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 recognized 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
Jennifer Eisenecker is an ex-banker, German-certified naturopath, and business owner. Knowing how limited time and mind space often are, her recommendations are practical, easy to follow, and as simple as possible.
Jennifer’s multi-disciplinary approach involves going back to basics, looking at health from a trauma-aware perspective, and achieving health by calming down the nervous system to optimize your body’s innate ability to rebalance itself. She loves herbs and natural remedies.