For some reason we are even less able to deal with people grieving after a miscarriage than we are other losses (and we aren’t great at that either!!) It is a different kind of loss, I can see that, but it is real and it is painful. When I think about my experiences of 2 miscarriages and I compare them to how I have felt after losing my Mum and my step dad, I see 2 big differences.
If I am honest the grief of losing my Mum in my early 20s was all consuming and personally worse than my miscarriages. That won’t be the same for everyone. That is my experience. However, the baggage of what followed my miscarriages was different and in many ways worse. I felt less supported, I felt like a failure, I felt judged and I felt like I might have to face this grief over and over and I still don’t know if I can.
I wanted to write about these feelings, just for me really, but I thought they might be helpful for others too.
How do you react to someone who has had a miscarriage?
“Just be grateful you have your daughter…”
“This baby wasn’t meant to be, it was for the best, it would have been worse to lose them later…”
“You can always try again…”
Just some of the “helpful” comments many of who suffer miscarriages have heard. I am sure they come from a good place. We all want to fix things and/or make someone feel better when we are faced with their grief and sadness. But we can’t fix things, and these comments don’t help all that much. Let’s take the same sentiment in a different context.
You have lost you Mum. You are 40, your Mum was 78. She was at your wedding. She met your children. Your Dad is still alive and well. You tell me about your loss and the first thing I say is…
“Just be grateful you have your Dad…”
“It’s for the best, she was ill…”
“You’re an adult, you had your Mum at all the key parts of your life, this is what happens. Now losing your Mum as a child is a real tragedy…”
None of those things would be very nice. None of them would show much empathy.
With grief, like so many things in life, we should respect the feelings the person has. Losing a baby at any stage is hard to understand unless you’ve been there, and the way a person reacts to their loss will depend on so many other factors. The physical symptoms, how hard won the pregnancy was, how emotionally engaged the person felt when saw that positive test, how many losses there have been, other things in life impacting their resilience and mental health etc. You might not know any of these things, so I think the best approach is to listen, acknowledge their feelings about their loss and not try to persuade them it’s all ok or they are being overly dramatic in some way. That is not your judgement to make. It might sound obvious but since joining a group I never wanted to be in (women who have miscarried), I’ve lost count of the number of people who have been effectively told to “get over it and stop making a fuss…”
What do I do next?
After losing my parents there was a lot to sort, but after that I just focused on grieving for them. It was awful but I had no choice. Following a miscarriage you are faced with a choice about if and when you try again. Facing pregnancy after loss is terrifying. I have lost 2 babies now (many people have lost a lot more I know), but I have some idea of the constant fear in the next pregnancy. The impact on your body of the pregnancy and nothing to show for it. The physical pain of miscarriage and heavy bleeding. The endless questions about why – which doctors can rarely answer in a personalised way and don’t often even try until you’ve endured this 3 times.
So instead of just rebuilding yourself and your life you are faced with the prospect of trying again. Yes you might win the prize of another baby, but you might not, and the baby you have lost is gone forever.
For many people, miscarriage and fertility issues dominate life for years. They stop you making holiday plans. They make you question job moves or changing hours as you hold out for that ever illusive mat leave. You’re on a monthly rollercoaster – which to me feels a rollercoaster with the ups in the sunshine but the downs in a huge storm which is growing in strength and beating away at you until you wonder if you have the energy to do the sunny climb even one more time.
Most people only talk about what they’ve been through when they have their rainbow baby. I love to hear those stories, they give real hope. But not everyone gets the rainbow, some people weather the storm over and over again and then have to walk away with nothing. When you’re on that rollercoaster, like me right now, you just don’t know which ending with be yours- and that is scary.
You might read this and think “yes, this is the same for people in loads of situations, why are you special?” I’m not. I don’t think miscarriage is the “hardest grief”(not ranking grief is kind of my whole point..), but I do think it receives less empathy and less air time than many other types of loss. There are many groups trying to raise awareness about the issues facing people who miscarry – now more than ever when many people hear the words “there’s no heartbeat” completely on their own. I guess I just wanted to help that effort a little and share my thoughts.
So if you do hear from a friend that they have suffered a loss, remember two things. First, don’t rate or rank their grief, just listen and show you care. Second, they have tough choices ahead, be there for them (on their terms) because this won’t go away in a week or a month from now – whatever happens next they are facing a battle to grieve and a separate battle to hope.