We’re Not Socialized To Talk About Miscarriage Or Pregnancy Loss, Which Leads To Many Misconceptions
When I see patients who have experienced miscarriage or pregnancy loss, I’m often the first person with whom they’ve really unpacked their experiences. In our culture as a whole, we’re not socialized to talk about pregnancy loss or miscarriage. When we’re taught not to talk about it, we don’t, and when we don’t talk about it, we pack up these feelings, which can come out physically and emotionally in our relationships.
Because women and their families’ needs after miscarriage or pregnancy loss go underserved (a significant motivation for Tribeca Maternity’s founding), I was excited to participate in an episode of Nicole Katz’s show Off the Mat that focused on misconceptions around miscarriage (watch the episode in full here). I appeared alongside two women, Amanda and Jack, who powerfully detailed their own experiences of miscarriage and pregnancy loss. They also shared what they learned that can go unspoken, including the time of the recovery, how women need to be their own advocates with doctors and providers, and the anxiety of navigating how others react to your pregnancy loss.
As illustrated by Amanda and Jack’s stories, everyone’s miscarriage and pregnancy loss is different. Without space to talk about these experiences, as I said on the show, “within therapy, within family systems, within communities, and within friendships,” many unknowns remain for women, their partners, and their families. To extend the episode’s goal of normalizing the experiences of miscarriage and pregnancy loss, I want to expand on some of the ideas brought up in the episode to continue the conversation.
Grieving A Miscarriage Or Pregnancy Loss Is Not Inconsequential, It’s A Complicated Loss
Though present through the vulnerability in how Amanda and Jack spoke of their experiences, one thing that wasn’t discussed explicitly was the complexity of grieving a miscarriage or pregnancy loss. Because society sees pregnancy loss as taboo, we so often don’t allow women and their families to look at miscarriage or pregnancy loss as a loss. It gets passed over as inconsequential grief. Beyond the loss of the pregnancy itself, women also have to grapple with the fact that the experience was out of their control and that so much is taken away in the process. Frequently women and their families feel as if they should get over it quickly since it wasn’t a person they knew and tend to minimize their own loss by saying: “I was only six weeks,” “I hadn’t even heard a heartbeat yet,” or “This happens all the time.” However, it’s a loss because it feels like a loss to you.
During maternity, we usually support women to be happy and hopeful, but we frequently don’t support them in grief, pain, and loss. Jack noted specifically that many people tried to assign to her the feeling that her pregnancy loss happened for a bigger reason, which perhaps unintentionally invalidated her grief. She noted, “Sometimes there’s not a reason why things happen…sometimes bodies fail and science fails.” It will get better as you process and accept the loss and grief, not simply because you get pregnant again.
Rather than passing over the loss, grieving–and allowing yourself to feel all the stages of grief–is how to get to acceptance. Grief is about feeling the sadness, shock, anger, and bewilderment to be able to accept what that loss means to that person, family, and partnership. Sometimes this means talking a ton. Other times it’s taking quiet moments to be with yourself or with your family, partner, or pet to actually feel. And yet other times, it’s recounting and unpacking the experience in therapy. But, the most important step is to not block what this loss means for, to, and about you.
A Miscarriage Or Pregnancy Loss Becomes A Part Of A Family’s Story: Partners Also Need To Grieve
Partners too need space to grieve. On Off the Mat, Jack briefly mentioned that spouses don’t get nearly enough support in their grief. She’s right–grieving a miscarriage or pregnancy loss often gets put on the person that’s pregnant, but it affects the whole family. The loss becomes woven into a family’s story and includes what the pregnancy meant to that partner, their history, what they imagined their family to be, and what anxiety it creates when they try again. It can also be woven into the relationship, especially around sex. It might be hard for sex to feel safe or fun after a pregnancy loss, and you may also have to wait in order to heal physically. This can deepen the loss, as well as shift the way a couple finds comfort, connection, and power.
Couples need to acknowledge and grieve the loss together. Not talking about it can make these feelings come out as resentment, especially if one partner feels as if they’re processing the grief alone. It can also come out in anger or hiding feelings as partners try to move forward.
Above all, what’s needed around miscarriage and pregnancy loss is curiosity about the pain and avoiding assuming how someone feels about their loss or grief. It’s okay to sit with the pain and honor it. Societally, we’re not always good with that. In our larger culture, by speaking about miscarriage and pregnancy loss more and naming it, it becomes more and more normalized. And in this way, we could support women and families to grieve miscarriages or pregnancy losses not only within relationships and friendships, but within a larger community.