Coping with Miscarriage
Miscarriage is common, but that knowledge may be cold comfort if you’re coping with a recent loss. In fact, many women are surprised by the intensity of their emotions after a miscarriage. The feelings can run from shock and sadness to irrational guilt and anxiety about future pregnancies. Men, too, may struggle with feelings of loss and inadequacy. This is especially true if they’re unsure about how to help their partner through this difficult period.
Such feelings are perfectly normal. The emotional healing process after a miscarriage may take some time. It often takes much longer than the physical healing takes. Allowing yourself to grieve the loss can actually help you come to terms with it in the long run.
Dealing with feelings
Technically speaking, a miscarriage is a pregnancy lost before 20 weeks. Unfortunately, 15 to 20 percent of known or diagnosed pregnancies miscarry, most before 12 weeks gestation. Most miscarriages are caused by a genetic abnormality that keeps the fetus from developing normally. Everyday activities, such as exercising, working, and having sex, don’t cause miscarriages. Yet many women still blame themselves.
In the weeks after a miscarriage, many women experience a roller coaster of emotions. At the same time, a woman who has just miscarried is going through hormonal shifts as her body readjusts to not being pregnant. Her changing hormones may intensify the emotions she’s feeling.
Grieving your loss
Unfortunately, some family and friends tell women that they shouldn’t feel such a sense of loss. This attitude is particularly common when the miscarriage occurs early in pregnancy, as most do. But an early loss isn’t necessarily easier to handle than one later in pregnancy. Even if a woman was pregnant for only a short time, her pregnancy may have been planned for years.
If you’re a woman who has been through a miscarriage, remember that your feelings are normal. Remember also that some women are hit harder than others. Allow yourself to experience the grieving process in your own way and at your own pace. It's common to feel fine one day and terrible the next.
Sharing and comparing experiences with other women who have been through the same thing is often reassuring. You may be surprised to find out how many women have experienced miscarriage. Joining a support group may help. If your feelings start to interfere with your ability to get along in daily life, or if your sadness doesn’t lessen after a couple of months, talk with your health care provider. You might benefit from a referral to a mental health counselor or therapist.
Coping as a couple
Men and women typically respond to a miscarriage differently. Often, men shift into problem-solving mode when faced with a crisis. They may end up feeling helpless and inadequate when they aren’t able to “fix” their partner’s grief. Miscommunication is also a common problem. Often, a man sees his partner cry when he talks about the baby, so he learns not to bring up the subject. And because he doesn't bring it up, the woman might feel he doesn't care, when he really does.
To help counter the effects of a miscarriage on couples’ relationships, experts advise men to show how much they care and to open up and share their feelings. For example, they can watch the other children, do the dishes, or take their partner out for a special dinner.
Ready to try again?
A common question many women have after a miscarriage is when they’ll be able to try again. Ask your health care provider what’s best for you. In general, the first menstrual period occurs 4 to 6 weeks after a miscarriage. Although in the past, women were always told to wait 2 to 3 months before trying again, studies have shown that it's usually safe to conceive after one normal menstrual cycle. At times, though, you might be advised to have medical tests first to determine the cause of your miscarriage. Also, your emotions may need a little more healing time than your body. It’s best to wait until you’re ready physically and emotionally before getting pregnant again.
Fears about suffering another pregnancy loss are common after a miscarriage. The reality is that most women who miscarry go on to have a healthy pregnancy the next time around. Don’t hesitate to talk with your health care provider about any concerns you may have. Your support network comes in handy now, too, especially if it includes women who’ve had successful pregnancies after a loss.
- MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
- Trevino, Healther, M., BSN, RNC