Let’s Talk About Pregnancy Loss
Miscarriage and pregnancy loss is a loss that shapes you. Therapist Marni Low shares the nonlinear grief process after her pregnancy loss and explores why sharing our stories can collectively help us heal.
- Written By
- Marni Low
- Asako Masunouchi
I was nine weeks pregnant and sitting on the table in my doctor's office, the silence where a heartbeat was supposed to be was deafening. I remember responding to my girlfriends on a group chat; 'something is wrong.' I remember walking over the Williamsburg bridge with my husband later that day. We told ourselves we would only be sad for a few days; then we went for tacos. If I'm honest, I was sad but also a bit relieved. Now we realized how much we wanted a baby.
After a D&C just a few days later, I was sipping ginger ale in the recovery room when my OB told me they hadn't been able to remove all of the pregnancy tissue in surgery. She sent me directly to the radiologist who was wearing white cowboy boots with tassels. Next, they prescribed the RU 486 abortion pill.
Several days later, back at the OB, we discovered there was still pregnancy tissue in my uterus. They gave me another dose of RU 486, and this time it worked. I remember the tissue passing. Eight years later, with plenty of nights of Clomid sweats, IVF, a failed transfer, and two healthy kids - the physical part of this story is over.
But the feelings of loss remain for me to deal with. I'm lucky to have support.
Pregnancy loss is more common than most people realize. It's an unspoken loss, a disenfranchised grief that keeps you alone and isolated. On average, one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, and one in 160 ends in stillbirth. For some reason, societal silence around pregnancy loss has made it, so you rarely hear about someone else's experience until you share your own.
Each person's experience of pregnancy loss can look and feel different depending on countless factors, including what stage it occurs. You might experience a miscarriage at home, take medication, need to have a hospital procedure (D&C), or deliver your stillborn baby. You may also be forced to terminate a pregnancy due to medical or chromosomal issues. When trying to get pregnant, every period can feel like a loss, as can each failed IVF cycle. Each day the stress of falling pregnant can put pressure on you and your relationships.
It's not only the length of the pregnancy but your attachment to it that drives the deep emotional response to its loss. The entire reproductive story plays a defining role in your grief. What was it like to become pregnant? Was it easy or hard? Have there been prior losses? What did it mean to you to become a parent? What kind of parent did you hope to be? With pregnancy loss, not only are you forced to give up being pregnant but you are also forced to give up on your perceived and idealized future.
Grief is a totally natural response to losing a pregnancy. Each person may mourn differently depending on their attachment to the pregnancy and their own history and cultural context of death. Grief is a nonlinear process with no timeline. The goal in processing grief is to move to a place where your loss becomes woven into your life. Sadness will predominate for a time, and you may be changed, in some ways forever, but you will eventually be able to find joy in things you used to love.
A sudden or anticipated loss of a baby can leave you and your partner in shock and disbelief. Anger, sadness, and distress are often the first feelings to present. Guilt, shame, the belief that you failed to care for the baby, failed as a parent, or that your body failed you can lay beneath the surface. Parents often assume blame and responsibility and wonder what they could have done differently. Pregnancy loss can also take away a sense of innocence in subsequent pregnancies.
Many parents experience a loss of identity. They may question their role and wonder if they are still a parent even if they didn't give birth to a living baby. They may question how to talk about their baby and how to share their experience with others. Memorializing can be important following a loss. Like pregnancy, grief and attachment, memorialization can look different depending on one's own personal and cultural perspectives.
Pregnancy loss is physically and emotionally painful. It is a loss that shapes you, leaves a sense of unease at the core, and shakes one's sense of stability. This loss is deeply personal and may make it hard to talk about and hard for someone else to ask about. It is important to acknowledge that these conversations can be uncomfortable, and that's okay.
Pregnancy loss is incredibly isolating. In many ways, the stigma and discomfort are what keeps us from talking about pregnancy loss. Having suffered a loss, we can be made to become an emotional Sherpa for others, guiding them through the conversation, making it easier on them. An exhausting notion that by sharing your story, you absorb the other person's distress because they are unable to hold the space you need.
For those of you who want to provide miscarriage support for a friend or loved one - it's okay to not know what to say. You can't solve or take away the pain or the loss, but you can hold space - you can be there, and you don't have to say anything at all. Acknowledging the deeply personal part of this loss can allow for much-needed support.
For a grieving parent, it is important to take care of yourself first. It can be very difficult to see other pregnant women and friends falling pregnant around you may make you feel as if you are being left behind. It's okay to pass on a friend's baby shower or their child's birthday party. It's also okay to miss family gatherings.
You do not have to do this alone. Individual therapy with someone who specializes in maternal mental health can be instrumental in processing the loss. Group therapy and support groups can also be a meaningful place to connect with others for collective healing. Groups can specialize in early loss, stillbirth, late-term loss, multiple loss, partner support groups, couples support groups, and others. Online communities can also be a good way to find the help you need, though the internet can sometimes be more harmful than helpful, so it's important to tread cautiously.
Bereaved parents often feel like they are suspended in time, and it may feel like you will never be okay again. It can take time, and in some ways, you may forever be changed, but you will be okay. Telling your story to normalize this type of loss is crucial for your own healing and to shift the societal baseline around pregnancy loss. Your story is important, and there is collective healing in each telling of it. We need one more story, one more voice to help break the societal silence.
Marni Low is a NYS Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Certified Perinatal Mental Health Counselor (PMH-C) and a Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) who sees individuals and couples from all walks, and all stages of life. Her passion and speciality is pregnancy loss and Perinatal Mood Disorders (PMADS). You can find her on Instagram @marnilow.
To highlight Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month the Maisonette Community shared their br ave stories of loss.