Early infant loss and miscarriage often elicit intense emotions. Hopes and dreams for what might have been are shattered, leaving emptiness, deep sadness, and anxiety about the future. Shortly after I earned my master’s degree, my husband and I planned to grow our family. As a result, I decided to take a break from my doctorate program for a while.
However, our timeline didn’t exactly go the way we had envisioned. It took longer than expected to get pregnant and my first pregnancies ended in early miscarriage. I felt guilty, alone, depressed, and anxious about what might lie ahead. I remember being so scared with each pregnancy and very aware of every symptom or indication that something could be wrong. At the time, we were living in Oregon, which was far away from our families in Iowa. I felt very alone in my grief and lost and unsure of how to manage my range of emotions as I coped with the loss.
Talk about it
According to the Mayo Clinic, about 10-20% of known pregnancies result in miscarriage. It is relatively commonly, but not talked about a lot. Not talking about it results in others having difficulty knowing exactly how to respond when such a loss occurs. In addition, miscarriage and early loss can be a type of disenfranchised grief which may intensify emotions. Some comments such as “at least it was early”, “you can just try again”, or “it just wasn’t meant to be” can be hurtful and dismissive, even if they are well-intended. These messages may result in one discounting their own grief. Similarly, it may lead to them keeping their thoughts and feelings inside rather than seeking support, which can be very harmful.
I eventually got some answers about my early losses, but many women don’t. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for women to never know exactly why they lost a child or pregnancy. The loss is unexpected and doesn’t make sense. This lack of control may add to one’s stress and anxiety. On top of that, there are also many physical and hormonal changes to one’s body after an early infant loss or miscarriage, which may compound the resulting emotional turmoil.
Everyone grieves differently and should be given space to process the loss. With early infant loss and miscarriage, the focus is often on the woman and her experience. The partner’s feelings may be unacknowledged or minimized as a result. They may be more focused on helping the woman rather than expressing their own thoughts and feelings related to the loss. However, partners need support too. They are likely experiencing grief in a different way. Additionally, difficult times impact relationships. For example, they may be challenged or strengthened.
This is a difficult time with many complex emotions. The good news is that there are a few suggestions that may help with the grieving process.
- Allow the grief to just be. Notice it, experience it, and let go of any ‘shoulds’ or judgments about the loss. This includes withholding guilt and blame. After all, loss is loss—there is no rating scale or rules about the “right” way to grieve. Validating the importance of one’s own process is an important part of healing.
- Find a support network. This may be your partner, friends, family, or possibly an online group of other women with a shared experience. Talk about it and accept help. Social support offers protective factors and builds resilience to stress (Ozbay et al., 2007). Resilience is the ability to handle hard things and is a predictor for our future ability to manage life’s challenges.
- Seek professional help. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depression that interfere with your quality of life, find a mental health therapist. Especially because women who experience miscarriage, 20% of them meet criteria for anxiety and/or depression the symptoms of which may persist for years and affect future pregnancies (Nynas, 2015).
- Additionally, you can check out our self-guided depression course. To view all of our self-guided courses, visit selfhelp.strengthenu.com.
Remember, you do not need to grieve alone. We can draw strength from others.
- Mayo Clinic (2021). Miscarriage. Retrieved April 28, 2021 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases- conditions/pregnancy-loss-miscarriage/symptoms-causes/syc-20354298.
- Nynas, J., Narang, P., Kolikonda, M., & Lippmann, S. Depression and anxiety following early loss: recommendations for primary care providers. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders (2015), 17(1).
- Ozbay, F., Johnson, D., Dimoulas, E., Morgan, C.A., Charney, D., & Southwick, S. Social support and resilience to stress. Psychiatry (2007), 4(5): 35-40.