Coping after miscarriage
One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. Although common, this does not take away from the often devastating impact that this can have on your emotional health.
Pregnancy loss can lead you to grieve for not only the pregnancy but also your sense of self and your hopes for the future as a mother or father of that child.
Although the baby may no longer be physically present, you may still feel a continued bond, attachment and parenting feeling. Even if the pregnancy ended very early, the sense of bonding can still be strong.
The impact of miscarriage on women
Following miscarriage, you may experience a roller coaster of emotions such as numbness, disbelief, anger, guilt, sadness, depression, anxiety, confusion and difficulty concentrating. In addition, the process also often requires a mind shift, as no doubt you already may have started planning (consciously or unconsciously) your life events and seeing your future in the context of the new arrival to the family.
Letting go of these thoughts and ideals and allowing yourself to grieve can be hard. Many women are left feeling distressed and sad, and some report feeling pangs of guilt as they reflect if they may have done something to contribute to the miscarriage. Some women even experience physical symptoms from their emotional distress, such as fatigue, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite and frequent episodes of crying. The hormonal changes that occur after miscarriage may intensify these symptoms.
Despite the profound grief that many women and men can experience, the impact of early pregnancy loss through miscarriage is often underestimated.
I was devastated. Firstly, coming to terms with the fact that we had lost the baby was so incredibly sad. Then you have a whole change of mind shift, as you have visualised your life ahead with a new baby – and now that is not the case. Telling others and reliving the grief each time is also hard. With time the grief eases, but at the time I was so very sad.
Further, the impact of this may be made worse by comments suggesting ‘it’s probably for the best – as something was wrong’ or ‘you can always try again’, as this fails to acknowledge your feelings and need to grieve for the loss of your baby. Pregnancy support counselling can be very helpful at this time. For some, there are other emotional consequences of pregnancy, such as depression and anxiety, which can last for several months.
The impact of miscarriage on men
It is also the case that a father’s sadness and grief is often dismissed following a miscarriage, as the focus is often on the woman and often men are not asked about how they are coping.
I tried not to think about it too much at the time. I just thought, well, we have to move forward and maybe try again. My focus was on my wife because it was all happening to her physically. I suppose it really hit me much later when we went on to have our first baby. I was so excited to have a healthy baby, but it also was at that point I realised just what we had lost.
Fathers can often suppress their own grief at the time of loss to help their partner get through the physical experience and often do not deal with the loss at all until the context re-emerges with a subsequent baby. Some men may express their grief over a miscarriage as anger, so it’s important to keep this in mind and be respectful and understanding that you may both deal with the situation in different ways. Try to see this as the natural early stages of the grieving process and an important part of recovery.
Coping with miscarriage and getting through
The time taken to come to terms with a miscarriage can vary greatly from one individual to another, so it is important to acknowledge how you are feeling and when you and your partner may be ready to try to have another baby.
For some, there may be a sense of urgency to get on with having another baby but, if this is driven by your need to recover from feelings of grief or sadness, you may need to consider giving yourself some time to grieve. Having a baby to fill a void rarely takes away the pain but rather these feelings of loss may resurface at a later time and make it difficult to cope, as your need to grieve has simply been put ‘on hold’.
It’s common to feel a range of mixed emotions during a subsequent pregnancy. Whilst you may feel excited about the thought of becoming pregnant again, you may also feel some anxiety, which is completely normal. Balancing feelings of joy for a new baby with apprehension will gradually come with time, but talking with people you can trust about how you are feeling can provide you with support and reassurance.
If, however, you find that you are feeling constantly on edge or worried that something is wrong or will go wrong, talk to your health professional about how the pregnancy is progressing. If these thoughts and feelings continue and begin to feel like that are taking over, talking with a counsellor or health professional can help you take control over worrying thoughts and feelings that you may be experiencing.
You can also find a list of specialist support services and networks for people who have experienced a miscarriage here.