- Anne Nisenzon, PhD
Surviving Pregnancy Loss
Deeply painful and rarely discussed, pregnancy loss is an all too common experience that can lead to feelings of loneliness, guilt, and despair. Questions of what went wrong or how could it have been prevented swirl during sleepless nights and often go unanswered. Because most miscarriages occur during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, many suffer with the loss alone and may have limited support from friends, family, or their workplaces. Feelings of shame and confusion further isolate individuals and can drive partners apart as they each attempt to cope in their own way. With greater awareness of the impact of pregnancy loss, we can offer increased support and empathy to those who are silently grieving.
Miscarriages are said to occur in 10-20% of confirmed pregnancies during the first trimester, although rates are difficult to estimate as many miscarriages go unreported. Despite these relatively high rates, a recent study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that many people have misperceptions about pregnancy loss. The study, referenced below*, surveyed women and men about their beliefs regarding pregnancy loss and revealed that most respondents thought miscarriages occur in less than 6% of pregnancies. Furthermore, many believed that miscarriages were caused by certain lifestyle choices, such as heavy lifting or prior contraception use. Given these beliefs, it is not surprising that guilt, shame, and loneliness were among the most common emotional responses of those who had experienced a miscarriage. Unfortunately, this study also revealed that the majority of those who suffered a miscarriage did not feel emotionally supported by their medical community. Feeling alone, confused, and ashamed can make the grieving process so much harder and recovery from the loss seemingly impossible.
Because shame tends to thrive in the dark, it is so important to bring awareness to pregnancy loss. Sharing your grief with those you trust can help you work through the pain and let go of shame, as you may learn that you are not alone. Creating space for your emotions as they come up without trying to deny them or chase them away can also help you work through the grief. Many people try to keep going as if nothing happened, thinking that their grief is undeserving or invalid. It is valid. If you have the ability, give yourself the space and time to process your experience, exploring any emotion that arises with curiosity and compassion. You may also benefit from counseling, either individually or with your partner, to learn ways to cope with grief and how to communicate your experience to others. You also have the right to ask for resources from your medical community, which may ultimately help destigmatize pregnancy loss as it fosters greater connection and understanding. Seeking and accepting support through pregnancy loss only reinforces that you are not alone and have no reason to be ashamed.
For a free booklet on grief after pregnancy loss, you may visit the March of Dimes website: https://www.marchofdimes.org/non-use/bereavement-kit-form.aspx
* Bardos, J., Hercz, D., Friedenthal, J., Missmer, S.A., and Williams, Z. 2015. A National Survey on Public Perceptions of Miscarriage. Obstetrics and Gynecology. 125(6): 1313-1320.