By Lauren Berger, MSW, RSW
For as long as women have been getting pregnant, they have been having miscarriages.
It is estimated that approximate one in every four to five pregnancies end in miscarriage – no small number. However, many women consider miscarriage to be a point of shame. They feel it is something to hide, not to be discussed, and they are therefore left to suffer the loss alone. Losing a child, unborn or not, is an unbearable pain. I know because three years ago I lost identical twins when I was five months pregnant.
To say I was devastated would be a gross understatement. I felt like I had a treasure ripped from my hands, and there was no satisfying reason why. I wondered what I had done wrong; not in my pregnancy, but in life, to deserve such a loss. A sense of guilt is a very common response to miscarriage. So is shame. To me, that is the most important thing to dispel. Most of the time, miscarriage occurs because of a medical complication. We rarely feel shame for a broken leg or contracting the flu, so why with miscarriage? In discussing this idea with others, it seems that many feel inadequate; they had not been able to carry the pregnancy to term, so something must be wrong with them. They also feel a sense of failure, not only regarding themselves but that they have failed their partner and other family members. Some even feel that because a pregnancy has to do with the reproductive organs and sex, there is an inherent shame surrounding the issue.
The loss of my twins came as a shock. During an ultrasound, we were made aware of a small problem that would likely be able to be resolved with a procedure, but by the time we had another test done, it was too late. With the wind still knocked out of me, it was necessary to arrange a time to be admitted to hospital to deliver my babies. Once the birthing ordeal was over and we were given privacy to spend time with our daughters, the gravity of loss fully hit. Here were two girls, tiny but beautiful, that will always be loved, but will never grow. We named them, had a very small funeral ceremony, and they were gone. Even my belly went down immediately, as if it didn’t want to remind me of what had been there only 24 hours earlier.
While I can’t tell you how to feel about a miscarriage, what I can tell you is you are absolutely not alone. You could say that I was fortunate – I was surrounded by incredible support. I never had to be alone if I didn’t want to be. My friends let me tell my story over and over again because it made me feel better to process it than to keep it inside; never mind that is was sad or hard for them to hear. What I found most surprising is how many people came out of the woodwork to share their story with me as a way to comfort and tell me I wasn’t alone. Everyone from close family members to near strangers that work at my dental office offered a hug and the knowledge that they had been through the same. No one wants to be part of this club, but the members are caring.
Through my experience, and the experiences of those around me, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to help ease the pain of miscarriage. While everyone mourns differently, and there is no right or wrong way, here is a collection of things that seem to help:
- Tell your story. Whether you want to share it with a friend, an online forum, or your journal, getting your story off of your mind can make you feel less alone and help you move forward.
- Whether you were one day or nine months pregnant, your loss is valid. Some women seem to preface their story with, “I know it was really early, but…” as if they are supposed to brush off the importance of their loss. For most women, the moment the test turns positive she begins falling in love with her baby and fantasizing about everything from what colour eyes the baby will have to it’s high school graduation. A new life is created and connected to immediately. Therefore, at any stage, it is a significant loss to have those hopes, feelings of love, and plans for the future taken away. Make no excuses for why you feel the way you do.
- No, not everything happens for a reason. This is a personal pet peeve comment. While I think they are trying to offer comfort or an explanation where there isn’t any, when a well-meaning friend says “Everything happens for a reason”, it may feel like she has just said that you were meant to lose your baby. Again, this is nearly always coming from a very loving place, but the phrase offers little comfort. Do not take it to heart but rather try to understand that your friend is trying to offer you words of comfort (whether it comes across that way or not).
- Mourn and remember in ways that are meaningful or helpful to you, not what others think you should do. Some may not understand why you choose to hide out on what would have been your due date or why you visit your baby if he or she was buried at a cemetery. I’ve had close friends of mine suggest that I should try to forget about special dates or cannot believe that I chose to hold my babies after I delivered them. The fact is, if it feels right to you, it doesn’t really matter what others think. Everyone mourns differently and we should not place judgement on anyone’s choice of how they move forward, remember, or ease their pain. Do what feels right for you. There is no right or wrong.
- Time does heal all wounds, but there is often a faint scar. You will not feel the Day One fresh pain of loss after a year. As time goes on, most women accept their loss and move forward with their lives. They often go on to have other children or make satisfying choices in their lives. These new endeavors, however, are not exactly a replacement for what they have lost. Some things are irreplaceable. And that’s okay. You can go on, be happy, live your life, and still remember the baby you lost. Several years later, there is still a song on the radio that reminds me of when I lost my twins, and I always change the station when it comes on. But, now that time has passed, it no longer makes me cry. Take notice of how things evolve over time – things that may have led to devastating emotion will likely be easier to tolerate or not bother you much at all. Take comfort in that as a sign of your healing and ability to move forward.
Like any other devastation in life, we have choices on how to handle it. If you process, mourn, and take your time, you’ll continue to live your life and find your happiness again. If this seems easier said than done, perhaps you would benefit from additional support. Never by shy or embarrassed to ask for help, whether from a loved one or a professional. There are so many resources available to you, and you deserve the care (self-care and the care of others) to help you go forward. You are not alone.
**Disclaimer: The advice in this article is for informational purposes only and does not replace the diagnosis/treatment of a licensed medical or mental health professional.**
Lauren Berger is a Registered Social Worker providing counselling and psychotherapy at IHI. Check her out at www.laurenberger.ca, drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter: @LaurenBergerMSW, or sneak a peek at her Instagram: laurenberger_msw.