“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will heal, and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler from “On Grief and Grieving”
If you’ve been through grief or have studied grief, you know that there are different stages of it, and they are very fluid. When thinking about my miscarriages, and after talking to so many women who have been through such a terrible loss, I have come to realize that there is a similar process when it comes to the grief of losing a pregnancy. I have put these into different phases and created ways to heal through each phase.
Can’t Stop the Bleeding- Phase 1: This is the complete and utter shock phase. In this phase you are knocked over by the pain, both emotionally and physically, of the loss of your baby. You never thought that you would be the 1 in 4. You never thought that you would be the woman going through such excruciating pain and exhaustion, this happens to other women, not you. In this phase, you are constantly asking yourself “why?”. Why is this happening to you? Why would God or the universe put you through something so terrible? What did you do in your life to deserve such pain? Did I do something that caused this loss? Did I eat something wrong? Exercise too much? Exercise too little? In this phase you are constantly reminded of what is being ripped from you every time you go to the bathroom. During this process you are constantly talking to your baby, apologizing for not being able to create a safe place for it to grow and develop. You hope and pray that your baby is not experiencing any of the pain that you are going through. In short, you are in shock.
Healing: This is the time when you need to be very gentle with your body and with your emotions. You need to curl up in bed with your tissues and just cry. Let the pain and the emotions release from your body through your tears. Don’t try to do anything too active at this point. Protect your body and protect your emotions. Put the phone down. Stop the researching. There isn’t an answer. I know how infuriating it is to hear from your doctor “these things just happen”. That isn’t enough of an explanation for the pain you are experiencing but unfortunately it’s true. You won’t find the answer on Google. Find a friend. Find one or two friends who are willing to listen to your story and not say anything stupid like “well, you can try again”. It may be hard to find that person and it may come from someone unexpected. If you are struggling with finding someone, reach out to groups on Facebook or join a community (I created the Miscarriage Warrior App for this purpose). But be careful with who you share your journey with. Again, protect your body and your emotions.
“Now What?” Phase 2: This is the phase when the bleeding has stopped, most of the shock has worn off but you are left in this grief state of “now what?” “What am I supposed to do with this pain?” “Where am I supposed to go from here?”. You begin wondering if you are supposed to start trying again. You wonder if moving on means that the pain of your loss ever happened. Is it cruel to just start trying again? You ask yourself “what did this all mean?” and “How did this experience change me as a person?”. Sometimes you’re left in the wake of this pain wondering if you were supposed to learn something from this pain. You want to feel happy again, you want to find your vibrancy again, but you aren’t quite sure how. You want to reconnect with your partner and have a deeper relationship but for some reason you keep pulling away. You’re back at work but you are exhausted and can’t focus. You start pulling away from your friends because they don’t understand that you are still experiencing the grief.
Healing: During this time, I would really encourage you to take care of your physical energy and emotional energy. This would be a good time to start going on short walks, preferably with that one friend who you can talk to. Walking helps your body process stress and being with a friend helps you feel a sense of community. Express your pain and grief through a creative way. Write, dance, draw, paint, find something that will help you express and let out that pain. You can create a memory box or a memory book or find a piece of jewelry to honor your baby’s life. This is also the time when I suggest finding a healing group or someone to help you with your healing. This is the time that I found my coach who helped me explore and eventually answer all of my “what now?” questions. A coach or therapist will help you explore the best ways to heal after such a traumatic event.
Guilt- Phase 3: Who knew you’d experience so much guilt after a miscarriage? When you have made the decision that you are ready to move on and start trying again you may start feeling guilt. You feel guilty the first time you laugh, the first time you go through the day without crying. You feel guilty that you didn’t mourn the loss of your baby long enough. You feel guilty that because you have decided to try again that you will forget about your loss (trust me, you won’t forget). You feel guilty that you are taking too long to grieve. If and when you do get pregnant again you feel guilty when you aren’t always ecstatic about the pregnancy. For me, I was sick with all of my pregnancies and I felt guilty when I didn’t want to feel pregnant. How could I not want to feel pregnant after everything I had been through. Shouldn’t I just be happy that I was pregnant?
Healing: Unfortunately, guilt is a part of grief. Try to remind yourself that everything you are going through is normal, that there is no “right” way to grieve or move one. Try journaling about your feelings. Put into words what is making you feel guilty and why you think you are feeling this way. Find other women who have experienced miscarriages and talk to them about the guilt you are feeling, I’m sure they will tell you that they felt the same way. But it’s good to express these feelings so that you can address them and realize that moving on is normal.
Does This Grief Ever Go Away? – Phase 4: This is the phase when you have moved on with your life. You are able to laugh again; you are able to feel joy again without feeling guilty but then every once in a while you randomly start crying. You could be driving down the freeway, minding your own business when you pass the doctor’s office where you heard those awful words “There’s no heart beat”, when you break into tears. You could be out on a date with your partner and just randomly start crying because you remember the pain you have both been through. The short answer to “does this grief ever go away?” is no. No, it doesn’t and that really sucks. The long answer is that you will feel normal again. You will go back to “normal” again, but normal may look different now. The loss and the pain will be a part of you forever and be part of your life story now.
Healing: Don’t ignore this phase. Don’t ignore the pain that you went through and try to pretend it didn’t happen. Learn to be ok with your grief, hold hands with it and use it to help other people. This is the time to continue growing as a person. As human beings we are built to be in community and to find connection. Continue finding a group of people who understand you and what you have been through. Continue connecting with others in ways that feel good to you. Not everyone wants to use the pain of a miscarriage to help others. Not everyone wants to discuss the experience with the whole world and that is absolutely ok. However, do use your knowledge of grief and pain to be understanding of others instead of judging. Do use this pain to lend support when you see someone struggling with grief so that they don’t have to go at it alone. In other words, “turn around and help the person behind you”.
Please note that through every phase I suggest finding someone to talk to, someone to connect with. In the midst of grief, it is our nature to pull back, to pull away from people and isolate ourselves. This is natural. But it is also natural to be with people. Our society has told us that we should grieve in silence but in reality, it is better for our healing to be with community. There are times when you should absolutely take time away and let yourself cry. But don’t stay in that. Asking for help isn’t being a burden to others, people naturally want to help others. Again, if you need a place to turn or don’t feel supported by your friends, come to The Miscarriage Warrior App. You will find a community of women who have been through the pain and who are going to support you through your journey, without judgment.