Coping with Grief After Miscarriage
Information on grieving for a child after a miscarriage and where to seek support
The death of a child is a very difficult thing to bear and we are sorry if you are reading this because you have lost your own baby.
If your baby died during the first 23 weeks and six days of the pregnancy, it’s a loss that is medically referred to as a miscarriage. According to the Miscarriage Association, around a quarter of early pregnancies are affected by miscarriage in the UK.
Although there is no measure on the pain experienced by a grieving parent, people use this period of time to distinguish this loss from stillbirth grief, a death which is identified differently in legal terms. This means that when a baby dies before the 24th week of pregnancy, their death is not required to be registered.
The Miscarriage Association is behind a campaign for NHS trusts to offer hospital-based certification to bereaved parents who lose a baby through miscarriage, as an acknowledgement of their child.
Planning a funeral for your baby
Many grieving parents wish to hold a funeral or memorial service for their child after a miscarriage. It’s a personal choice in every case, but some people take comfort in the support of family and friends to say goodbye to their baby and acknowledge how loved and longed-for they were. Funerals can be a helpful and important part of the grieving process and are regarded by some as the first step in coming to terms with a death and mourning the loss.
When a baby dies through miscarriage, there is no legal requirement for parents to hold a funeral to bury or cremate them, but you may still choose to hold a service for your child. Sometimes, the hospital can arrange for a burial or cremation within its own facilities, while for other parents, arranging a funeral for their baby through a funeral director, may give them greater choice.
Although a baby’s death is not registered when he or she is lost to miscarriage, your doctor or the hospital must issue a medical certificate confirming the death, in order to arrange the funeral burial or cremation with a funeral director.
Through the fundraising efforts of other parents who have lost a child, some hospitals now have Cuddlecots available. These special cribs help keep the baby’s body cool and enable people who have lost a child through late miscarriage and stillbirth, to spend precious time with their infant.
You may not have a burial or cremation, because the pregnancy was at too early a stage. Yet you may still choose to have a memorial service to say goodbye to your child. Funeral directors will be able to help you arrange a memorial service, which is similar to a funeral service in many ways.
Grief after miscarriage
Losing a child is one of the most painful losses anyone can experience – and yet the loss of those who are grieving after a miscarriage can sometimes be overlooked. This may mean parents are not given the support they need and make the long journey of dealing with grief much harder.
Sometimes, the cause of a miscarriage is unknown or uncertain. This can add to feelings of confusion and frustration for grieving parents and make it difficult to come to terms with what has happened.
People can find it difficult to know how to address the loss of an unborn child and often don’t understand its profound impact on the parents. You might find that people pressure you to return to work or ‘get back to normal’. They might say hurtful things, or even ignore your loss completely. This is usually from a lack of understanding, rather than intentionally trying to hurt you, but it can make you feel as though your grief is unimportant.
Unfortunately, people who lose a baby through miscarriage are unable to claim maternity benefits or parental leave. The charity Working Families advises parents affected by miscarriage to take sick leave for as long as their GP signs them off, to help recuperate from the physical and emotional impact of their loss.
It is important to allow yourself to grieve, and try to tell those closest to you about how you feel. It is perfectly natural to experience grief after a loss and parents should not feel pressured to be ‘okay’, despite what anyone else says. Grief often involves many different emotions – sadness, fear, anger, guilt to name but a few – and every person experiences a different mix of emotions as they learn to deal with their grief. The way you feel and how you cope with those emotions are unique to you and no one can tell you what is right or wrong.
For most people, losing someone is something that is not ‘overcome’, but a sadness they learn to cope with. Some women and their partners learn to cope with their grief relatively quickly after miscarriage and decide to start trying to become pregnant again. Other couples may take longer to come to terms with the loss and may require extra support. Alternatively, you may be coping quite well with the loss – this is not something to feel bad about. Everyone has their own way of coping with grief.
You and your partner may experience some of the following feelings:
Longing for your child. You may feel as though you miss them and long for the life that you had planned for them.
Jealousy of others. It is common to feel jealous of those who have healthy children or have recently become pregnant. You may find it difficult to be around babies and children.
Guilt or shame. You may feel as if the loss was your fault, even if it wasn’t, and you may feel the need to hide your loss and avoid speaking about it.
Confusion and mixed emotions. Particularly if the pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted, you may find that you don’t know how to feel. You may be struggling with the loss more than you would have imagined, or you may be feeling guilty for feeling relieved.
Pregnancy after miscarriage
After a miscarriage, you may find yourself wanting to get pregnant again as soon as possible, or you may be anxious about trying again. You may decide not to try again at all. You may also find that your feelings about pregnancy change after the initial stages of grief. The important thing is to process your feelings at a pace that is right for you and let yourself grieve for your lost baby as well as looking forward to the hope of new life, should you decide that is right for you.
Your partner may feel differently, so discussing your plans for the future can be important when you are coping with loss. Let them come to terms with what has happened before discussing any further plans.
The Miscarriage Association has some helpful guidelines for parents who are thinking of trying for a baby again.
Moving towards healing
The long-term emotional impact of losing a baby to miscarriage can be overlooked by other people. Your grief is valid and it is important that you acknowledge your feelings and grieve for your child. While there is no ‘cure’ for grief, you may find that the following steps help you cope better in day-to-day life:
Express your feelings. Even if others don’t appreciate the intensity of your grief, it is vital that you recognise what you are feeling and find a way to express it. Try writing a diary, confiding in a friend or your partner, or joining a support group.
Acknowledge your baby’s existence. It may be helpful to find ways of remembering your child and honouring the love you feel for them. This may take the form of a funeral or memorial service, or you could find a keepsake, such as a cuddly toy or blanket. This will help them remain a part of your life and acknowledge your love for them.
Communicate with your partner. If you are in a relationship, it is important to keep communicating and support each other. If you are struggling to understand each other’s feelings after the miscarriage, consider couple’s therapy or a support group to help you strengthen your relationship.
Try to stay physically healthy. Miscarriage has physical effects and grief can also have an impact on your health. Try to eat well and sleep at least eight hours a night. If loss of appetite or sleeplessness continue for a long time, talk to your doctor.
If you are coping with a miscarriage, there are bereavement organisations that can provide support and counselling. The Miscarriage Association, has online support and a telephone helpline for those affected by miscarriage.