Pregnancy loss until today remains largely a taboo. We swipe this unpleasant part in our life under the rug, hoping that the woman’s body and mind will recover on their own… which often doesn’t happen. She might develop “unexplainable” pain, depression or struggle with fertility even years later. Here some suggestions about what you can do if you miscarried yourself and you still need closure about this important life event, as well as ideas on how you can support a loved one who is currently going through it.
Pregnancy loss – whether wanted or unwanted can bring an emotional rollercoaster with it. Sadly, in today’s society, many women still don’t feel it is safe to share the experience of the loss with their loved ones out of fear to be judged, criticised or to receive hurtful remarks.
Numbers vary, but it is assumed that around 20% of diagnosed pregnancies end in loss. This number does not include all the pregnancies that were not yet diagnosed or misinterpreted as a late menses.
People often think that the loss of a pregnancy is less emotionally charged if the woman is already a mother, but it can be just as painful as the loss of a first, long-awaited pregnancy. Pregnancy losses that can be especially difficult are those that came after a very long time of waiting or through IVF (in-vitro fertilization). However, any loss of a child, no matter how far into a pregnancy, remains the loss of a child.
Women who miscarried often already felt like a mother, but aren’t a mother. The loss of their child is usually not recognised by society, especially if it occurred very early in the pregnancy. She not rarely has to return to work without adequate time to recover neither physically nor emotionally.
Psychological stress before and in the early pregnancy can increase the risk for miscarriage by 42%
It is often still assumed that a woman miscarries mainly because there was something wrong with the baby and therefore Mother Nature solved the problem by not allowing this being to live. We now know, however, that psychological stress before and in the early pregnancy can increase the risk for miscarriage by 42%.
Psychological stress factors include having experienced emotional trauma in the past, current social problems, financial difficulties, arguments with her partner, but also pressure at work, large changes in daily life as well as a previous miscarriage.
This is caused by a biochemical process from the stress hormones which have an impact on the hormones that are necessary to maintain a pregnancy.
If the father is older than 35, she has a 30% higher risk to miscarry
A recent study with 5,121 women in the US demonstrated that if the father was older than 35 years old, the women experienced 30% more miscarriages than if the father was younger than 35. This was explained with wrong genetic information in the sperm which caused the embryo to develop poorly.
Scientists at the Imperial College London looked at the sperm of 50 men whose partner experienced 3 miscarriages within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy and compared it to the sperm of 60 men whose partner never miscarried. Indeed, the sperm of the first group of men had twice as much damage in their DNA as the men in the control group. Another contributing factor was previous bacterial infections in men such as chlamydia.
From a medical perspective, it is also worth checking if her thyroid is working well as an underactive thyroid (for instance Hashimoto) can impact pregnancy outcomes. The right amount and balance between the thyroid hormones TSH, T3, and T4 are necessary for the implantation of the embryo, and later for the healthy development of the placenta. Low iron storage (look at ferritin, not just haemoglobin) can be another reason why a woman miscarried as Mother Nature prioritizes the life of the mother over risking the life of both mother and the baby.
Typical emotions that a woman might experience after pregnancy loss
Many women sense they are pregnant long before it is confirmed and can perceive the subtle changes their body is already going through during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Ultrasound images make the pregnancy graphic and help the mother build an emotional attachment to the life that is forming inside her, even though it is barely visible to the eye. This is a key difference we have today compared to even just 2 generations ago.
A long-term study at the Berlin Charité found that women who miscarry in the first weeks of pregnancy often feel guilty. After the pregnancy loss, they experience symptoms of a depression which resolves over time. However, one year later, 20% of women are still depressed.
A child below 14 weeks is not yet perceived as an individual but as part of her own being. An early loss is therefore perceived as a personal failure, followed by self-doubts, guilt, and envy towards other mums. Long-term grief like after the loss of a beloved person is rather rare though.
Whether the loss was overcome and processed depends largely on the quality of her partnership, her psychological resilience, whether she has sufficient coping strategies, religious or spiritual support.
Questions about the why or reason for the early termination of the pregnancy, anxiety, depression, and PTSD are not rare, but, for the majority of people, reduce over time.
Pregnancy loss after the 20th week, physical complications, and previous miscarriages increase the risk for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and pathological grief.
If the loss is ignored and the woman “keeps it together” the grief or breakdown can come even years later.
Particularly women who were not sure whether to keep the pregnancy or not, who then decided to have the baby, and subsequently experienced a pregnancy loss can find themselves in a dark spot as they consciously decided for the baby.
The desire to have a child, become a parent, and form a family is a very deep, existential desire and cannot simply be ignored. The non-fulfilment of this desire can cause enormous emotional pain and pose a big life challenge for the individual as well as the couple. Emotional and psychological support can be helpful to let go of the trauma, fill the void, and move on with life to find fulfilment in other areas of life, away from the sole goal of pregnancy and motherhood.
The birth of a healthy baby does not resolve depression and anxiety
“The depression and anxiety experienced by many women after a miscarriage can continue for years, even after the birth of a healthy child, according to a study led by University of Rochester Medical Center researchers”.
Almost 3 years (33 months) after a pregnancy loss 13% of women still showed signs of depression. This number rises to almost 20% if the woman miscarried twice. This is important as a previous pregnancy loss is usually not taken into account when assessing if a woman is at risk of developing antenatal or postnatal depression or she develops “strange” or “unexplained” pain or physical symptoms.
Your world turns upside down
From my own experience as a therapist, typical emotions that a woman might experience are guilt, sadness, grief, emptiness, loneliness, shame, self-doubt, lack of confidence into her body, not being good enough, not worthy or not lovable enough so that the baby didn’t want to stay with her.
Since men tend to express their loss or grief differently from women it can further amplify the sensation of loss and loneliness. Even close friends, family members or medical practitioners may make painful remarks that hurt even more during this time when the woman is particularly vulnerable.
At the clinic, you may feel like you are just another number while your world is being turned upside down and your happiness is torn apart. Women who had already prepared their home for a baby and then return home not being pregnant anymore or carrying a dead baby go through an experience that may feel surreal, like being in a bad dream.
Male grief is different from female grief
Women tend to express their grief more open than men and are more likely to speak about their emotions. They are more likely to look for comfort, understanding, and help.
Men, however, rarely speak about their feelings, grief alone and hardly look for support from outside. They deal with it by looking for rational reasons, focusing on work, distracting themselves so it might not even look like they are grieving. Men are less likely to develop depression, anxiety or PTSD, but may still be asking existential questions about life or become more vigilant and cautious about the next pregnancy or existing children. Men prefer to tend to not want to be criticized for their way of grieving and suffer from not having their grief taken serious, and prefer creative or physical outlets.
Both, fathers and mothers may experience less of a connection to their next child as they might see it as a replacement of their dead child. The parents may feel pressure to always enjoy parenthood, might be more anxious about their children getting injured or fall sick, and even feel shame for not feeling happy despite having a healthy child. Not rarely does the relationship or family life suffer. Later born children may feel high pressure to perform and to not cause problems.
What you can do to help yourself process the loss
Keeping a memory of the child such as a hair curl or foot print as well as a ceremony to say goodbye can help with processing the loss.
After a pregnancy loss, it is often recommended to conduct a D & C (Dilation & Curettage) whereby the content of the uterus will be surgically removed. This usually happens very quickly after the diagnosis of miscarriage. For some women it is a relief to have the dead embryo removed, for other women this would be too much and she might be better off waiting until her body lets go of the embryo naturally – as long as no medical indication requires otherwise. For many women, the latter is physically and psychologically a better option, as long as she is under the good care of her gynaecologist. You can discuss this possibility and your options with your health care provider.
- It may help you process the loss to write a letter to your baby
- An ultrasound photo can fade, perhaps make a copy
- Do a mini-confinement to get the physical and emotional rest you need
- Have lots of soups and stews to keep warm, avoid cold or raw dishes
- Bachflower Rescue Remedy may help
How can you help as a friend or family member?
Be there and listen. Offer comfort, cook a soup or stew, help her with household chores, do groceries or run errands for her. It is ok to cry with her. Your presence alone might be comforting as maybe a hug or stroking her.
Death is part of life, as much as birth is part of life, yet most of us are uncomfortable facing the fact that our time on earth is limited. With incredible medical advances, vaccines, surgery, and a pill for almost everything that is supposed to bring us instant relief, the reality of death does not fit in anymore.
Until a few decades ago, pregnancy loss was still considered a normal part of life. Today, many people expect that medicine rules natures and are not willing to accept otherwise. The good news is that most women do get pregnant again, but may require emotional and psychological support to get pregnant or to help curb anxiety and stress during the next pregnancy.
You may have never heard about spirit babies and may think this is a little “whoo-whoo”. That’s ok. I am mentioning them here since messages from spirit babies regularly come up when I work with women who have experienced a pregnancy loss, no matter how long ago the loss happened. I have witnessed many times that these messages can be very healing.
Spirit Babies are souls that are ready to be reborn and start a new life. When a pregnancy is terminated early through miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion, the baby returns to the spirit realm. It can be very healing to know that the loss of the pregnancy was not your fault. Sometimes, a baby or very young soul might not yet be ready to face life outside the womb and may decide to go back up.
The spirit realm knows no pain or suffering. We, therefore, need a physical body to make these experiences. The soul wants to experience everything, the good, the bad, the ugly as they are part of the human experience. Some souls only want to make the experience of conception, whereas other souls may want to hang out on earth for a while in form of a pregnancy. When they have made the experience they came to make, they go back up until it is time to come back…
If you experienced a pregnancy loss, you might subconsciously hang on to this little soul which is therefore still occupying the space in your uterus, and thus may prevent another pregnancy from happening.
If we help the mother let go of the pain and suffering associated with that loss, she may be able to fall pregnant straight away, sometimes even within days of a session, which I have witnessed personally.
In this particular case, let’s call her Sally, she already had a beautiful daughter that had been conceived through IVF. Sally had been trying to conceive for 10 years and was facing strong emotional pain as her work was around childbirth. After a very emotional first session, we helped her let go of the old pain from the two miscarriages she had experienced, and within days Sally got pregnant, with not one, but two beautiful babies that were born healthy at full-term, which is rare for twins.
Working with Jennifer
Jennifer Eisenecker is a trauma-aware, German-certified naturopath who lives in Singapore. In her practice, she sees mainly women and combines natural remedies, stress management, trauma resolution, bodywork and psychic healing. She regularly treats “strange” or “unexplainable” pain, helps women to let go of trauma in their uterus to embrace and enjoy life to the fullest. She is also currently completing her training as a birth doula and has volunteered with traumatised refugee women from war-torn countries.
Her unique approach combines a very gentle, yet effective touch to the body to release emotional trauma from the physical body with a focus on women’s and reproductive health. Jennifer is highly intuitive and not rarely passes messages from your body or spirit baby. In addition to physical sessions, she is providing consultations by video and remote sessions.