus on emotional healing after a miscarriage. No matter what type of loss it was or how far along you were, it still can be so painful.
You didn’t do anything wrong
When I lost my baby, I mentally went through my last few weeks, wondering if I had done something to cause it. Oh no, I took that Excedrin when I had a migraine! And it has aspirin in it! Or maybe it was the glass of wine I had? Oh I shouldn’t have gone on that hike – surely that was too much physical exertion for my body.
Some of the most encouraging comments for me were hugs of sympathy and reminders that it was unlikely that I did anything to cause my miscarriage. There are some risk factors that increase a woman’s chances (like smoking), but rarely can one single act be the cause. Any woman can experience a miscarriage – you are not alone.
Feel what you feel
For me, my miscarriages carried with them intense feelings which startled me. What am I supposed to be feeling? Is this good? Should I be forcing myself to feel something else?
I learned that it is so important to just feel what you feel. Women’s responses to their loss fall on a broad spectrum, from deep grief to almost nonchalance. Don’t feel guilty about what is going on in your head or try to force yourself to feel something else. Some women struggle to get out of bed in the morning, mourning deeply for the baby they never knew. Some women fall in between – sad, but after a time are able to move on with their lives. Some don’t feel that sense of grief at all and wonder if there’s something wrong with them. All of these things are okay, though no matter where you fall on the spectrum, it never hurts to pursue support through a support group or professional counseling.
The grief you feel initially won’t always be crushing. You may struggle to have positive emotions toward your spouse/partner or other children. Time will heal those raw areas, and gradually you will be able to move on. I would highly suggest finding support or counseling if you’re struggling to do so – it can be healing to talk through things and to learn coping techniques to help you get through this time.
Moving on after a miscarriage can vary from woman to woman as well. Some grieve deeply for a few days and are able to move on, while for others the grief might hit weeks or months later. I don’t dwell on my losses now (or even consciously remember their anniversaries), but every so often the wave of pain washes over me, and I feel everything again – usually when hearing of the loss of a friend’s baby. I hope one day to have healed to the point where I can be a support and encouragement to women who are struggling with their own losses.
I found my response to each of my miscarriages was different, because I was in a different place with each. After my fourth one (3rd consecutive), I was beginning to wonder how many times I could even do this, whether we should stop trying so I didn’t have to go through the pain again.
I talked openly about my first loss after it happened. The next day, I received flowers from a faraway friend. That simple act had such an impact on me – she had put a visual with my grief. I don’t know where I’d be today without the support of friends when I was struggling. (For more ideas of how to support a friend going through a miscarriage, please read Adrienne’s post about friendship and support,) With the exception of that first time, I largely kept my losses to myself, only sharing with my husband, my midwife, and a few friends. However, I found strong support through an online forum community. Many forums have a place to talk through pregnancy loss, and there are also several that are specifically geared to that. You can find links to them at the end of this post, under “Online Support and Resources”. There is something healing about being able to talk through your pain and emotions with other women who have been there and really get it.
There are also several support groups around Atlanta that specialize in pregnancy and infant loss, as well as some that are geared toward grief in general. You can see the links to those at the end of this post as well, under “Local Support Groups”. It is important to have a safe place to talk, share your story, and find comfort in others’ stories.
After my miscarriages, I met with a licensed counselor for one-on-one therapy, talking through my experience and all the accompanying emotions and feelings. This was very healing for me, and she helped me through my anxiety with my next pregnancy. You can find a counselor by asking your care provider, local friends, or through your insurance company. It never hurts to have someone to talk to – even if it’s just a few sessions.
You also might want to seek out a bereavement or loss doula to support you through your loss. These doulas are specially trained to come alongside and support women in their loss. Many are moms who have experienced a loss themselves. Please see the links below to locate a doula in your area.
Remembering your baby
When a loved one passes away, we like to have a way to memorialize them – a gravestone, a statue in the garden, a lit candle. A pregnancy loss is no different. Many women find it helpful to remember their baby by having something tangible they can see and feel. I hope to have something one day for my four babies, but I am not sure yet what I want.
I have come across several websites that sell miscarriage and infant memorial keepsake items. I also think that Etsy.com is a great site where you can find handmade and customizable items. There are some beautiful necklaces or pendants you can get, often with a name or date if you choose. Other ideas could be a carved stone for the garden, a special keepsake box, a shadow box, a painted canvas or a sculpture. You also don’t have to decide on something like this right away – there are stages to processing your grief, and you should take this step only if it feels right.
You might also wish to make something yourself – using that time spent in creating as a way of processing your grief. I had one friend who crocheted squares for an eventual quilt – she worked on it whenever she felt sad, and that process really helped her emotionally.
Some women choose to name their baby, even if the loss occurred too early to know the gender (sometimes you might feel in your gut what the gender was, or you choose a name that is gender neutral). Don’t feel that you shouldn’t name your baby or having something tangible in remembrance simply because your baby never lived outside the womb.
One day, you’ll realize the pain doesn’t sting quite so hard. The sun is shining a little brighter. You’re able to muster a smile in return to others you encounter. Perhaps you’ll never be fully healed from that hole in your heart, but you’re on a brighter path now. A friend described it to me this way: when you lose your baby, you have a huge gaping hole in your heart. Over time, that hole heals over, but the scar is always there. Just like how people with old injuries notice an ache when it rains, you too will feel the ache at times. It’s not an actual pain, but more of a memory of that pain.
I’m not sure I’m completely there. I moved on from my first loss, but the most recent ones are still fresh, even though I have since had a successful pregnancy. Grief takes time, but women are strong. We will eventually make it through.
For further resources, please check the links below. Some of these may be more geared to late-term loss, but in many ways grief is grief and the process is still the same.
Local Support Groups
- Northside Hospital Perinatal Loss Office (Support and assistance to families dealing with perinatal loss. Free services and meetings through Northside Hospital.)
- Rock Goodbye Angel (Peer support group for families who experienced pregnancy or early infant loss, with meetings around Georgia.)
- SHARE Atlanta (Grief support and services for families who experience a pregnancy or newborn loss, with meetings around Atlanta.)
- Face2Face Metro Atlanta (Social group for women who have experienced any type of pregnancy or infant loss, with meetings in Atlanta.)
- The Compassionate Friends (Atlanta) (Grief support after the death of a child, with chapters around Atlanta and a Facebook group for support.)
Bereavement or Loss Doulas
- Loss Doulas International (Advocates who help parents minimize regrets and maximize memories when a loved baby dies. Search to find one in your area – currently, none are listed for Georgia.)
- Stillbirthday Bereavement Doulas (Doulas who provide support prior to, during and after the birth of your miscarried or stillborn baby, as well as be birth doulas for subsequant pregnancies.)
Online Support and Resources
- Unspoken Grief (A safe place to share, talk, support and learn about the impact of miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal loss in our lives.)
- Silent Grief (A safe place of healing, support, and hope. Articles and online support forum.)
- BabyCenter: Miscarriage, Stillbirth, & Infant Loss Support (Online forum for support in miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss.)
- MISS Foundation (Crisis support and long term aid to families after the death of a child from any cause. Includes online support forums.)
- SPALS: Subsequent Pregnancy After Loss Support (An online community to receive and provide support in subsequent pregnancy after loss.)
- Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope (A place to share your story and find support. Also, a Pen-Pal program to connect you with another in a similar situation.)
- Healing Hearts: Baby Loss Comfort (Share remembrances and read articles of grief support. Also resources for comforting a friend/relative/spouse going through the grief of a miscarriage.)
- Remembering Our Babies – October 15th: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day (Support, education, and awareness for those who are suffering.)
- Stillbirthday (Information and resources about loss, and healing from one. Read stories of other parents who have been down the same road.)
- Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support (Organization that serves those whose lives are touched by the tragic death of a baby through pregnancy loss, stillbirth or in the first few months of life. Resources and articles.)
- Little Angels Online Store (Products to help you remember your lost one.)
- Miscarriage: Women Sharing from the Heart (“Helps you understand and work through your deepest feelings and concerns and… reassures you that you aren’t alone.”)
- Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby (“A purpose of this book is to let bereaved parents know that they are not alone in their grief.”)
- I Never Held You: Miscarriage, Grief, Healing and Recovery (“If you’re looking for help and support after miscarriage, or want to help someone how has miscarried, this is the book for you.”)
- A Silent Sorrow: Pregnancy Loss – Guidance and Support for You and Your Family (“Well organized, easily accessible, and filled with practical suggestions for each topic it covers… Providing support and guidance to help resolve grief and enable them to look to the future with hope.”)
- A Guide For Fathers: When A Baby Dies (“This pocket sized book is for men… Meant to be a guide during the early hours and days after finding out the news of their baby’s death.”)
- Something Happened: A book for children and parents who have experienced pregnancy loss (“This beautifully illustrated, simple, clear story is designed to help a young child understand what has happened when there has been a pregnancy loss.”)
- We Were Gonna Have a Baby, But We Had an Angel Instead (“This is a book to help children confront and manage grief over the loss of a young sibling.”)