7 ways to process the loss of a pregnancy

Erin WileyArticles, therapist

I wouldn’t dare to compare or rank the grief experienced by moms who go through infertility, loss of a child, loss of a newborn, miscarriage, still birth, placement for adoption… but today I’ll speak from my own experience with miscarriage, and hope that it helps some mom, somewhere, to grieve with me- in an effort toward greater health and happiness. It’s been so many years since my miscarriage, that I have to stop now to count exactly how many… gosh… almost 16 now. It’s crazy, isn’t it? How one moment in our lives can feel like it happened yesterday, and yet, at the same, time feel a million miles away.

There’s always some guilt I feel when I consider sharing about my miscarriage. Not that the miscarriage was my fault, but rather that I feel I don’t have the right to grieve in the ways that a mom who has lost a full term infant does. It seems silly to mourn the loss of someone whose face you’ve never seen. And yet, I can tell you even now, years later, as I let myself drift back to those memories, the pain is still so real and so deep. I haven’t cried over the loss of that baby since 2001, but as I open the door to that time, I’m in tears as I type. We can’t compare or measure the grief a mom experiences when she loses a child… and so I think it’s best to just acknowledge that for every mom there is a legitimate loss when she loses a child, and aim to support each other through it, whatever that loss looks like.

Maybe it was because we had waited four years into our marriage to start trying; or maybe it was because, at 29 and 35, we were older than most couples who begin their journey to parenthood; or maybe it was because of the circumstances of the conception (having gotten pregnant during a (literal) trial where I was involved in the prosecution of the man who had sexually assaulted me the year before); or maybe it was because we were just like every other couple trying to conceive, but Gosh- did we want this baby! Boy, did we want this baby. Finding out after the trial that we were expecting? It was a miracle and a gift. We had been at it for half a year and wondering why it wasn’t happening more quickly… and then, like a single ray of light that pierces the clouds after a devastating storm, we had a little bit of joy and hope again. That baby was a blessing at the end of a really dark and ugly time for me, a gift at the end of that terrifying legal trial.

Like so many others, we planned a fun and creative way to tell our families. We gave them all empty baby picture frames at Christmas with a message indicating that we would provide them photos to fill their frames in August of 2000. It was sweet. Everyone was excited. I had four friends at work who were all expecting too, so gaining membership to that group of expectant moms was a real thrill. We five would all have babies within weeks of each other. Everything seemed to finally be falling into place after such a long hard year. 2000 sparkled with promise for us.

Until I started spotting. Quick call to my OB who suggested I rest and lay down. Take it easy, she said. There’s nothing more you can do, she said. I went to bed that night practically holding my breath, thinking somehow if I held really still I could keep that life inside of me, I could make this not be happening. The next morning I woke up, sat up, and there was a rush of blood. It was over. Our miracle was done. I called my husband at work, sobbing, telling him to get home. I called our OB who suggested we head in for an ultrasound just to be sure. At that doctor’s office a quick ultrsound, no beating heart, lots of blood. A cold explanation from the doctor on call to get to the local hospital as they were waiting for me- I was hemorrhaging and needed an emergency D&C. No pat on the knee, no understanding embrace, just instructions. I felt like my life was collapsing in on itself. I was numb. I was ruined. A tiny person, my baby, the newest member of our family, our first child, the first grandchild, my hope, my gift, my angel- gone. How can you feel the loss of someone you’ve never even met? A person whose name you don’t even know?

In the weeks and months that followed it felt like one emotional assault after another. There was no relief. People were quick to offer condolences, but no one seemed comfortable talking about it. Or I felt awkward just calling someone to cry to them about it. I was alone in my grief. No one felt the pain and loss like I did. Even my sweet husband after a few months seemed to have processed it and was doing fine. I could barely keep my head above water. I could barely breathe. And even if people had been better at supporting me through it, in some ways it wouldn’t have mattered: I had my baby to grieve for, and no one could bring that baby back. I wrestled with God in prayer, I cried, I walked the mall aimlessly in an attempt to get moving and get out of the house.

At some point, as the Type A gal I am, I realized I needed to actively begin to process the grief that was consuming me. Here are seven of the things I did that were most helpful for me:

  1. I found a physical representation of the baby I had lost. I had empty arms, nothing to hold. No pictures. No blankets, nothing. I found a very sweet statue of an angel with a baby in it’s arms, and it really moved me. It was my baby being rocked by an angel. And the baby looked so peaceful. Just seeing that every day was helpful. It reminded me that my baby was real, and was now in the arms of the angels.
  2. I decided to name our baby (even though we didn’t know it’s gender). It helped me to conceptualize this child as a real person, even though we’d never meet face to face. It helped me give my child an identity when I had so little left of him/her.
  3. I began writing in a journal. I wrote to my unborn child. I told that baby how sad we were to not have had the opportunity to meet them, to hold them, to kiss them and to care for them. It was hard, but cathartic. It gave my pain a place to relieve itself. It was an outlet for the anguish, and over time, my pain worked itself out through the words.
  4. I leaned on my Higher Power for strength when there was no person I felt who truly understood my pain. Praying to God, crying to God, yelling at God… let’s just say I had a LOT of conversations with The Man Upstairs. Whatever your faith, seeking spiritual peace in a time of great pain is a helpful for many people. It was a way for me to process things outside of my own head, and that was really helpful during that time.
  5. I gave myself permission to feel whatever feelings came up, and permission to do whatever I needed to do to survive them. I felt angry at other moms, jealous of women with children, cheated by God and the world. I avoided baby showers and fumed every time someone I knew got pregnant or had a baby. And that was ok. That was where I was on my grief journey at that point. It was authentic and true, and any attempts to suppress or deny it would have been futile. I was angry and needed to seethe for a while.
  6. I realized I was not alone. Knowing that other women had experienced the same loss helped me feel a little less alone. When I most wanted to pout or throw a fit, it was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one to have ever had this kind of loss. I was now part of a sisterhood of women who had all walked this same road before me.
  7. I saw a therapist. She was warm and kind. She let me cry…. and cry, and cry- long after other people tired of hearing my wail about this baby, she understood that, to me, this loss was everything. To me this loss was deep and intense in a way few understood… and she helped me find some emotional peace through allowing my to express my pain and shed my tears. She accompanied me down the path of loss and grief and acceptance in a way that no one else did or could.

It took time: probably a solid year for me to really shake off the pain of that loss (longer than many others, I think). In time, I gave my sweet angel statue away to another mom who also experienced a miscarriage. I no longer felt the need to write in my journal. Women need to give themselves permission to take they time they need to heal emotionally and physically after a miscarriage.

Almost two years later, after many infertility interventions, I finally gave birth to our elder son. It was a long journey to get there, full of tears and heartache, but I credit my first pregnancy- and that teeny baby I never held- for increasing and confirming my desire to have a child, and solidifying my decision to be the best mom I could be. I feel fairly confident that there are no more ferociously loved babies than those of moms who have previously lost one.

To those of you still hurting from the loss of your little one, to you I offer a great big, giant cyber hug. Though everyone experiences loss uniquely, in some ways I do believe that having walked the same path means we understand each other’s pain. I know your pain, Sister. And my heart grieves with you, and for you. May you find peace and comfort on your road to healing.

If you are struggling with the recent loss of a pregnancy and need counseling, contact The Willow Center at (419) 720-5800, to speak with a clinical counselor.