Nothing makes us realize this more than experiencing an unexpected loss. Last year, I experienced a loss that I wasn't expecting - it was a pregnancy loss - an early one - but a loss all the same. Just a few weeks after celebrating becoming pregnant, I had an early miscarriage. I never thought it would happen to me - even though the odds of it happening to anyone are basically a 1 in 4 shot. Think about that for a second - miscarriages are so common that they happen in 1 in 4 pregnancies - not to 1 in 4 women - but in 1 of 4 pregnancies. And yet, we hear about them so little. I missed National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day earlier this month, but today is my own remembrance day.
One year ago, I lost my first pregnancy. I was devastated, and rightfully so. I have always wanted to have children, and I was sooooooooo excited to be pregnant. However, once I got through the first week of tears and sadness, I started trying to feel better and tried to take comfort in the fact that I would still have children one day. I would still experience moments of sadness, sometimes very unexpectedly, but I thought I was handling things fine and was "getting over it". About three months later, after a couple of bad days, unexplained tears, and what I wanted to chalk up to hormonal issues, I called the number of a Pregnancy Bereavement Counsellor to see if I was "normal". It was honestly one of the best things I have ever done.
So I went to speak with a woman at the hospital about how these unexpected feelings kept creeping up on me and surprising me at inopportune moments. I explained that every time I thought I was "done" mourning my loss, a few days later a new wave of grief or anger would sweep over me - even when I wasn't thinking about the pregnancy or anything baby-related. The counsellor explained to me that because we live in a relatively healthy culture and have just long life-expectancies that many people do not experience loss very often and are very unfamiliar is the impact that grief and loss can have on them over the long term. This is even more true of pregnancy loss because the loss is more ambiguous than the death of someone we have already met and loved - like a mother, father, grandfather, etc. Also, when people in our lives die, we have rituals and ceremonies to share our grief as part of a community. Families who experience early pregnancy loss often don't have these and are left to grieve without the comforts of ritual, ceremony, and community - unless they create their own.
My experience is that mourning doesn't have a beginning and an ending, we never really forget the people who leave us, but the separation does become less painful with time, and eventually we can forget the pain and just remember the joy that person brought to our lives. Once I realized that I might never be "done" greiving my lost pregnancy and I wouldn't "just get over it", I didn't get as many unexpected attacks of grief or anger. When my mind or heart wanders across the memory of my first pregnancy, I welcome whatever feelings are still there - they honour the excitement and attachment I had towards impending motherhood, but they also honour that I loved that developing embryo and all the hope and excitement it provided me - if only for a short time. And although I am excited about the impending arrival of my first child - hopefully the result of a successful/happy completion of my second pregnancy in just a few weeks, I will always remember the dream that was created and dashed with my first. My first pregnancy experience has left a mark on my heart and soul - one I will always remember.
If you have experienced a pregnancy loss and need help coping with your loss, please check with your local hospital to see if they can refer you to someone to talk to - it helped me immensely.
If you know someone who has recently experienced a pregnancy loss - here are a few helpful tips for how to help.
- Let the greiving mom express her feelings without comment and without trying to make her feel better. A shoulder to cry on, a hug, or a ear to vent into is all she needs.
- Say you are sorry for their loss - and leave it at that.
- Do not say any of the following - however well-intentioned - they are tough to hear:
"You can always try again." - Many women can go on to try again after a miscarriage, and indeed many find comfort in that idea after time. However, for someone grieving a recent loss, one baby does not replace another. Each loss needs to be dealt with individually and the woman needs to think about trying again on her own time when she is ready.
"You wouldn't want a deformed or disabled baby anyway" or "It was for the best" - Never speculate that a miscarriage was for the best. Many women feel that they would have wanted their baby no matter what. After all, when a deformed or disabled child is born, no one says “boy, I bet you wished you had miscarried.”"Everything will be fine next time." - Everyone hopes that everything will be fine in the next pregnancy, but sometimes it isn't. And no one can predict who will go on to have recurrent miscarriages. Plus, you cannot stop a women from worrying that it will happen again, even when she does concieve again. I know that even at 36 weeks pregnant, I am still worried something will go wrong."It happened because _______." - Please avoid speculating over what caused the miscarriage. No one really knows. Unless the woman pursues medical testing, which usually happens only after recurrent miscarriages, no one can say what caused the loss. And often, regardless of the reason, it doesn’t matter because the loss has already happened and we can’t change the past.