Miscarriage grief, grieving the loss of a baby up to 24 weeks into the pregnancy, remains a strong taboo in our society. We are taught to brush it aside, to move on as quickly as possible and even hide it from those close to us. This silence prevents grieving couples from finding the support they need.
Women are told not to announce a pregnancy until 12 weeks. If you lose a baby early on, better to have not told anyone. Better to avoid the awkward conversations, the disappointment of relatives, and the insensitive questions. Better to suffer in silence.
The silence around miscarriage needs to be broken. When a mother or father is mourning the loss of a pregnancy, healthy expressions of grief should be not only acceptable, but encouraged.
Acknowledging miscarriage grief
Women and their partners coping with grief following a miscarriage can face all kinds of hurtful, ignorant comments, such as:
- “You can get pregnant again.”
- “Oh, that happens a lot with first-time pregnancies, it’s no big deal.”
- “Well, it wasn’t really a baby yet, was it?”
- “It’s not like you lost a child.”
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “Is this because you have a medical problem?”
- “It’s probably for the best.”
Often the people saying these things are not trying to upset the grieving parents. It is simply that we have no idea how to talk about miscarriages – precisely because we never talk about them.
As a society, we often fail to recognise miscarriage as a valid reason for grief. Regardless of our personal opinions on when life begins, parents-to-be often already love their child before they are born. Alex James explains this in her book ‘Living with Bereavement’:
“When a woman is glad to be pregnant and happy with her condition she begins to plan for her child and for the bright and exciting future ahead for her and her family. The baby growing inside her has already been given a personality and more of the expectant mother’s attention will be paid to the other people’s children, as in her own mind she relishes her impending motherhood.”
This is a natural reaction to pregnancy for the woman and often her partner too. In this way, the child growing inside her is already an integral part of their present and future. Always remember that parents mourning miscarriage are not just grieving for the unborn baby, but for everything they would have become and could have been.
But people continue to regard miscarriage as a ‘lesser’ kind of loss – not as devastating or important as losing a child. This means that we can sometimes fail to give grieving parents the compassion they need and instead isolate them during a time when they need to be supported.
A special type of grief
Like all forms of grief, coping with miscarriage is complex, difficult and rarely predictable. Sometimes women and their partners can come to terms with the loss quite quickly, other times the grief can continue for many months and years.
Sometimes women are faced with an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy. A miscarriage in this situation can bring painfully mixed feelings of sadness, relief and, as a result, guilt.
Some women try to get pregnant for a very long time without success and then finally become pregnant. Understandably, a miscarriage in this case can have a massive impact on the parents. Couples can feel as if they will never have a baby, and so will not only be mourning this particular child, but all their future plans for a family.
In reality, experiencing depression after miscarriage and struggling to cope with the grief doesn’t depend on how much you wanted the baby, how long you’d tried for one, or how far along you were. Each person’s reaction to miscarriage is unique and often profound. Never assume that a grieving couple feels a certain way about their loss.
If you’re trying to support a couple who has had a miscarriage, give them the space to talk if they need to. Treat their grief with the same respect you would if they had lost a child, regardless of your own opinions. Everyone deserves to have their grief recognised and accepted, not pushed to one side and silenced.
You can contact bereavement support organisations for more support. The Miscarriage Association has advice and support for anyone affected by losing a pregnancy, or you can read more about coping with grief after a miscarriage.