"At least you can get pregnant." "At least it was early."
"At least you're young and have plenty of time to try again."
Though these types of comments are usually well meaning, they can be very hurtful to someone who has felt the devastation of losing a pregnancy, a baby, a dream of a growing family. It can feel as though others don't understand the depth of your loss, or don't believe you are entitled to the grief you feel. There is no right way to feel after a pregnancy loss, but there is no question that it is felt as a significant loss to many, and processing the experience emotionally is important. It is crucial that you know it is okay to grieve. It is healthy to experience your feelings. Below are some tips that may help you as you navigate your healing:
Recognize That This is Not Your Fault
In trying to make sense of something that usually has no specific known cause, women often look for answers, come up empty handed and ultimately turn to blaming themselves. It can be hard not to let a constant loop of possible explanations dominate your thoughts.
"Was it that third glass of wine before I found out I was pregnant? Was I working too hard? Not sleeping enough? I knew my eating habits weren't what they should be."
But know this. As published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, this survey states that feelings of guilt and shame are common after a miscarriage, and though there are widespread misconceptions about miscarriage cause (lifestyle choices, stressful events), actually 60 percent of miscarriages are caused by a genetic problem – abnormal chromosomes. Other established causes include structural abnormalities of the uterus, endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism, and autoimmune disorders such as anti-thyroid antibodies. But most are just genetic flukes. Getting away from self blame is critical in finding healing. It is not your fault.
Let Go of Control
Many successful people are solutions oriented, but sometimes people can end up using this type of thinking as a coping mechanism to their detriment. There is an illusion that every problem has a cause, and as soon as that is teased out something can be done about it. The root will be uncovered, and the undesirable result prevented. Unfortunately, though we know that abnormal chromosomes are most often the cause of miscarriage, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), 10-25% of clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage, and there typically isn't anything to be "done" about it. In most cases the healthy development of a fetus is out of everyone's hands. Focusing on acting instead of feeling not only wastes energy, but jeopardizes your ability to truly process your feelings and move forward.
Realize Just Because it's Common Doesn't Mean it's 'Okay'
Some people equate "common" with "normal", and assume that since miscarriage is so common, that it isn't or shouldn't be a 'big deal' to the parents who lost the pregnancy. This couldn't be further from the truth. While some may take some comfort in knowing that it probably isn't a rare problem with them specifically that caused the miscarriage, others may feel worse knowing that as many as 1 in 4 pregnancies end this way and there may not be anything they can do about it. It is completely natural to feel sadness and anger that you had to experience this loss, even if it does happen more than anyone would like.
Just as well meaning people tend to say things like "at least it was early", some who have experienced pregnancy loss will say things like this to themselves.
"It could have been so much worse... At least my baby wasn't born still. At least I didn't have a baby who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. At least I didn't have a baby die of SIDS."
It may be helpful for some to try and see the "positives", but it could also be harmful in a way to compare your trauma to someone else's. Trauma is trauma, and though it varies widely by person and experience, the fact is that it is very real. It could always be worse, but just because you may not have experienced what you imagine would be the worst case scenario, doesn't mean that what you have experienced is any less painful. Give yourself permission to feel how you feel.
Look to the Future and Acknowledge Your Courage
Looking to the future doesn't mean you will forget the past, but that you will find a way to process your feelings and keep moving forward with courage. Whether this means you will muster up the fortitude to try again, or that you have the wisdom to decide that your pregnancy journey is over, you are courageous. Whatever your next step is, making room to reflect on your feelings and your needs is a journey of self discovery and personal growth, and should be honored. Your story isn't over, and my hope is that you find peace and joy in whatever your future holds.
Written by Angie Traska of Align Doula Services, providing intuitive, attentive doula support that aligns with you. Looking for doula support or lactation counseling in the Madison area? Contact me here.