Around one in four to five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, so medical professionals tend to treat them as routine. But for you the loss can be hard to bear, however early it occurs.
From conception, your hormone-fuelled emotions kick in, promoting a sense of attachment to the foetus even in the early weeks, or if the pregnancy was unplanned.
Following a miscarriage, it’s natural to be left feeling incomplete and empty. You’re mourning not only the foetus (however tiny), but also your dreams of the child it would have become and the life you would have had together.
“Miscarriage can be one of the hardest processes a woman has to face,” says Illeana Cocotos, a Johannesburg psychologist with a special interest in bereavement. “Yet it’s seldom acknowledged by others, so you may feel invalidated in your grief, and alone.”
How to heal from your loss
- Own your loss
“If you grieve in isolation you’re more likely to become depressed,” says Cocotos. Talk about it with family or a close friend, or find a support group through your doctor or online. “If your family doesn’t show much support, don’t personalise it, as they probably can’t comprehend the magnitude of your loss, so seek support elsewhere,” says Cocotos.
It can help to hold a small ceremony, lighting a candle. If the pregnancy was far along (after the 20th week, miscarriage is termed a ‘stillbirth’), perhaps name your baby, ask to hold her, and have a burial ceremony.
- Talk to your doctor
When you’re past the first shock, ask your doctor what caused the miscarriage. It’s common to have a sense of guilt and failure, but most miscarriages are caused by a chromosomal defect in the foetus, and understanding that can ease your fear that it was something you did or didn’t do. Or there may be things you can do to prepare for another attempt, which can be reassuring.
- Allow yourself to grieve
Expect to cycle through denial, anger (at yourself, your partner, a higher power), bargaining and depression, in any order, before arriving at acceptance. “Cry, shout, hit a pillow, whatever helps,” says Cocotos. Journaling your emotions, painting, playing music or exercising (once able to), can help. Exercise also releases feel-good hormones. “Bottled emotions prolong grief,” she says.
- Do enjoyable things, too
“Laughter and joy are healers,” says Cocotos. “Remember that it’s okay to experience joy at times, and this doesn’t dishonour your loss in any way.”
- Involve your partner
Fathers grieve too, but this is seldom acknowledged by others. They may feel they have to be strong for you – it doesn’t mean they don’t care. They may also struggle with your not wanting to be intimate physically while you mourn. Give reassurance of your love and find ways to stay connected. If necessary, get counselling.
- Give yourself time
It takes a while to get back to your pre-pregnancy self, and you will not be exactly the same – you will have been changed by this experience and grown. Try to take time off and get away to heal, advises Cocotos. “Set realistic goals for yourself, like focusing on coping through the day rather than the entire week.” And remind yourself that most women who miscarry, even three or four times, go on to have healthy babies.