A beautiful, tender and loving moment has become the first step in changing a woman’s whole existence. A life has been created. A grand adventure has begun. ‘Pregnancy is a process that invites you to surrender to the unseen force behind all life’, Judy Ford claimed, and I couldn’t agree more. Whether it was planned or not, being pregnant is a true wonder filled with happiness, anticipation, joy, worry, bliss, delight and so much love.
Then, suddenly, all is lost in just one short moment that is capable of also changing a woman’s life forever. Her world is shattered and an ugly emptiness comes to fill the gap that once was the warmest and most life filled place. One word that is never loudly spoken and that people are so eager to wipe from their memories. Miscarriage.
The tragedy of miscarriage has always been a private event. A sudden and painful loss that was mostly grieved by the mother, on her own. The very few family members and friends that happen to share the sad news , eagerly advice the woman that was on the way but not anymore, to get pregnant again soon. Subsequently, she would more easily forget the loss of her previous child and will be able to successfully move on with her life. Others, initially ask the uncomfortable question of how far along was the pregnancy, assuming that the smaller the fetus the less intense the suffering.
Why is the psychological and emotional impact of miscarriage underestimated?
Most of us will be surprised to know that a woman who has suffered miscarriage is at a higher risk of postnatal depression, (British Journal of Psychiatry, 2011). What is even more shocking is that research that has assessed mothers who had a previous miscarriage followed by a successful pregnancy, a year after the birth of their child, had serious mother-child attachment issues, (Sherryl S. Heller and Charles H. Zeanah).
[quote_box_center]Unfortunately, none of the medical explanations, or the comments of friends and loved ones actually address what a miscarriage is for the couple, the death of their baby.
For many prospective parents, the relationship between the parents-to-be and the baby often begins at the moment the pregnancy is discovered, if not even earlier, at the time when the couple decides to begin trying to have a baby. Therefore, a miscarriage is a significant and painfully devastating emotional loss for the couple and needs to be treated as such.[/quote_box_center]
Janet Jaffe, PhD, warns all medical professionals that ‘miscarriage is a traumatic loss, not only of the pregnancy, but of a woman’s sense of self and her hopes and dreams of the future. She has lost her ‘reproductive story,’ and it needs to be grieved.’
Indeed, extensive research on this painful subject comes to reveal that the impact of miscarriage is often underestimated because it is medically common. People not involved in it consider miscarriage just an unfortunate event, a temporary ‘illness’ that time will heal.
The truth is, though, that women mourn the sudden loss of their unborn child for much more than previously thought and that men grieve over a miscarriage as well, and more than was commonly believed.
Aftermath of a miscarriage
The notion that if by losing the baby early in the pregnancy a woman will experience less grief is totally unsupported and inaccurate. Martha Diamond, PhD argues that no research has been able, so far, to find any association between the length of gestation and the intensity of grief. That means that ‘a woman who has lost her child at 11 weeks may be as distraught as a woman who has lost her child at 20 weeks’.
In reality, though, women who have miscarried early in the pregnancy are treated with prejudice. While with a later pregnancy fail, there could even be a memorial service or a funeral, with earlier miscarriages or failed IVF’s the ‘losses; are invincible and the grief associated with them less socially acceptable.
All women who have suffered a miscarriage, either early on or later in pregnancy are prone to the same level to anxiety, stress and depression. They are also at risk of experiencing symptoms of depression in the coming years.
What is very often overlooked, even by medical professionals, is the fact that when a pregnancy starts, from the very first moment of conception, the psychological and physiological processes of pregnancy are set in motion. ‘The level of reproductive hormones in the circulation increases greatly, the uterus develops a thick lining to support the growing fetus, and breasts enlarge preparing for feeding. The body and psyche gears up for motherhood’
In what way, then, when this pregnancy is interrupted is a woman supposed to deal with that change? It is normal for her to be left in a state of physical and emotional readiness for a baby that will never come!
She will find it very difficult to be around other women who recently had babies or are expecting. She will become very sensitive to any discussion or general input on the subject. Her focus will still be on the baby she was waiting for and everything around her will remind her of that fact. She will emotionally feel distraught and a sense of loss that can’t be ‘fixed’ as easily.
The effects of a miscarriage can also have a strong and deep impact on the couple’s relationship. Many couples don’t succeed in overcoming such a trauma. It is vital for the couple to be able to communicate their feelings to each other and accept that everyone deals with grief in their own way. Some couples are even advised to seek professional help to save their marriage and their relationship.
Psychological effects of miscarriage
Women who have suffered a miscarriage might be experienced the following feelings and emotions:
- Feelings of disbelief
- Feelings of failure
- Sense of inadequacy
- Doubts about femininity
- Feeling somehow damaged
- Anger towards oneself, spouse, friends and towards those minimizing the loss or failing to recognize its significance
- Depression, feelings of emptiness and sadness
- Uncontrollable crying
- Ruminations – preoccupation with the lost baby
- Withdrawal from others and activities
- Lowered self-esteem
Factors that tend to prolong grief and stifle its expression:
- Not knowing the cause and blaming oneself
- Any ambivalence to the pregnancy increases guilt and threatens feminine self-concept, eroding her self-esteem
- Feeling her body has betrayed her and feeling a sense of shame
- Being tormented by fears about the normality of the foetus and future pregnancies
- Not seeing or being allowed to see the foetus or baby
- When the loss and grief is minimized by those around her
The 5 stages of grief
If you have recently suffered the loss of a baby, you will probably identify with these five stages of grief (Source: about.com)
Denial and Isolation. You will initially go through a stage of denial. You might spend many hours online trying to find plausible explanations for your symptoms and you will hold a slim hope that your doctor was wrong and that you are not having a miscarriage at all. Socializing with other people, even friends and family is also tiring and painful at this stage so women tend to want to be left alone.
Anger. Feeling angry at other people is a normal sequence of grief and many women try to find someone else to blame for their miscarriage. You might blame your spouse for some reason or your doctor for not managing to prevent the loss from happening. You may even find reasons to blame yourself. You should always try and remember that people around you are there to support and care for you. No-one has the intention of hurting you and miscarriages are rarely someone’s fault.
Bargaining. You may feel the need to conduct your own research trying to find ways to prevent a future miscarriage again. You must remember that you didn’t do anything to cause the miscarriage that most of the causes of such loss are completely out of your hands.
Although many psychologists are not so fond of religious beliefs, I suggest that if you are religious and you truly believe that prayer will help you get through your trauma, do so. The power of belief is incredible and for many, prayers and spirituality is proved to be healing in many areas of the mind and soul.
Depression. This is a vicious circle of guilt and negative thoughts about you and your future that will only bring you down and create unrealistic views of your world. You might now be wondering when will you be able to have a child and that you are probably not meant to be a mom. You might even think that you are being punished for something you have done in the past. If you are trying to conceive again but it’s not happening as fast as you expected, you might despair that it will never happen again. If you do get pregnant, you will feel anxious and stressed thinking that you might suffer a miscarriage again.
Acceptance. The pain of your miscarriage will never go away. The dreams, hopes and everything that comes with expecting a new baby will always be there, making their appearance once in a while. However, it will at some point become easier for you to handle. You will still feel the full effects of a loss but they won’t be so overwhelming as in the beginning. For many women, acceptance comes after the birth of another child.
You will need a large support network to help you through and if you sense that the people around you try but fail to understand the way you feel, do seek professional help. Don’t assume that other people’s underestimation of the event is a realistic view of your personal experience of it.
You can read a woman’s personal experience with miscarriage here.
Miscarriage support and information groups around the world:
[pull_quote_center]The loss of a baby — no matter how early in pregnancy — is real, and so is the grief that comes with it.[/pull_quote_center]