Written by Arden Cartrette, Certified Birth & Bereavement Doula and Trauma-Informed Support Provider
Navigating pregnancy loss is difficult whether you were pregnant for a few days or months. Handling each aspect of loss takes a lot of validation (from others and yourself) and patience as you move forward. Being a bereavement doula focusing on miscarriage, I see the grief journey broken into three stages; before, during, and after.
Before experiencing the physical element of miscarriage, you have so many decisions and emotions to handle. It may feel overwhelming, and that's because it's an essential step in navigating pregnancy loss. Then, when the miscarriage happens, you either give birth at home or arrange medical care, which brings trauma in different ways. Finally, when you're in the recovery stage and start to heal, both physically and emotionally, you now navigate the question of "What's next?"
Let's break down these stages and discuss what navigating miscarriage can really look like.
Stage I: Before Miscarrying
The anticipation of what comes next feels heavy from hearing the "there's no heartbeat" news or seeing blood when you wipe. Hearing the doctor mention three options for miscarrying and deciding which route makes you most comfortable, even though they are equally terrible, is a particular type of grief. We call this anticipatory grief because you know what's to come, but you don't see how it will play out or what the future holds in terms of your miscarriage.
Navigating the days or weeks leading up to your physical miscarriage can be difficult. Not knowing what to expect, taking time off from work, canceling plans because of the unknown - it's a lot to handle.
Tips for navigating pregnancy loss before the physical miscarriage:
Take it one step at a time. What information do you know? What decisions are there to make at this moment?
Can you delegate some tasks? For example, if you need to cancel plans, ask a close friend or your partner to take that off of your plate. Also, don't be afraid to do this over text message or email to save yourself the emotional aspect of a phone call.
When speaking about your work, share as much or as little as you feel comfortable. Often, women feel intimidated discussing miscarriage with their boss(es). The reason could be that they aren't sure how much time off they need (depending on their benefits, it may not be available to them) and feel uncomfortable with sharing such personal information. These are valid concerns, and it's important to share the details that you're comfortable with sharing at that time.
If you are unsure how you'll give birth, prepare for the worst by stocking your home with maxi pads and adult diapers and having a pain reliever. Whether you have your miscarriage at home or in the hospital, you'll need items like this as you recover.
Stage II: During The Miscarriage
What many people don't realize until they go through is that miscarriage can feel like a labor and delivery situation. Whether the birth happens at home without medical intervention or at the hospital where intervention is often used, the struggle to cope with the reality of what you've experienced can be difficult.
Tips for navigating pregnancy loss during the physical miscarriage:
Remember that this is the hardest part of miscarriage, and the pain and immense grief feels heaviest at the moment, but this will ease, and you'll recover.
Lean on your partner for support, and remember that they are going through this loss, too.
You can do hard things, which is one of the most challenging things that you'll go through.
While experiencing your miscarriage, give yourself grace when it comes to things you think you need to do, places you need to be, and tasks you need to complete.
If you give birth without medical intervention and feel that you need medical attention, know that you can go to your nearest hospital and seek care.
Stage III: After The Miscarriage
Following your miscarriage, life will feel different, and the truth is – it's very different. Everything about your body and mind will change from your loss experience, and while some may call that "normal," I say that it's a valid perception of life after what you've been through. Navigating the days, weeks, months, even years ahead will be challenging, but just like any life-altering event, you'll move forward and learn to live within your new normal.
Tips for navigating pregnancy loss after the physical miscarriage:
Consider seeking emotional support either through professional talk therapy or a bereavement doula. You've been through a challenging experience, and making sure that you have appropriate support is a crucial step to recovering from loss.
Keep in mind that physical recovery may happen quicker than emotional recovery and that there's no timeline for either.
Difficult days ahead may include your first period, deciding whether or not you're ready to try to conceive again, your due date, holidays such as Mother's Day, and even the year-mark of your miscarriage. Be prepared for these difficult days and line up any support or preparation.
You may desire to get pregnant again, which is a familiar feeling a woman has after loss. Talk with your doctor about any concerns you have and communicate with your partner regarding any hesitations, fears, or desires about another pregnancy.
Navigating pregnancy loss is difficult but not impossible.
Following your miscarriage, grief may feel unbearable at times, and while that's a valid feeling to have, it's also a common one. You've been through a lot in a concise amount of time, which takes time to heal from. It's important to remember that navigating pregnancy loss won't always feel like you're moving forward in your grief. Still, every day that you live your life after loss, you successfully navigate grief the best you can. As a bereavement doula, I always tell my clients that grief isn't pretty, but we learn to grow around our grief and carry it with us as we go throughout life after loss. There are more difficult days than others, but suffering will come in waves, and you'll get through the rough patches. Be gentle with yourself and take the time to navigate your miscarriage journey properly.