You planned and had hope for this baby, but a miscarriage or perinatal loss blindsided you and your partner. You are left grieving alone, feeling lost, unsure who to ask for support or help. I invite you to read this. Pour yourself a cup of tea, sit somewhere quiet, cry if need or want, and know that you aren’t alone in your loss.
Did you know that miscarriage is the most commonly occurring perinatal loss, impacting 15-25% of all pregnancies and 25% of all pregnant women? That means that you, or someone you love likely experienced at least one miscarriage. But guess what? They probably didn’t tell you about it. Miscarriage is one of the best kept secrets in our society.
Cultural Silence and Shame
Women face considerable distress during and after a miscarriage or perinatal loss. The distress can lead to depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), grief, guilt, and shame. There is a culturally sanctioned silence that increases a woman’s sense of isolation and shame and compounds her grief surrounding the loss. Society tends to minimize miscarriage as a nonevent and people often make well-meaning but callous remarks.
People feel uncomfortable talking about pregnancy, because society lacks the language for it. Well-meaning friends and family say things like, “Well, everything happens for a reason” or “Hopefully it will stick the next time!” These messages interrupt the grieving process and prompt a woman to internalize her grief. This, in turn, increases her sense of shame and self-blame. As a culture, we stay quiet, treat it as a medical nonevent, and lack culturally scripted ways to mourn and grieve. The cultural silencing places immense stress on women and their partners.
Couples and Motherhood
Our cultural scripts prioritize motherhood as part of a woman’s identity. Pregnancy loss catapults a woman from a hope-filled pregnancy to a sudden state of shock and grief that strips the woman of her status as a mother. There are a lack of supportive resources or cultural norms on how to handle the loss, and couples feel confused about whether to have funeral services or how to mourn.
The complex social and personal influences such as cultural silencing, lack of mourning rituals, grief, and PTSD, anxiety, and depression, place immense stress on a couple’s relationship. Couples have difficulty discussing a miscarriage, and both men and women may hide their emotions and grieve alone rather together. This lack of communication can lead to distancing and stress in the relationship.
Men also experience grief but lack appropriate social support and ways to talk about their loss. They experience many of the same feelings as women. Men feel isolated and alone but often attempt to suppress their grief while prioritizing the well-being of the woman.
Miscarriages at Work
Most women continue to work during a miscarriage to maintain the secrecy. Working during a miscarriage only increases a woman’s sense of isolation in the workplace as she struggles alone with the physical pain and emotional challenges. If women were given the appropriate time away from work and cultural scripts to mourn and grieve, this trauma is unlikely to impact her work.
A miscarriage only increases a woman’s sense of isolation in the workplace as she struggles alone with the physical pain and emotional challenges.
Grief surrounding pregnancy loss differs from other deaths because there are not shared memories—only a hope for a future, now shattered. Multiple miscarriages further compound the grief and a person’s ability to cope as couples lose hope in future pregnancies.
Many women do go on and become pregnant again, but most struggle with anxiety surrounding the health and well-being of their developing baby. The women tend to distance themselves from the pregnancy as a way to protect themselves from disappointment if they suffer a miscarriage again. Women are often unable to experience happiness and joy in subsequent pregnancies.
Pregnancy Loss and PTSD
Women who experience pregnancy loss have PTSD, anxiety, and depression. The longer women are pregnant before miscarrying, the more likely they are to have high levels of grief. These women are more often diagnosed with PTSD. As maternal age increases, pregnancy loss frequency increases. The psychological symptoms resulting from these losses influence the overall well-being of a woman and her partner.
Ectopic pregnancies differ slightly for women, because women are forced to terminate, what is often, a wanted pregnancy. This dilemma leads to psychological symptoms, and these women experience even higher rates of PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
Many women do go on to become pregnant again. These women are twice as likely to experience feelings of sadness, low mood, and excessive worry. We know that PTSD influences a person’s ability to work and engage with others. If you know someone who experienced a pregnancy loss allow them to talk to you about their loss. Validate their feelings of grief, confusion, and sadness. Refer them to a qualified mental health professional, if you see signs of anxiety, depression, or PTSD.
Signs of anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms include excessive worry, unrelenting sadness and grief, feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, uncontrolled anger, panic, and restless sleep. These symptoms usually persist for longer than one month, and may interfere with the person’s ability to work or relate to loved ones.
The cultural silence and lack of mourning rituals further complicates the grieving process. Women and couples are left alone to process the grief. They are unsure where to turn for help and feel isolated.
A qualified mental health professional can help women and couples process the grief. They are qualified to treat mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Women and couples also benefit from social supports, so please reach out to friends or family who experience pregnancy loss. Isolation increases their grief and sadness. They want you to listen and validate their feelings. Resist the urge to make things better with your words. Simply listen, nod your head, and tell them how much you know this hurts. Couples today wait longer to start families, so we will likely see more miscarriages and perinatal losses. Continue this conversation. Share this post with anyone you know who is hurting from pregnancy loss. Extend your love and support to women and couples who are grieving.
How to Care for Women
A woman’s social support circle is immensely important during a miscarriage and in the months following. Offer to sit with her, accept her tears, listen, and offer gentle words of support such as, “I know this hurts. I’m here for you.” You can offer the same support to her partner who is also grieving. Do not be afraid to bring them a meal, call them, or ask to stop by and visit. Leaving a woman or couple alone to grieve increases their sense of isolation. You can also offer her support if she goes on to become pregnant again.
You can break the cycle of silence surrounding miscarriage. We can create mourning rituals and ways to talk about our grief. Whether you are a friend, family member, medical provider, pastor, or therapist, you will likely encounter women and couples experiencing miscarriage and perinatal loss. We must provide compassionate care and encourage these women to seek counseling support if you see signs of depression, PTSD, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Couples can seek therapy to process their loss and improve communication.
You are Not Alone
If you are reading this and experienced a miscarriage or perinatal loss, I want you to know that the feelings of sadness, confusion, emptiness, anger, disbelief, shock, and disappointment are normal. Our silence increased your sense of isolation and encouraged you to internalize feelings of shame. I, too, experienced this during my own pregnancy losses. Please share this article with someone you know who is hurting. We can alleviate women’s suffering by starting the conversation.
I help women and couples process their grief and anxiety after a miscarriage or perinatal loss. You will learn to slow down, explore and process your feelings, and learn to communicate your loss to your partner, friends, and family members. If you wait, you may develop symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Counseling can help you experience relief of these symptoms and improve communication between partners. Women and couples leave with confidence that, though their baby is never forgotten, they gain a renewed sense of hope and emotional connection with each other.