The Silent Loss
How to help yourself heal after a miscarriage
Few women begin pregnancy thinking it's going to end in a loss. But unfortunately, miscarriages do happen—up to 15 percent of women under the age of 35 will suffer such a loss. If you're one of the unlucky ones, it's important to realize that you're not alone and that your chances of having a healthy pregnancy in the future are very good. But first, you need to mourn the baby you've lost.
According to Denise Côté-Arsenault, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Rochester School of Nursing in Rochester, N.Y., some women see a miscarried pregnancy as something that just wasn't meant to be, and they are able to move on fairly easily. "But for many women, it's very, very difficult," says Côté-Arsenault, who has done extensive research on the subject. "Your view of pregnancy—of the world in general—changes. You lose your innocence while gaining an increased sense of vulnerability. You become more aware that bad things can happen, that life doesn't necessarily play out as you'd planned.
"The issue is more than just, 'Can I have a baby?'" she adds. "Your whole self-concept, your place in the world, what it means to be a woman, a mother—they all come into question." Adding to the difficulty is the fact that as a culture, we aren't comfortable acknowledging—and thus mourning—these losses. "In other cultures where miscarriage is recognized, where there are rituals such as naming the baby or having a ceremony to mark its passing, it's much easier because you can talk about it and get support," Côté-Arsenault explains.
In addition to being stunned by the depth of their sadness, many women—and their spouses—are blindsided when problems erupt in their relationship. It's very common, Côté-Arsenault says, for couples to experience discord after a miscarriage. While complicated, the dynamic often centers on two things: disparate coping mechanisms and lack of communication. "Men and women grieve differently," she explains. "Men tend to close up and mourn quietly, while women like to work through their feelings and talk things through.
"If a man doesn't want to talk, or if he seems 'normal' again too quickly, the woman often interprets this as not caring about the baby or what she's going through. In truth, he's hurting just as much as she is, but he's dealing with it differently." Men want to support their wives but are afraid to talk out of fear of making their spouses hurt more, Côté-Arsenault adds: "They're desperately afraid of their wives' despair, that they'll make it worse by talking about it."
So how do you get past this? As simple as it sounds, you need to talk about it—about the loss, your feelings, your fears, the future. "If you don't have good communication, it leads to feelings of disconnect," she explains. "You need to keep exploring each other's feelings." So encourage your husband to talk—and assure him that it's OK if you cry.
You also need to keep in mind that your husband is hurting just as much as you are—maybe even more, because he sees your pain and wants to fix it. "Men must not be forgotten," Côté-Arsenault says. "They're grieving, they're hurt—but in a different way."