The grief of a miscarriage is often forgotten and ignored by others. This type of grief is frequently discounted and falls under the heading of Disenfranchised Grief.
A miscarriage is generally defined as the loss of the fetus/baby prior to their viability outside the womb. This time frame is frequently defined as prior to 20 weeks gestation. While some in the medical community refer to this as a “spontaneous abortion,” many expectant parents find this term offensive, as they consider an abortion an act of choice, which is hardly the case with a miscarriage. (When the baby dies prior to birth after twenty weeks gestation, it is referred to as a stillbirth.)
The exact causes of a miscarriage are often never determined. It’s this lack of information that can sometimes compound the emotional pain, and create fears in future pregnancies.
There are many reasons the emotional pain of this event is discounted.
For those who lose a child so early in pregnancy, there is often little recognition that anything has happened. While it’s now possible to determine pregnancy within a few days of conception, many expectant parents chose not to share this information with others until they are further along in the gestation process. If this was their choice, friends and family may not be aware of anything until after the miscarriage. Even then, some mothers (and fathers) may not share their story beyond their immediate family, which can limit emotional support.
The medical community often refers to a miscarried child as a “product of conception,” rather than a baby, since it’s so early in the pregnancy. As such, it’s common for the hospital to dispose of the physical evidence of this pregnancy as they would any other tissue they remove in surgery. While some may offer the parents the option of contacting a funeral home to arrange for a burial or private cremation, this is not always the standard procedure. Such disposition, while logically practical, does not offer the parent(s) the opportunity to plan any kind of service or public recognition that they have lost the child they were expecting. This lack of recognition that they did, indeed, lose their child, can also lend to the lack of outpouring of emotional support from others.
In my over 40 years in funeral service, I have sometimes heard well-meaning friends comment to both mothers and fathers that they were “lucky” to have this happen so early in the pregnancy, before they really knew their child. While their intentions may have been of comfort, in truth, such remarks are thoughtless and can be extremely hurtful. This is simply another example of people trying to deal with an emotionally devastating event with an intellectual answer. While these parents never had the opportunity to establish a face-to-face relationship, they still had created an emotional bond with their unborn child. Most had already formed dreams and expectations for a future with this child that, due to the miscarriage, will never come to fruition.
The grief of such a loss.
The Miscarriage Support website, of Auckland, New Zealand, identifies 47 different emotional responses a mother might experience related to this type of painful loss event. These can include the loss of identity as a mother (if there are no other children), loss of confidence, loss of trust in their body and fears for future pregnancies. Even though they did not physically carry this child, men can be emotionally impacted as well. Their feelings of emotional loss are often ignored completely, making this yet a further discounted loss.
Friends and family may offer emotional support, but they rarely have a concept of the emotional pain the mother (or father) of this child is experiencing. Even if they have personally dealt with a miscarriage and feel that they can relate, they can never fully understand what this formerly expectant parent is feeling inside.
All of these feelings of loss do not necessarily dissipate with the passage of time. It’s not uncommon for the grief of this loss to resurface on the due date of the birth, on Mother’s (or Father’s) Day or during other holidays when this child was anticipated to be present. Even seeing other parents with their children can be a painful reminder of the loss.
Almost thirty-five years ago, I had a woman attend my Grief Recovery Method Support Group who told me that she was coming to deal with her son’s impending divorce. As she moved through the program, she found that the loss that was causing her the greatest emotional pain had been the miscarriage of her first child, over thirty years before. She never had acknowledged the impact of that loss and it had continued to bother her, even though she had never realized it. I actually knew her son and he told me that he was amazed in the positive changes in his mother after she had taken recovery action through the program. Before, she had been less emotionally available and demonstrative of her love for those children she had after that loss. It was almost as if she had feared becoming too emotional involved with them, in case she lost them as well.
Taking positive recovery action!
While the grief of a miscarriage may be ignored by others, that does not mean that it does not exist or needs to be addressed. Taking grief recovery action offers the opportunity to express and move beyond the power of the emotional pain of this loss. It gives the opportunity to put voice behind those feelings that often tend to be suppressed. It allows these parents the chance to better deal with all of their dreams and expectations for a future with this child that they never had the opportunity to actually experience.
Whether the miscarriage was recent, or years in the past, The Grief Recovery Method can be very effective for these parents to move beyond the power of the emotional pain of this often discounted loss. The power of this approach is that it does not just deal with their grief associated with the moment of loss. This method offers the opportunity to address those painful emotional moments that surface long after the death, when a parent thinks of where that child would be today, had they lived. For those who take this action shortly after the death, it offers them the needed tools to deal such moments in the future when they think about what might have been.
Rather than suffer in silence, or store this emotional pain inside, you can take action. Please do not let the grief of this loss forever control and limit you on any level. You can find meaningful help to deal with this and other losses in your life in “The Grief Recovery Handbook.” Once you have taken this action for yourself, you might discover, within yourself, the desire to assist others through difficult loss by becoming a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist.
You may find other information of interest to you in our Post Partum Grief E-Book.