For a lot of women and couples, miscarriage or pregnancy loss is experienced as the loss of their baby, a baby they had already thought of and dreamt about. It translates into physical and emotional pain, to such an extent that it often bears elements of trauma, like shock and disbelief, flashbacks, anger, anxiety and fear, social and emotional withdrawal, avoidance of the places where the miscarriage occurred or was discovered, and others.
If you have gone through this yourself, know that you are not alone. Although they are not often spoken about, miscarriages affect a large number of women. Here, we’ve shared some steps to help see you through this difficult time.
Understanding Your Emotional Reactions
A miscarriage can trigger a wide range of emotions that vary from one individual to another. The initial emotional reaction can be denial of the loss — “This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening to me.” — followed by thoughts intended to minimize the traumatic event’s impact or its psychological consequences — “It wasn’t even a fully formed baby. This happens so frequently.”.
Most commonly, women who have had a miscarriage will experience fear and anxiety around their ability to get pregnant again, but also around the impact the miscarriage might have on a subsequent pregnancy — “Will this happen to me again? Will I ever be able to reach full term?”
Another feeling often experienced is shame, as women might shift some of the blame onto themselves — “Could it have been something I did, that might have caused this? Was I not cautious enough?” The feeling of guilt that follows installs the woman in a state of sadness and utmost loneliness. By fear of being judged and found guilty, she avoids confiding in others about her miscarriage and ends up isolating herself.
Her body becoming a place of memory, it will bear the traces of that loss.
That state of withdrawal and persistent sadness is characteristic of the mourning process at work after every kind of loss. Without closure, mourning can be interminable.
For every woman, miscarriage will be a uniquely subjective experience, reactivating elements of her personal story (like her childhood) that might resonate with the experience. Her body becoming a place of memory, it will bear the traces of that loss. Especially in the event of a subsequent pregnancy, she will keep retelling and reconstructing her story, in accordance with the unconscious dynamics that are her own.
Healing from a miscarriage requires making some sense out of what seems utterly nonsensical and unjust. It is a process that often requires rationalizing the loss and taking some distance from what has happened. Examples of this include feeling grateful it didn’t happen later in pregnancy, contextualizing it within a woman’s age group (e.g. “It happens so frequently at my age.”), or considering it nature’s way to avoid a risk of malformation in the offspring.
By sharing their experience with others, women who have experienced a miscarriage come to realize that they are not alone and that, more often than they could have ever imagined, others have been through this. This realization renders miscarriage a universal experience, oftentimes inherent to motherhood.
Some couples deal with miscarriage by immediately planning their next pregnancy. It can be necessary to give oneself some time to mourn, though, particularly in order to avoid giving rise to the problematic of a substitution child or what is commonly called a “rainbow baby”. Rainbow babies are babies born after the experience of pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or neonatal loss, alluding to the sense of renewal and joy that follows a terrible storm. Those babies’ personalities can be marked by a problematic of substitution, and they may find themselves always struggling to absolve the parent’s sorrow.
This realization renders miscarriage a universal experience, oftentimes inherent to motherhood.
For couples who already have a child, their experience of miscarriage is tainted with the additional worry of having an only child, but also with the worry of the conscious and unconscious impact of the parents’ grief onto the child who is already there. As they are mourning the loss of the prospect of a bigger family, they frequently deal with this by putting more attention on the existing child, sometimes overindulging or pressuring them.
For couples going through IVF and fertility treatments, when a miscarriage happens in a context that has involved so much mental, emotional, physical, and even financial investment, it can feel like the whole world has collapsed. Losing a pregnancy that had been achieved through so many efforts can feel like an insurmountable experience and requires a grieving process that can be long and painful.
Healing from a Miscarriage
If you’ve had a miscarriage recently, remember:
- Allow yourself to talk about it whenever and as frequently as you feel the need to.
- Don’t censor your emotions. Express them freely.
- Acknowledge and go through the experience of loss. Don’t try to minimize it or let anyone else minimize it for you.
- Give yourself time to process and mourn.
- Create a mourning ritual. This can be a spiritual ritual that is relevant to your faith, a reminiscing object, a remembrance day, etc.
- Join a support group or reach out to a professional if you find yourself unable to process your sorrow.
Dr. Vassiliki Simoglou is a Counseling Psychologist based in Dubai. She has worked as a therapist in Kavala, Athens, Paris and Dubai for more than 14 years. Currently, through Thrive Wellbeing Centre by Dr Sarah Rasmi in Dubai JLT, she offers individual counseling, psychotherapy and psychological support services for adults, adolescents, families, and couples.