“I really mourned my miscarriage,” says Meredith McKenzie* of her loss at eight weeks. “The fact that I was so culturally isolated [while travelling on business] in Pakistan and away from my husband made it so much worse, but I would have been devastated anywhere.”
“Some women will have just as much sorrow about a miscarriage as they would about a stillborn or neonatal [newborn] death,” says Dr. Doug Wilson, department head of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Calgary. Women are often surprised that they can have such strong emotional attachments, especially very early in a pregnancy, but a miscarriage really is a devastating experience for many women.
What’s most important after a miscarriage is to seek out someone who will listen. “It’s not validating to hear things like ‘it’s normal,’ because that takes away from the lived experience,” says Jan Silverman, founder of the Infertility Support and Education Program at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. People will try to minimize a miscarriage in an attempt to make you feel better, but in reality, they end up being more patronizing than helpful.
To find someone who will understand what you’re going through, seek out a counsellor or support group. You can try the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada or Perinatal Bereavement Services Ontario for support in your area. Once you find a safe place to talk, share your story. “The narrative is really important,” says Silverman. Women need to talk about the joy of getting the news and the subsequent devastation of the miscarriage. She notes that talking to friends and family may be difficult, “because they don’t know what to do with the information,” she says. A counsellor or support group is the best place to really discuss what you’re going through.
Once you’ve shared your story, you need to let go of any blame, allow yourself a grieving period and then move on. “You never completely get over the sense of sadness that exists when thinking about the loss, and the child that never got to be,” says Silverman. Instead you need to get to a place where your miscarriage becomes a sorrow that you will reserve a little bit of sadness for, and move on. “Acknowledge that it will always be the crack in the cup,” she says. It helps the healing process to know a little sadness will always be there, rather than waiting for that magic day that you forget it ever happened.
Miscarriages can be particularly difficult to get over because there’s nothing concrete for parents to mourn. “I suggest something like giving your child a name,” says Silverman, “or finding a way to honour your child’s existence.” Some parents give money to a charity in the name of their unborn child or plant a tree, although Silverman doesn’t always recommend the latter. “You have to consider how you’ll react if the plant dies.” McKenzie holds a box of rose petals in honour of her lost pregnancy. “The hotel in Pakistan knew I was sad, even though they weren’t sure why,” she recalls. “They also knew it was my birthday. To help me celebrate and cheer me up they gave me roses. I dried them and keep them in a box.” Having something tangible validates your pregnancy, and can help you move on.
*Name has been changed
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