Miscarriage happens every single day. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports on their website that 25% of women experience at least one miscarriage during their reproductive years. That means every fourth woman you see in your daily routine has probably had a miscarriage.
Why, then, is it so difficult to talk about our experiences with miscarriage or to gain more effective support?
Let me throw the first heavy weight on the table. Many miscarriages happen early and typically resemble an extremely heavy menstrual cycle. Even during these modern times with so much focus on social justice and breaking down social barriers we still cannot discuss menstruation in most social circles today. Think about it. When we have a cold, we can tell our boss that we do not feel well and commonly receive well wishes or understanding. If you were to tell your supervisor you did not feel well because you have severe cramps and a backache due to menstruation there would be far less sympathy and possibly offense that you dared to bring up such a topic.
Yet, women experience menstruation far more often than any illness. If we cannot talk about menstruation, then how can we possibly talk about an experience that often resembles an intense menstrual cycle? Therein lies the first problem with lifting the taboo of miscarriage. Please do not misunderstand me; I am not suggesting we run down the street announcing to the world that we are presently menstruating. We should, however, be able to acknowledge menstruation is more common than the common cold and experienced with varying levels of discomfort/distress.
The second heavy weight I am throwing onto the table is individual belief systems regarding higher powers, no higher powers, when life begins, who is in charge of who’s body, etc. Let me reassure you that this post is not political, nor will it try to persuade you of a belief system. The fact remains that miscarriage forces us to confront our own beliefs and others. When loved ones in our life do not share our beliefs we may experience some strong feelings toward them that make us uncomfortable. It may become difficult to talk with loved ones who have different belief systems because it leads to conflict. Isolation in our grief, or lack of grief, could occur. Oftentimes, intensity and length of grief post-miscarriage is connected to our belief system regarding life, though it can also be related to our physical experience.
Out of our belief system stems our ability to comfort, support, condemn, etc. Our view of life dictates how we view pregnancy, and our loss of one. Someone who views pregnancy strictly as a matter of science may view miscarriage as a medical situation that is treated much like any other medical circumstance and have minimal grief. Not believing in life at conception or during any part of pregnancy means you are healing from an injury like any other medical need. Your uterine lining needs to heal post-excretion/extraction. Your body’s hormone levels need to return to typical levels, which will often include many side effects. The physical healing of your body may take up to 90 days. After your hormone levels return to normal and your physical body heals your experience is over.
Someone with strong convictions about life beginning at conception may view miscarriage as the death of a loved one and experience debilitating grief. This grief could last for years or be a readily recalled memory long into the future. Some women have tattoos to remind them of their miscarried child or children. Some women have memorabilia that reminds them to continually honor the life that was lost, such as an ornament or framed ultrasound photos.
Then there are those who fall somewhere along the continuum and may or may not be able to manage their grief. For this reason, every experience of miscarriage is different, even within the same woman. Grief can become like a developed skill if we experience multiple miscarriages, so each grief experience is unique. A woman who experiences multiple miscarriages may develop a detached relationship with her grief or she may experience each miscarriage with deeper sorrow each time.
Miscarriages are often different based on the age of the woman who miscarried as well. Our life experiences impact how we grieve and our resilience to difficult circumstances. A woman who miscarries in her early 20’s may experience a future miscarriage in her late 30’s very differently. Same woman. Different experiences. Number of weeks gestation can also make a significant impact how a woman grieves. The same woman could have a miscarriage at five weeks and be unaffected while experiencing debilitating grief over a loss at 20 weeks.
Did she have an ultrasound? Did she feel the baby move? Did she know the baby’s chromosomally assigned gender? How attached did the woman become to her unborn baby or fetus?
For reasons mentioned above, it can be difficult to find the support you need during a time of miscarriage. Family, friends, or other loved ones often say well intentioned, yet hurtful, things during our time of grief because it is either difficult for them as well or they have a different view of our circumstances. They could also say or do things that are difficult for us to receive due to the cultural or generational context of their personal experiences with miscarriage.
While I do not intend to persuade you of a specific belief system, I do wish to persuade you to reach out to a support group near you if your circumstances make it difficult to feel supported. In the local Saint Louis Metropolitan area, SHARE offers support groups as well as local hospitals. As a SHARE trained therapist, I will begin a support group on January 24, 2018. Please see the details below if you might benefit from this group.
Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Group:
This FREE six-week group is designed to meet the needs of those who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of an infant under one year of age. Collaboratively we will honor the grief of these losses. The group facilitator will lead memory making activities, address navigating challenging interpersonal situations, and provide a safe space to explore those difficult topics that arise. Facilitator will also assist the development of an effective support system through the grieving process.
When: Wednesday @ 6:00pm -7:30pm
Where: Baue Funeral Home, 311 Wood Street, Dardene Prairie, Missouri 63366
Sign-up: 314-328-4702 or Jessica@comeasyouare.biz
Baud, D., Goy, G., Osterheld, M., Croxatto, A., Borel, N., Vial, Y….Greub, G. (2014). Role of Waddlia chondrophila Placental Infection in Miscarriage. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 20(3), 460-464. https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2003.131019.