Moving On After Pregnancy Loss
May 7, 2012. I’ll never forget this day.
It was a Monday and I was 8 weeks pregnant. Exactly 4 weeks had passed since the elation of my positive pregnancy test and I was headed to the obstetrician’s office for my first appointment.
I was a little nervous about the appointment because I’d been spotting off and on for a week. I’d googled “spotting in early pregnancy” and learned it could be something bad or it could be completely normal. This wasn’t completely reassuring.
Somehow I knew inside that the news wouldn’t be good. I remember telling my husband before we went to the appointment, “I guess it’s going to be whatever it’s going to be, right?”
It may not have been a complete surprise, but it was still completely shocking and devastating when I heard the words:
“I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat.”
The next few days were a blur as I arranged a D/C that I needed to have done before leaving on a pre-planned trip to London. Shortly after returning from that trip my father-in-law passed away, so that was the Summer of Death. I went on to have another pregnancy loss six months later, so the losses did not end with the summer.
There’s nothing that can prepare a person to go to the doctor, thinking that they’re going to have a baby, to walk out an hour later and all of a sudden not be having a baby anymore.
There’s also nothing that anyone can write in a blog about how to recover from the emotional scars that miscarriage leaves behind.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month all around the world. During this time you may see stories in the news and all over social media with the slogan #1in4, referencing the number of pregnancies that end in loss. This is intended to remind you that you’re not alone if you’ve experienced a loss.
Even if you know intellectually that pregnancy loss is very common – you may even know people who’ve experienced losses, as I did – it does not change your feelings of isolation in grieving this immense loss. We feel alone, despite the statistics, despite whom we know, despite all logic.
This is because grief is not logical.
While I may not be able to tell you how to recover from a loss, I can give you suggestions on how to cope.
- Be with your grief. Everyone processes grief differently, and for this reason my first suggestion to you is to be with your grief. Unfortunately, the only way to move beyond grief is to go through it; you can’t skip around it or try to sidestep it. You need to get through the tunnel before you can see the light. Experience your sadness, despair, anger – whatever you are feeling – for as long as you need. When you’re ready, you’ll be able to move on, and you’ll know when this will be.
- Validate your loss. Chemical pregnancy, missed miscarriage, late-term miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, blighted ovum, stillborn birth, and loss shortly after birth are all different types of losses. One is not “more devastating” than any other. A chemical pregnancy isn’t “just” a chemical pregnancy when compared with someone who had a “real loss.”
Sometimes we as women minimize our experiences to appease others in our life who may be uncomfortable dealing with us when we’re upset. Our experiences and our feelings about them are all valid. You have permission to feel whatever you feel about what you’re going through.
- Recognize that you are not to blame. In many cases, miscarriage is caused by chromosomal abnormalities, especially early (first trimester) miscarriages. In most cases there’s not one thing that the woman could have done to prevent it. This is the hardest thing to remember when you’re going through it, though. Instead, we blame ourselves, and berate ourselves for all of our perceived shortcomings in our bodies and our womanhood.
Repeat to yourself, “this loss was not my fault. It is not a reflection of who I am as a person or as a woman.” Make it your mantra.
- Memorialize your baby however you see fit. This is going to be different for everybody. Perhaps you can give the baby a name to memorialize him or her in your family. Perhaps you can create a memory board or an altar or shrine in your home. Or you can mark the anniversary of your loss, or what would have been your baby’s birthdate. You can buy a piece of jewelry with your baby’s information on it and wear it so that your baby is always close to you. This can be an integral part of your healing process.
I didn’t feel the need to do anything like this; in fact, when my doctor called a few weeks after my D/C to report that chromosomal abnormalities had caused my miscarriage, I didn’t ask the gender even though I figured they’d seen the sex chromosomes. For me, I felt that knowing the gender would be too devastating and would haunt me, so it would be too hard to know (I felt strongly in my heart that it was a boy, though).
At the same time, I always mark in my mind the anniversary of my positive pregnancy test, and of May 7 when I knew my pregnancy wasn’t viable, and of my original due date. Even though I cherish my son Charlie every day I never forget his siblings that I lost along the way, and when I celebrate his birthday every December 2, I always remember his brother or sister who had been due on December 9 the year before he was born.
- Think about next steps when you are ready. Some people try to dive back into trying to conceive immediately following a loss. I encourage you to completely process your grief before you do this. You’re still scarred from everything you’ve been through, and you need to heal – emotionally and physically, especially if you had a D/C or other surgical procedure.
Take the time that you need to heal – seek out the support you may need, and really take time for your self-care. There’s no magic formula on how long it takes to heal, so don’t put yourself on some arbitrary timeline or deadline. It’s going to be different for everybody. When you’re ready – and you’ll know when this will be – you’ll be able to think about next steps in your journey – a new course of treatment, any lifestyle changes you want to make, or maybe you may even decide that your journey has come to an end.