As a psychologist, I specialised in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health long before experiencing my own 16-week miscarriage. Though I felt well-informed about the glaring statistics as well as the psychological complexities of grief following pregnancy/baby loss, I didn’t have a corporeal grasp on the physical and emotional intensity until I was in the throws of it myself. The ache is indescribable. The pain, searing.
My loss was exactly 4 years ago now, and yet the details of the experience – etched into my psyche – are as vivid as if it were yesterday. My loss happened in the context of my home. I was alone. When she emerged, I let out a primal scream that echoed through the hallways and likely joined the cry of millions of women worldwide. No matter the uniqueness of our losses, we are bound by this surreal journey rendering us cracked-hearted and temporarily blindsided.
Grief is anything but linear. There is a circuitousness that can follow the loss of a pregnancy that seems to be unlike any other
Grief is anything but linear. There is a circuitousness that can follow the loss of a pregnancy that seems to be unlike any other due to its out-of-order nature. No one else knew this baby. Technically, there wasn’t even an actual relationship that took place and was lost. Yet, women who have been through this know too well that it isn’t necessarily about knowing or not knowing the baby/person that could have been. Instead, it’s about the fantasies we cook up in our minds from the moment we learn we are pregnant. We imagine. We daydream. We envision what life might look like – as a mother, as a family – and when this goes awry, it has the potential to impact myriad aspects of our lives. How could it not?! We lost something longed for. That turning point instance when we learn the pregnancy is no longer viable, we are suddenly rendered a statistic and perhaps become more keenly aware of our vulnerability than we were previously. The pain and shock are multifaceted.
“At least you know you can get pregnant” is a statement women frequently hear following loss. For countless reasons, this may not be a heartening thing to hear because it doesn’t adequately address just how complicated pregnancy and loss can be. She wanted THIS pregnancy to work out, and knowing she can get pregnant is something she is already aware of. Additionally, just because she was able to get pregnant does not provide evidence that she will in fact carry a baby to term. This pregnancy ended, therefore alarm bells might be ringing in her ears about what the reproductive future holds.
What most grievers long for most is simple sentiments like, “I’m deeply sorry for your loss. I am here for you.”
It is common for people to be stymied when it comes to finding the “right” words in the aftermath of loss. Though well-meaning, loved ones often get tripped up when faced with pregnancy loss condolences. I had heard about this a lot in my private practice, but until I was in it, I didn’t quite get just how challenging this part of loss can be. What most grievers long for most is simple sentiments like, “I’m deeply sorry for your loss. I am here for you.” Being consistent in communicating this message can make all the difference. Grief knows no timeline so it can be incredibly reassuring when support continues to pour in even months after loss.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, leaning into grief might just be the very antidote to drowning in it. The more we try to stave it off, the longer it clings on because emotional pain tends to do this. No amount of distraction, busy-ness, or denial of one’s feelings can make this grief go away for good. Conversely, if we shine light on our internal darkness, the grip loosens and we can find ourselves moving toward a more robust and centered place in our lives once again. Shoring up self-compassion is another essential ingredient during this nascent transition. Honoring heartache through self-care and being emotionally gentle with ourselves is the ultimate way to grieve while also remembering our inherent capacity for resilience.
Jessica Zucker, Ph.D. is a psychologist and writer based in Los Angeles, California. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, anthologies, among others. She is also curating a series about loss on Instagram: Stories from around the world. Feel free to submit your story @IHadAMiscarriage.