Between 2.3 million and 5.4 millions miscarriages occur in the United States every year – 30 – 50% of all pregnancies. “Because it is medically common, the impact of miscarriage is often underestimated,” says Janet Jaffe, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Reproductive Psychology in San Diego and co-author of the 2010 book “Reproductive Trauma: Psychotherapy with Infertility and Pregnancy Loss Clients.” “But miscarriage is a traumatic loss, not only of the pregnancy, but of a woman’s sense of self and her hopes and dreams of the future. She has lost her ‘reproductive story,’ and it needs to be grieved.”
- Research has shown that the grief after a miscarriage is similar to the feelings we go through when a close family member or friend dies.
- Research has also shown that the grief and emotional experiences of loss are similar for women who lose pregnancy at virtually any stage and that the length of pregnancy doesn’t necessarily correlate with the depth of the grief experienced.
- Studies have shown that women with infertility have the same levels of anxiety and depression as do women with cancer, heart disease and HIV+ status. Many individuals experiencing infertility report that it is the most stressful period of their lives.
- As women experience more and more pregnancy losses, instead of being supported, she often becomes isolated; first from friends, then family, and sometimes from her partner. Such isolation can lead to unresolved grief, anxiety, and depression. Loneliness is very common for these women.
- Parents who experience pregnancy loss are often experiencing “disenfranchised grief.” This is grief which has little social recognition or where the loss has been hidden from others. The grief essentially has no voice or is not acknowledged in society. This contributes to the isolation the parents often feel. People in this situation can experience a more complicated grief process and more intense emotional reactions. Disenfranchised grief often results in poor or delayed emotional expression and the absence of mourning rituals. It may lay hidden for years, only to be triggered by later losses.
- In subsequent pregnancies, women can develop defense mechanisms that impede bonding with the baby during pregnancy and after delivery. They may experience increased anxiety. Pregnancy loss is often characterized as a traumatic event. Any time we experience trauma, nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety can follow. A pregnancy following a loss can be an anxiety-ridden and terrifying experience.
- Women often experience guilt around their loss. They may feel they have done something to cause the loss – eaten the wrong thing, exercised too hard, or perhaps didn’t “want” the baby enough. Even when rationally they know none of these things cause miscarriages, feelings of guilt can still be prevalent.
- Partners suffer too, and their grief often goes unrecognized. Husbands often feel they need to be “strong” for their wives during this time, pushing their own feelings aside. They may also grieve differently than their wives, and experience a wide range of emotions including resentment that they were not connected to the baby in ways that the mother was and frustration that there isn’t a way to fix the situation. Unprocessed grief can result in depression, feelings of isolation, and anxiety.
- Every experience of grief is unique, and the intensity can vary from person to person. There is no right or wrong way to grief, and no specific timeline to adhere to.
To read about ways to cope with this grief, click here.
Resolve.org: Coping with the Stress of Infertility
American Psychological Association: Miscarriage and Loss – Losing a pregnancy can affect women – and her family – for years, research finds
Counseling Today: Silent Sorrow
Counseling Today: Rewriting the “Rules’ of Grief
Huffington Post: The Five Stages of Grief and Other Lies That Don’t Help Anyone