Coping with Grief After Miscarriage
Information on grieving for a child after a miscarriage and where to seek support
Miscarriage is defined as the loss of a baby in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, and affects around one in four confirmed pregnancies. Medical professionals may use the phrase ‘early miscarriage’ to describe a pregnancy loss before the 12th week of pregnancy. A ‘late miscarriage’ is between 12 and 20 weeks.
Stillbirth is technically different from miscarriage. According to medical guidelines in Australia, a stillbirth is when a baby is lost 20 weeks or more into the pregnancy, or when the stillborn baby weighs over 400 grams.
Planning a funeral
In Australia there is no legal requirement to hold a burial or cremation for a baby lost through miscarriage. However, it is now becoming more common for grieving parents to hold a funeral or memorial service for their child after a miscarriage.
Although it is not for everyone, a funeral may allow you to say goodbye to your baby and acknowledge their importance to you. Like any funeral, it can be a helpful and important part of the grieving process.
You may decide not to have a burial or cremation, or you may be unable to due to hospital policy. Often early miscarriages mainly consist of bleeding and you may not be able to keep the baby for burial or cremation. However, you may still choose to have a memorial service to say goodbye to your child. Funeral directors will be able to help you arrange a memorial service, which is similar to a funeral service in many ways.
Grief after miscarriage
It is widely accepted that losing a child is one of the most painful losses anyone can experience – and yet those who are grieving after a miscarriage can be overlooked and not given the support they need. This can make the long journey of dealing with grief after a miscarriage much harder.
Often the cause of a miscarriage is unknown or uncertain. This can add to feelings of confusion and frustration for the grieving parents. It can also make it difficult to come to terms with what has happened.
Talking about miscarriage is still, unfortunately, something of a taboo in our society. Some people avoid openly discussing the loss of an unborn child and often know little about the profound impact on a parent’s life. You might find that people pressure you to return to work or ‘get back to normal’. They might say hurtful things, imply that you did something wrong, or even ignore your loss completely. This is usually from a lack of understanding, rather than intentionally trying to hurt you, but it can make you feel as though your grief is unimportant.
This is why it is so important to allow yourself to grieve while dealing with a miscarriage, and try to tell those closest to you about how you feel. It is perfectly natural for you to experience grief after a loss and you should not feel pressured to be ‘okay’, despite what anyone else says.
Grief often involves many different emotions – sadness, fear, anger, guilt to name but a few – and every person experiences a different mix of emotions as they learn to deal with their grief. The way you feel and how you cope with those emotions are unique to you and no one can tell you what is right or wrong.
Some women and their partners learn to cope with their grief relatively quickly and decide to start trying to become pregnant again. Other couples may take longer to come to terms with the loss and may require extra support. Alternatively, you may be coping quite well with the loss – this is not something to feel bad about. Everyone has their own way of coping with grief.
You and your partner may experience some of the following feelings:
- Longing for your child. You may feel as though you miss the baby you were expecting and long for the life that you had planned for them.
- Jealousy of others. It is common to feel jealous of those who have healthy children or have recently become pregnant. You may find it difficult to be around babies and children.
- Guilt or shame. You may feel as if the loss was your fault, even if it wasn’t, and you may feel the need to hide your loss and avoid speaking about it.
- Confusion and mixed emotions. Particularly if the pregnancy was unplanned, you may find that you don’t know how to feel. You may be struggling with the loss more than you would have imagined, or you may be feeling guilty for feeling relieved.
Physical effects of miscarriage
Mothers who have experienced a miscarriage will also be feeling a lot physically, such as tiredness, headaches, and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms can last a few weeks, along with light bleeding, cramps and breast discomfort. The length and intensity of these symptoms usually depend on how late into the pregnancy the miscarriage occurred.
Your doctor will be able to advise you on how to manage your symptoms and discomfort. If these symptoms continue for a long time or become worse, talk to your doctor immediately.
Pregnancy after miscarriage
After a miscarriage, you may find yourself wanting to get pregnant again as soon as possible, or you may be anxious about trying again. You may decide not to try again at all. You may also find that your feelings about pregnancy change after the initial stages of grief. The important thing is to process your feelings at a pace that is right for you and let yourself grieve for your lost baby as well as looking forward to the hope of new life, should you decide that is right for you.
Be aware that your partner may feel differently, so discussing your plans for the future can be important. Let them come to terms with what has happened before discussing any further plans.
Be sure to talk to your doctor or GP about any medical issues with becoming pregnant again. Some doctors encourage women to wait until after the first period after a miscarriage, although this isn’t always necessary. If you have experienced multiple miscarriages, talk to your GP about your options going forwards.
Moving towards healing
Sadly, the emotional impact of miscarriage is often underestimated in our society. Remember that your grief is valid and it is important that you acknowledge your feelings and grieve for your child. While there is no ‘cure’ for grief, you may find that the following help you cope better in day-to-day life:
- Express your feelings. Even if others don’t appreciate the intensity of your grief, it is vital that you recognise what you are feeling and find a way to express it. Try writing a diary, confiding in a friend or your partner, or joining a support group.
- Acknowledge your baby’s existence. It may be helpful to find ways of remembering your child and honouring the love you feel for them. This may take the form of a funeral or memorial service, or you could find a keepsake, such as a cuddly toy or blanket. This will help them remain a part of your life and acknowledge your love for them.
- Communicate with your partner. If you are in a relationship, it is important to keep communicating and support each other. If you are struggling to understand each other’s feelings after the miscarriage, consider couple’s therapy or a support group to help you strengthen your relationship.
- Try to stay physically healthy. Miscarriage has physical effects and grief can also have an impact on your health. Try to eat well and sleep at least eight hours a night. If loss of appetite or sleeplessness continue for a long time, talk to your doctor.
If you are coping with a miscarriage, contact bereavement support organisations for further advice and information.