One in three, a statistic that is likely familiar to those who have experienced an early pregnancy loss. Although many people do not learn just how common early loss is until they are in the midst of it. Often after seeking healthcare services related to the loss or after confiding in a friend, we realize that pregnancy loss is incredibly common and yet so rarely talked about. Early loss can include miscarriage, missed miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, chemical pregnancy or any number of other anomalies that cause a pregnancy to stop growing. Many people who experience these forms of early loss will require a medical procedure such as D&C (dilation and curettage) or medication (Mifegymiso, Misoprostol).
Testing to determine the cause of miscarriage is not always available, and even when testing is an option, a determination can only be made about half of the time. In most cases the cause is issues with chromosomes, simply a case of bad luck where the genetic material needed for a healthy pregnancy was not present. Even still, not having concrete answers about why a pregnancy ended is one of the most difficult aspects of this particular type of loss. And without clear answers as to why this happened, many people who go through an early loss find that they blame themselves and can’t help but wonder if they did something wrong to cause it. They may wonder if they exercised too much, or ate the wrong thing, or worry about the glass of wine they had before they had a positive pregnancy test. If you are reading this and can relate, it’s so important for you to know that it is not your fault. The uterus is actually one of the strongest muscles in the human body, so when it comes to reproductive processes, we are not as fragile as we might think.
Everyone’s journey looks different after a pregnancy loss, and it’s normal to feel uncertain or even impatient as you navigate your grief. You may be feeling hopeless or a sense of purposelessness, not being able to fulfill your dream of becoming a parent. You may even experience a loss of faith in yourself or in a higher order, heartbroken and confused as to why this is happening to you. Whatever your experience, know that others are also walking this same path. In time you will learn how to cope and move though this difficult chapter of your life. Below are some suggestions that may provide some guidance and ideas as you heal from this experience.
Allow yourself to grieve. It is so important to give yourself the opportunity to grieve this loss. You may be inclined to minimize your feelings because what you lost was still in its very early stages. But often the wish and vision for a child and a future with them are a powerful and real internal experience even before conception, also termed the psyche gestation, meaning a wanted pregnancy often begins in the mind. Being denied the opportunity to experience that imagined future is understandably experienced as a profound loss. Early pregnancy loss is often minimized and dismissed in our society, but what is not often recognized is that there are also often many secondary losses connected to that loss that can compound grief. Secondary losses may include not having your child on the timeline you had expected, missing the opportunity to be pregnant at the same time as a close friend or relative, giving your parents time with their grandchildren while they are still alive, or giving your child a sibling. These losses are valid too and deserve to be acknowledged.
Honour different grieving styles. You, your partner, and others affected by this loss are likely to grieve in different ways, as grief is very individual. It’s common for those who have experienced an early loss to feel as though they are more emotional than their partners and believe they are more impacted by the loss. And in some ways, this is true. It was your body that went through this process, you are more intimately aware and affected on a physical level as well as emotionally and perhaps spiritually. But it may also be helpful to keep in mind that we all show and experience our grief in different ways and partners going through the experience deserve support too. You may find that while you want to support one another through this experience, you may also benefit from getting outside support that will allow each of you to process things in your own way. This support might be a trusted friend, grief counsellor, or other mental health professional.
Memorialize the loss. Those who experience early loss may feel that they never got the opportunity to say goodbye. It’s important to make this sometimes invisible loss visible, such as with a memento or ritual. For example, you may find comfort in writing a letter to the child you didn’t get to meet, lighting a candle and spending time in silence reflecting on your feelings and wishes for yourself, the spirit you lost, or the future. You may find it helpful to consider how you have grieved previous losses in your life, such as through ceremony or ritual that might bring you strength right now. Whatever you decide, give your partner the opportunity to join you in this ritual, and you may even involve children if they were aware of the pregnancy and may be experiencing their own grief.
Know that triggers are normal. You may be feeling guilty for dreading a friend’s baby shower or maybe you burst into tears at the sight of a stroller passing you on the sidewalk. These reactions are normal when you are grieving and triggers can seemingly show up everywhere. Remember to breathe, notice your experience and remind yourself that the feeling will pass. You might look into breathing exercises or other grounding techniques that you can practice and implement when you notice strong feelings and reactions showing up.
Remember your body’s wisdom. When going through the experience of miscarriage or early pregnancy loss it’s common for people to feel as though their body has failed them. You may feel a strong sense of parental instinct and long to become a parent, in which case a pregnancy loss can feel very threatening to one’s identity or even sense of purpose. It can be helpful to remind yourself of what your body is capable of, the experiences it allows you to have and, in particular, the wisdom it holds. Although it is painful to have gone through this very physical experience of loss, your body was likely able to perceive that something was not right with this pregnancy, causing it to stop growing. Acknowledging this may help us to trust that our body will know when the circumstances are right.
Seek Support. Going through a pregnancy loss can be an isolating experience. Often these losses happen so early that friends and family were not even aware you were pregnant. But you don’t have to go through this experience alone. There are plenty of online communities and support groups available, and if you received medical care around your pregnancy loss your doctor or clinic will be able to refer you to available supports. Counselling can help you to process this experience and gain coping tools for the road ahead. Additionally, if you plan on trying again, grieving this loss and processing your feelings about it will help ensure you can embrace your next pregnancy without having the experience overshadowed by worry or past heartache.
If you have experienced more than one miscarriage in a row, this definitely deserves a conversation with your doctor or local sexual health clinic to see if you can get a referral to a specialist. There are tests that can be done to ensure you and your partner are capable of conceiving and that there are no underlying conditions that may be posing fertility challenges.
Take it one day at a time. Pregnancy loss can be a devastating experience, the grief that you are experiencing may feel overwhelming and even unbearable at times. Grief is often a very physical experience so it can be helpful to focus on the basics in the early stages, including keeping a schedule. Allow yourself to rest, eat regular small meals, have a hot shower each day, get fresh air and move your body. These are concrete ways to care for yourself right now and will keep you strong for the waves of grief yet to come. And finally, be gentle with yourself, give yourself permission to take it easy and know that it's okay to not feel at your best right now. If you notice yourself worrying a lot about the future, try to stay in the present moment. Make time for activities that quiet your mind such as meditation, spending time in nature, doing a puzzle, or colouring.