Miscarriage can feel like a hugely negative and heartbreaking experience for the many women who go through it. But is there ever a silver lining to pregnancy loss?
I had five miscarriages before I was eventually able to give birth to my son. After every one, my feelings were slightly different, from the unexpected devastation of the first to the overwhelming mournfulness of my 17 week loss. But having come out the other side of this terrible period in my life, I can look back and see how it's changed me, in many ways for the better. While I would never have wanted to go through it, I believe it has made me a stronger person. If you've just experienced a miscarriage that might sound crazy, but I talked to some experts who explained how miscarriage can actually have an "upside."
It makes you take less for granted
No one feels the loss of a pregnancy exactly the same way. "The reactions to experiencing a miscarriage can vary widely, ranging from fear of future pregnancies resulting in recurrent miscarriages and avoiding pregnancy, to alternatively attempting to become pregnant right away," Diane Ashton, M.D., M.P.H., an OBYGN and deputy medical director of the March of Dimes, tells Fit Pregnancy. But there may be one thing that most women who've experienced miscarriage have in common: "The sad truth is, nearly all women ask themselves if the miscarriage was their fault—it definitely wasn't—and feel their body failed," Chandrama Anderson, M.A., M.F.T., a relationship counselor and owner of Connect2 Marriage Counseling in Palo Alto, Calif., tells Fit Pregnancy.
You've probably already been told that miscarriage is common (Ashton says one-third of pregnancies end in loss), and that the majority of women will go on to conceive healthy babies. "Most 1st trimester losses are due to genetic factors, which are unlikely to occur again," Ashton says. While that may be true, pregnancy after miscarriage is often accompanied by more anxiety than the blissful ignorance of the one that was lost. "Nearly all the women that I have worked with who have had a previous pregnancy loss suffer from intense anxiety with a subsequent pregnancy," Janet Jaffe, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and director of the Center for Reproductive Psychology in San Diego, tells Fit Pregnancy. "The dates of previous miscarriages play a large role—if a woman miscarried at 10 weeks, for example, she may start to relax a little after the 10-week mark. Often women will be overly cautious and hyper-concerned with what they should or should not eat or the activities they should or should not do." Even women who don't feel a lot of anxiety with their next pregnancy may still experience it differently than their first. "Many women feel relief and joy to be pregnant again, if perhaps tinged with a bit of a 'let's wait and see' attitude," Anderson says.
Because of this sense of uncertainty, women who've experienced miscarriage are unlikely to take future pregnancies for granted, and have a new respect for what our bodies can do. "There is a lot of healing that takes place with subsequent successful pregnancies," Jaffe says. "The despair over the 'normal' course of life that had been disrupted, along with feeling betrayed by one's body, can dissipate with time. Giving birth after a pregnancy loss can build self-esteem: Women feel as if their body is able to do what it is supposed to do. They feel capable once again, they feel they can join the club from which they previously had felt rejected, and they may feel more appreciative of parenting than they would have."
But feeling super grateful for a healthy pregnancy can mean women who've experienced a prior loss don't believe they should gripe about the current changes in their body. "They may feel that they are not allowed to complain—as if grumbling about feeling sick might jinx the pregnancy," Jaffe says. "Knowing what is normal and to be expected is essential; giving permission to complain validates and normalizes the experience." Anderson adds that feeling at liberty to vent might actually be a sign of healing. "Being able to complain about pregnancy symptoms like any other woman is a freedom that indicates having worked through the miscarriage," she says.
It can make your relationship stronger
A miscarriage can take a toll on your marriage—but ultimately, can make it stronger. "One large national study in the U.S. published in Pediatrics in 2010 found that parental relationships were more likely to dissolve after a miscarriage or stillbirth compared to a live birth," Ashton says. This divide is often the result of each partner experiencing the loss differently. "If they do not understand the unique ways in which each is dealing with the loss, friction between them may develop," Jaffe says. So how can you find common ground with your partner? First, recognize that you might not look at the miscarriage in the same way. "Often women feel they've lost a baby, and therefore the entire future without the eventual adult child. Men often think of miscarriage as a setback in the process of having a family; they may not feel it as the loss of a baby," Anderson says. "Neither is right or wrong. Honor your partner's view with compassion, and put yourself in each other's shoes."
Then, take time to concentrate on your relationship. "Focus on building deeper intimacy as a couple as a result of this shared loss," Anderson says. "To ensure that a miscarriage brings you closer, rededicate your love for each other. Do more couple activities before becoming parents." Finally, it might help to talk to a couples therapist if you're having trouble communicating. "It is important to take the time as a couple to process the loss, and that can include counseling which is very helpful for many couples," Ashton says. No matter which approach works for you, making an effort to reconnect can help you and your partner band together following the loss. "Many couples find that dealing with this crisis actually brings them closer," Jaffe says. "They may feel like soldiers at war, battling the enemy, so to speak, as one."
It gives you better awareness of others
Couples used to hide their pregnancies in the first trimester out of fear of having to reveal a potential miscarriage. But with Mark Zuckerberg and vloggers Sam and Nia recently opening up about their losses, we're changing our views of when it's OK to talk about it—which is the first step toward positive healing. "Talking about it with other people will let it be real. It did happen, and that helps normalize your experience," Anderson says. "Since miscarriage is often the hidden grief, it can be very powerful to tell others about it. Women will likely find out many of their friends and colleagues have had a miscarriage. While men rarely talk about emotional things, they will likely find other men who have been through it. Talking helps build community and helps couples feel less isolated." Plus, hearing your story may help others deal—and that is empowering for you as well. "You may have an increased sensitivity and awareness of others who have experienced losses, and a desire to nurture and help them," Jaffe says.
As with most loss, experiencing miscarriage may make you more grateful for the good things in your life as you heal over time. "There may be an overall greater appreciation for life, a more profound sense of not-taking-things-for-granted, and not sweating the small stuff," Jaffe says. "Additionally, because the very foundations of a woman's sense of self are shaken, she may become more conscious of the positive aspects of her life." And any child conceived after miscarriage will most certainly be cherished. "When you get pregnant again, enjoy it with your heart and soul," Anderson says.