Women carry a tiny little human being for approximately nine months, with the hope that maybe one day that tiny being will have a joyful and prosperous life. But what about women that lose that chance? What about their dreams and hopes for their baby? What about the men that may never get a chance to become fathers?
According to the American Pregnancy Association (2019), 10-25% of pregnancies end up in miscarriages; that is as many as one in every four pregnant women that may lose hope, gain a hole in their heart, and potentially be forever scarred by the pain of losing a child that they immediately fell in love with but that never came to be. The loss felt after miscarriage, along with potential previous psychiatric illness, childlessness, lack of social support, marital challenges, and uncertainty about future pregnancy, can create compounding psychological distress for women (Isguder et al., 2018).
Some in our society treat miscarriage like a cold that will eventually go away, rather than for the trauma that it is. “You’ll get over it,” “it’s so common,” or “you’ll get pregnant again,” are statements women, like me, have experienced after losing their baby. As a result, blame, guilt, and shame are some of the emotional experiences women may encounter, rather than feeling supported and encouraged A study of Israeli women who miscarry found that they often feel they are somehow defective, abnormal, or that they have failed in fertility, becoming inadequate wives. (Epstein et. al, 2009)
I find that people forget that miscarriage is not a choice; it is a tragedy that shatters dreams in an instant. One minute you have your life planned out with a tiny baby growing inside of you and the next minute, it’s over. As a community, we need to come alongside people that are suffering from miscarriages and be of support. We need to empathize, empower and engage instead of ignoring, forgetting and blaming.
When I had lost my first baby at just 12 weeks, I remember the shock my body went through. I was numb one minute and the next I wanted to cry my eyes out. I wanted to find someone who would understand what I was going through and tell me that I was not alone in this pain. I was scared, devastated and ashamed of myself. I wanted someone to tell me, “Hey, I’ve been there; I know the pain you’re going through. Let’s walk this road together,” or for someone to just sit with me in silence even if they did not understand my pain. But all I heard was, “You’ll get over it,” “It happens to many women,” and “Get busy doing things and that will make you forget this happened.” Or people just didn’t mention it at all, as if my pregnancy never even existed. My second and third miscarriages were met with the same response, with little empathy.
Oftentimes, people who have gone through miscarriages may have numbed their feelings, or would rather not talk about the experience, as if it were taboo. Many times, I have heard the statement, “It is in the past, let’s just move on.” I understand that, but no matter how long ago it was, it is still trauma that stays with us. That pain may be triggered when we attend a baby shower or see a mother taking her child for a walk. For me, every time I saw a pregnant woman, I wondered what was wrong with me, that I couldn’t hold on to a pregnancy. The triggers can occur years after the miscarriage happens. Instead of forgetting, we need to walk in this together. Here are a few ways to empathize with people who have gone through a miscarriage:
- Sit with them in silence. Sometimes, all we need is someone to sit with us in silence. You don’t have to understand what they are going through but your willingness to allow them to just “be” is powerful enough.
- Ask yourself, “What if this was me, losing my child? What would I need?” Putting yourself in their shoes can help you have more empathy rather than just offering sympathy which is helpful but lacks support.
- Don’t ignore their pain but walk with them in it. You might consider being open to crying with them, holding their hand, or otherwise being as present as possible so they know who to lean on when feeling hurt. Remember, this is a devastating loss for them, and they may have lost all hope in ever becoming a parent again.
Being actively engaged with people who have suffered such trauma is crucial, so they do not feel alone. The more you’re willing to be present and spend time with them, the healthier their healing will be. Having high levels of support in their lives during this time is very important. The saying, “Out of sight, out of mind” should not apply to women and their partners, who have experienced miscarriages. When people are going through a miscarriage here are a few things you can do in order to help engage with them in a loving and compassionate way.
- Allow them to talk about their pain. Let them feel comfortable and safe around you so that they don’t have to ignore what happened but rather be able to express their feelings about it.
- It is okay to not understand what a person who has suffered from a miscarriage is going through. Let them know that you’re there for them even if you can’t understand their pain. Sit with them, cry with them, hold their hand…just be there in any way you can. Walk with them each step of the way so that they feel the support and love from you.
- Never make them feel as if they are the ones to blame. Women who have suffered from miscarriages have already blamed themselves in more ways than one so let’s not add to their guilt and shame. Instead let us EMPOWER them.
Women who go through the physical pain of having a miscarriage often forget to take care of themselves. They become numb, angry, sad, and frustrated with themselves. They don’t realize that their bodies have just gone through trauma and it takes time to heal from it. It is essential for them to understand that it will not only take time for their bodies to heal physically but it will also take time for their heart to heal as well. Empower them by addressing the subject of self-care in a gentle, loving manner. Encourage them to do the following:
- Do something each day that will make you happy such as taking a walk outside on a sunny day, going to the beach, eating your favorite dessert, etc. The point is to do things that put a smile on your face, even if it’s for a moment.
- Cry so that your body can release the pain. Cry with a friend, your partner, by yourself; but don’t repress any feelings that need to come out and be released. The pain of losing a child will never go away, but crying will help you release pain.
- Write your feelings in a journal and then let them go. Write a letter to your baby that will forever remain in your heart. Do what feels best in order to keep moving through the pain.
- Spend time with loved ones. Have coffee with a friend, lunch with a relative, etc. Don’t isolate yourself from others but rather engage with them as much as possible.
- Take care of your body with physical activity such as exercising, yoga, going for walks, etc. Take baths, rest when needed, and focus on yourself both emotionally and physically.
- Educate others in how they can be of service to you. Ask for help when needed, and don’t be ashamed of how you’re feeling.
Being part of grief groups for miscarriages can be immensely helpful, as this form of trauma is unique, and perhaps can only be fully understood by others who have experienced this type of loss. The pain of losing a baby is enough to make us feel empty and hopeless. Having groups may help people form a community of support. There is deep healing that happens when people help and support one another.
Keep Moving Forward
I am barely touching the surface on how we can help women that have gone though the pain of miscarriages. Post traumatic growth may be an important experience for women seeking to find peace and become resilient after such trauma. As stated in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorder (DSM 5; American Psychological Association, 2013), the diagnosis of persistent complex bereavement disorder (PCBD) has symptoms of continued longing for the deceased (in this case is the baby that was never born). Such bereaved women may suffer from intense sorrow, bitterness, shock, numbness, anger, social disruption, detachment from others, confusion in understanding why the miscarriage happened, and feeling a loss of one’s identity (Boelen & Prigerson, 2012).
This is not a subject matter that should be hidden, it is one that needs to come out of the shadows and achieve greater acknowledgement of in our society. The saying, “out of sight, out of mind,” should not be applied with women who have gone through miscarriages; we need to sit with them, talk with them, and engage in helping them heal through the loss by offering love, support, and compassion.
American Pregnancy Association (2019). Miscarriage. Retrieved from website: https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/miscarriage/
American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: Dsm-5 (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.
Boelen, P. A., & Prigerson, H. G. ( 2012). Commentary on the inclusion of persistent complex bereavement‐related disorder in DSM‐5. Death Studies, 36, 771– 794. 10.1080/07481187.2012.706982
Gerber-Epstein, P., Leichtentritt, R., & Benyamini, Y. (2009). The experience of miscarriage in first pregnancy: The women’s voices. Death Studies, 33(1), 1-1.
Isguder, C., Batmaz, S., Yildiz, M., Songur, E., Yilmaz Dogru, H., Delibas, I., Ozsoy, A. (2018). Relationship between miscarriage and dysfunctional cognitions about trauma, coping mechanisms, and post-traumatic growth. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 36(2), 99-118. 10.1007/s10942-017-0276-0
Rachna Garg is currently enrolled in a doctoral program at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, studying international psychology. She is waiting to take the clinical exam to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of California. A former educator who taught elementary school children, Rachna presently works as a therapist at a Middle School where she engages with students, staff and families. She has a clinical interest in helping women who have suffered trauma, especially miscarriages, and is actively building her career by providing group therapy for this population.