The experience of miscarriage is often misunderstood by women's friends, families and the medical community, causing feelings of isolation, frustration and fear.
When Essential Baby asked me to write an article on miscarriage, I found several resources that addressed the medical side of miscarriage, but few resources that explored the emotional issues. In this article, I will not elaborate on the medical issues surrounding miscarriage: whether a woman has a 1% chance of miscarriage or a 50% chance of miscarriage is of little consequence when she has just discovered there is no heart beat. What she really needs in that moment is an empathic ear, validation of her experience, to be listened to and to be treated with compassion.
I found several resources that addressed the medical side of miscarriage, but few resources that explored the emotional issues.
The emotional experience of miscarriage
Miscarriage can be a frightening and lonely experience. Your loss might have been so sudden that there was no way to prepare for it. Or you might have suspected for a while that something was wrong. Or you may not have wanted to admit that this pregnancy just felt different to your others.
Whatever your circumstances, there are many emotions surrounding miscarriage such as disbelief, anger, shock, confusion and a deep sense of loss and grief. These feelings come and go, with different intensities. You have some good days and some bad days. But whatever your experience, you are not alone!
After a miscarriage, you grieve for a baby you never knew, and for a relationship that will never be. Your baby is a baby from the moment you find out you are pregnant. You grieve for the experiences you will not have - discovering what your baby looks like, what sort of personality she has, or how it feels to cuddle him. As Lia, an Essential Baby member found, "To us, this is a loss of life. A life that was very much wanted, even if not planned. Women have already developed a bond with their baby, they've made plans, got hopes and dreams, just like any other new or expectant [mother]."
Women react differently to the experience of miscarriage. You might accept what has happened and look at it philosophically, or you might feel devastated. You might be feeling numb and be in denial that it has happened. Or you might feel guilty because you were unsure if you wanted to be pregnant, or you had a drink or smoked a cigarette. There is no wrong or right way to grieve.
Physically, you might be constantly tired, yet have difficulty sleeping. Some women cannot eat, while others eat constantly, trying to numb their raging emotions.
For Nicole, an Essential Baby member, "the breaking point was when I found out it was a girl and that there was no obvious reason for her not making it." Rebecca feels that "I don't think that I will ever heal." Miscarriage is such a profound experience and women deal with it in many different ways. "I just wanted to be pregnant straight away, to take away the pain," Donna, Essential Baby member.
In contrast, Debra says, "I don't think I really grieved that much. Perhaps deep down I knew it was going to happen. All my dreams had gone out the window and then I started to think of all the things I did that could have caused the miscarriage. We fell pregnant again... I didn't feel confident from day one although I tried to tell myself everything was ok. I started bleeding at 6 weeks and knew it was all over again. I was much more upset this time. I cried and cried and cried. The first time it happened, I thought, we can do it again, it's ok. The second time, I thought, so we can conceive, what if I'm never able to carry full term?"
Women who experience miscarriage and then go on to have pregnancies to full term often experience the pregnancy with disbelief and a lack of attachment to their baby. It wasn't until about seven months that I admitted to myself I may be having a baby and started enjoying the experience. The innocence of a pregnancy is gone, at least until [you] and are safely past that week [that you lost your baby].
Men and miscarriage
Men and women grieve differently and each person's emotions can seem foreign to each other. Some feel that their partner does not understand them and this can be hurtful and isolating. For some men, the dominant emotion is powerlessness ' they feel powerless to protect their partner and powerless over the events that have taken place. What can happen when someone feels powerless is that they sometimes react with anger and withdrawal.
Lia's husband felt that the emphasis is placed on the woman, whereas men grieve too: "they were his babies that were gone!" Lia's husband felt helpless watching her go through that pain. "No-one really acknowledged how badly he was affected."
If you, a friend or partner have experience miscarriage, read our article on How to cope with a miscarriage, Helping a friend who has suffered a loss and talk to members about their experiences with miscarriage in the Essential Baby forums.
Melissa is an Essential Baby member and midwife in private practice. Contact her via her website.