Friday, August 12, 2011

Miscarriage 101

This is not the post I had planned to publish today, but that one can wait. After receiving a message from a friend about what she could, or should do for a family member who has just lost her baby at 25 weeks gestation, I decided to post this for her benefit. It is something I have been kicking around for a long time. I hope it will get to others who need to hear this as well.

When people die, we have a culturally agreed upon set of rituals we perform. There is the shock of the loss, but there is also a rhythm to what takes place next. There are arrangements to be made, a funeral, and a wake to hold. Everyone brings food. For the most part, people know their roles. Almost everyone has some idea of what they should, & should not say to the bereaved. It is understood that the grieving process takes time, in all likelihood, several years. Everyone understands that the person who has passed away had intrinsic value, and is completely irreplaceable.

I am not sure why, but somehow, the above doesn't seem to be equally applied when a baby is lost to miscarriage. Much of what I am about to say applies to stillbirths, and infant loss too.


Because I have personally experienced 10 miscarriages, as well as the loss of my daughter's twin early in my last pregnancy, I count myself as a pseudo-expert on the subject of miscarriage. The following is what I want others to understand about the subject:

I think unless you have been through it yourself, the pain and grief of having a miscarriage is difficult to truly appreciate. I know I was sad for my sister when it happened to her, but back then, I honestly couldn't have guessed the depth of that grief, or how long it would last, that is until I experienced it myself. It is amazing how much you can love a baby you never got to hold, and miss a baby you never got to see.


I have repeatedly found that people do not know how to appropriately respond when someone has a miscarriage. The ultrasound tech, who informed us of the loss of our first baby, was just the first of many people who have proven to me there is a need for some education on this topic. She was tactless, and almost flip about the fact that my baby had no heartbeat. She never said she was sorry for our loss. She saw nothing wrong with dropping that bomb on us, then immediately asking us to go sit in the waiting room, while we waited to speak to the doctor, a waiting room full of very obviously pregnant women. I sat there devastated by our loss, struggling with everything in me to hold it together. I didn't look at my husband. I knew if I saw the hurt and concern in his eyes, I'd lose it right there. Then, one of the ladies sitting close by said her baby had the hiccups, and asked the person sitting next to her if she wanted to feel her belly. At that point, I lost the battle to maintain my composure, and I demanded they find some where else for us to wait.

On behalf of all grieving mothers like myself, let me explain a few things you might not otherwise know, or understand...

What NOT to Say When Someone Suffers a Miscarriage:

Much more often than you might guess, well meaning people say things after a miscarriage that are less than helpful. Over the years, it has happened to me many times, which leads me to the belief that some education is in order. So to that end, in my opinion, the following things should NOT be said:

1.) It Was God's Will.

My response to that is: "So wait, you think God did this to me on purpose?" Wow. That thought is not at all comforting, quite the opposite in fact! You might personally believe that it was God's will, but trust me, and keep that comment to yourself. It is not helpful, or conducive of the healing that needs to take place. Religious beliefs can certainly differ, but take a moment and ask yourself, how close do you think I can feel to a God who would see fit to torture me like that? Personally, I chose to believe good things come from God, bad things come from Satan, that God grieves my loss with me, & holds the babies I have lost in his arms.

2.) It is for the best.

I find no comfort in that statement either. Believe me, to the grieving parents, it does not feel like it what has happened is for the best, and even if it was, how in the world could you know that?

3.) There Will Be Other Babies.

Let me be very clear here, having another baby will, in no way, negate the loss. You can not replace the baby that was lost, anymore than you can replace any other human being. How would a new widow feel if you said, "Honey, you"ll have other husbands."

You also should not say there will be other babies, because no one can know that for certain.

4.) I know how you feel.

Unless you have personally been through it, you should never presume to know what you simply can not.

5.) Did you drink caffeine/smoke/or have a glass of wine? (Or other similar questions)

Of course, I did not, but even if a mother did all of the above, this question comes off as a thinly veiled accusation. Even if the mother is guilty of all of those things, trust me when I say the punishment far outweighs the crime.

So, What You SHOULD Do When Someone You Know Has a Miscarriage?

Most of all, treat the parents with understanding, as you would with any other death in the family. Try to take over some routine tasks, if you can. Take them dinner, walk the dog, offer to babysit their other kids, etc.

You need to understand that the crisis lasts a lot longer for the parents, particularly the mother, than for the rest of the world. Grieving is not a linear process. Some days will be better than others, and sometimes months, or even years later, the grief can be stirred up all over again. When, where, and what will stir it up is not easy to predict, and sometimes impossible to control. You can't avoid obviously pregnant women forever, right? 

Try to understand if, even years after a miscarriage, things like being around pregnant women, holding a baby, or attending a baby shower are very difficult, and sometimes avoided. Try not to be offended, or take it personally. It is not about you. I can tell you that the air of giddy expectation at a baby shower is still very hard for me to take, even now. 

There are differences in how each of us grieve. Men and women grieve differently. The hormone shifts taking place in the mother after a miscarriage should be taken into consideration, and allowances be made for that. Those hormonal shifts can be brutal, and tend to amp up an already highly emotional state. Men can seem less affected, which can cause the mother to be angry and resentful. I think miscarriage is different for men, in part, because they don't experience the pregnancy hormones, morning sickness etc. The baby may not have seemed as real to them yet.

Other people often seem to be very uncomfortable talking about a miscarriage. You should not be afraid to ask the parents how they are coping with the loss. It is not like you bringing it up will be what reminds them, trust me they are thinking about their loss anyway. Give them permission to talk about it. Tell them you are sorry for their loss, and that you are there for them if they need to talk. (I actually had someone tell me they wished I wouldn't talk about my losses, because it made THEM uncomfortable. Grr...even more annoying, is that I was in the middle of answering a direct question someone else had asked me, and she had butted into the middle of our conversation.)

One of the most painful parts of a miscarriage is that you have lost this precious, irreplaceable baby, and the world just keeps on turning. The rest of the world goes right on, like nothing ever happened. There is nothing left to mark this passing, no tomb stone, not a single trace of evidence the baby ever existed. If you are lucky, you may have a few fuzzy ultrasound pictures, and that's all that is left of the dreams you had for your child.

A very nice thing you can do is offer to help the parents find a way to mark this passing. You could plant a tree, release balloons, buy a special Christmas tree ornament, what ever you like, just let them know you understand something precious was lost, that it was something worth remembering, and honoring in some way. For some people the date of the loss, and the original due date are very significant. Write them down on your calendar, and call or send a card on those dates. If the child was given a name, please remember the child's name, and use it when you speak about his/her loss.  


If you have personally suffered a miscarriage, please know you are not alone. I think it would be very beneficial to find a way to connect with others who have been through the same experience. There are many online forums in which you can do that from the privacy of your home, and at a time convenient to you. It may help you feel less alone, and enable you to see that others share the same kind of feelings you are having. I particularly like the March of Dimes www.shareyourstory.org site. You can read other peoples stories, share a short story, or start your own blog. It is a wonderfully understanding and supportive group.

When you are ready to try to have another baby, I hope you find it encouraging that I did eventually manage to have two beautiful children of my own. Even with a history of recurrent miscarriage, a high percentage of women will go on to deliver healthy babies. There is hope, and the pain is worth it.

I hope this helps give you some insight into dealing with miscarriages.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know how long ago this was written, but I want to Thank You! I lost my first child at 20 weeks gestation 24 YEARS ago, but I still grieve to this day. I grieve for the loss of her life through the years. What she would be like, things she would/would not like, how she would look, things like that. It is still with me every single day! I have two children after that, now grown, but my Elyssa is still with me in my heart and soul ALWAYS! THANK YOU for your writing. It is all so true!

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