By Mary-Beth Gibson
My husband and I have experienced three miscarriages, two in 2014 and one in 2017. Between those losses, our son, now almost two years old, made his miraculous appearance, and I am currently in the third trimester of my fifth pregnancy.
Before experiencing miscarriage, I knew that it was a sad and terrible thing that some people had to go through. I even knew friends and family members who had had one or more. I felt deep sympathy for them, and I knew those loses had altered them, but I was just barely aware of it. It wasn’t the sort of thing I considered when talking to them on a day-to-day basis. Only now am I aware that it was always there for them. Perhaps not at the forefront of their mind, but most certainly a constant presence in the background, informing their thoughts and decisions.
When miscarriage became part of my own story, it was as if a secret world opened up. Family and friends were suddenly sharing stories of loss with us, and I learned how common it really is. Well meaning people, even those closest to us, attempted to provide support and encouragement, and only then did I realize how often I had inadvertently offered hollow reassurances and trite words in the past.
I wished I had known more about miscarriage and how to support those going through it. After our second loss I decided to do more research on miscarriage. I had faithfully documented my stories of loss, and I was open about them with people, but part of me felt that my being open about miscarriage still wasn’t enough to educate and gently walk others through what miscarriage is, how often it happens, and how to offer support to those going through it.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month in the United States, and October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, and the Australian states of Western Australia and New South Wales.
The information I present below is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start if you know anyone who is currently experiencing a miscarriage or who has experienced one in the past.
Some Facts About Miscarriage
- It is estimated that 25% of pregnancies or more result in miscarriage. Because not all pregnancies are discovered before a loss occurs it’s impossible to have a more exact number, but roughly 1 in 4 women have experienced or will experience the loss of a pregnancy in their lifetime.
- For healthy women whose bodies are not experiencing some form of physical abuse (i.e. drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, invasive medical treatments) miscarriage cannot be prevented or stopped. These women are not responsible for their losses. Lifestyle changes can be made, medications can be suspended or started, hormone supplements can be given, but none of these things can ever guarantee that a pregnancy will result in a child earth-side.
- Miscarriage is a process, not a single event. Miscarriage is, of course, a cause for grief in many who experience it, and grief is a long and difficult emotional process; miscarriage is also, however, a drawn out physical process. A woman’s body usually takes weeks, and sometimes months, to return to a “normal” state following a pregnancy loss. Her body will experience any number of tumultuous things, including intense physical pain and uncontrollable hormone shifts. She will be subject to medical care for weeks afterward, such as regular lab work or invasive medical procedures. If she has told you about her miscarriage within a couple weeks of her initial symptoms, her body is mostly likely still adjusting and changing.
Common Emotions of Those Experiencing Miscarriage
- Grief. Loss is heartbreaking. From the moment a woman learns she is pregnant, she imagines her future changing forever. Her outlook on life changes in an instant, and even if she miscarries the next day, her grief is real and devastating. She grieves not only the small life that will never be, but also the entire future she imagined for herself, her family, and that child. It is no small thing.
- Relief. Even for those who planned their pregnancies, change can be overwhelming and terrifying. For some women an emotion like relief lives right next to the grief, and while not all women will feel this during a loss it does not make those who feel it bad people. It makes them human beings.
- Isolation/Exclusion. For many women, miscarriage feels like being banned from a club. Her excitement about being pregnant at the same time as her friends is gone. If she doesn’t have living children yet she’s often not thought of or included in conversations about pregnancy, childbearing, or parenting. But this doesn’t mean the woman who miscarried doesn’t know what pregnancy feels like. This doesn’t mean the woman who had a stillbirth has never experienced labor. This doesn’t mean the woman whose infant daughter passed after a few weeks of life knows nothing about parenting.
How to Offer Practical Support
- Lighten her load. This is the easiest way to help those experiencing miscarriage, and it’s not limited to family or close friends. Offer to be her sub for the nursery at church that week. Do Tuesday’s filing for her at work. Give her a home cooked meal or a gift card so she doesn’t have to think about food one night this week. These small gestures show that you care without requiring a lot of emotional investment on your part, making them ideal things for acquaintances, co-workers, or neighbors to offer.
- Protect her relationships. The emotional cost of miscarriage is often high, and the bill usually comes due at the expense of a woman’s closest relationships—most often a spouse or partner. Being sensitive to this can go a long way. As much as you can, speak positively about her spouse. Focus the conversation on her own thoughts and feelings rather than heaping blame on another person.
- Say, “I’m so sorry.” And nothing else. Unless you yourself have been in the same situation the best words you can offer are those three. If never feels like enough, but, honestly, nothing is ever enough for someone in grief but knowing someone is there to listen when needed, can mean a lot.
On October 15 those who wish to will participate in the Wave of Light. At 7:00 p.m. they will light a candle for one hour, no matter where they are in the world. This way, there will be a continuous wave of light around the world for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Whether you have experienced this loss or simply wish to remember with those who have, know that people all over the world are lighting a candle tonight.
Mary Beth Gibson graduated from Wichita State University in 2007 with a BA in Creative Writing and blogs at Bright Sycamore. She enjoys most things natural, but with a healthy dose of practicality and affordability. You can most likely find her wearing her toddler around Target as she hunts for great deals in the dollar bins. She lives in Kansas with her husband and 1-year old son.
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