Miscarriage is commonly dismissed as the 'loss of a pregnancy'. For happily expectant parents, miscarriage is the loss of their baby. It represents a loss of parents' hopes, dreams, and future plans. For many people, the idea of parenthood is conceived some time in their early lives. Although the timing of these inklings differ for different people, there are unconscious stories people amass as they themselves were parented, and as their developing selves evolve over time. A kind of knowing that one day, they too will become parents. For some people, an opportunity to rectify or better the less-than-ideal parenting they received.
Often the work lives and the intimate relationships of hopeful parents have come to a point where there is an existential readiness for children. A baby becomes nurtured in their minds. The woman's body is primed to create and protect a precious new life.
Once pregnant, a woman (and couple) typically begin to imagine their new lives. Anchored by the due date of their baby and alongside the lifestyle sacrifices made for optimal gestation, they begin to integrate their baby into their decision-making, into their future plans, into their homes, and into their families. Once announced, the broader family narrative may begin to incorporate the baby.
When a pregnancy ends in miscarriage, the physical and emotional ramifications can be devastating. The baby conceived of in body and mind, has died. The process of miscarrying can be painful, protracted and traumatic. The woman may have felt or seen her tiny baby, and she may regret where her baby ended up. Most people are unaware of what a woman might have experienced in the midst of miscarrying, and may have no idea about the depths of her grief over the loss of her child.
When miscarriage happens repeatedly, hopes are raised and dashed time and time again. The accumulation of loss and grief can be crippling, with plummeting self-worth, and for some women, increased self-blame, hopelessness and depression.
Women often remark that they observe other women seemingly 'popping out' babies with little effort. Pregnancy and babies everywhere. There is no escape from the enthusiastic pregnancy and birth announcements. And even worse, the unplanned, 'surprise' pregnancies that can engender a silent rage in the bereaved parent, who is acutely aware of the inequities of parenthood.
How easy it seems for others. How alone the woman feels. So desperately wanting to settle into the next phase of life. Wanting what everyone else seems to have. Feeling guilty for her envy. Avoiding her usual supporters, for fear of her inability to conceal her grief. Questioning what she is doing wrong, and why this is happening to her.
The staggering truth is that at least one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. The sad reality is that many women don't talk about it. The secrecy surrounding miscarriage is in part due to the convergence of women's perceived shame (as if in some way it is their fault), and society's minimisation of the loss not being as valid as the loss of a living child.
As a result, isolation can accompany the pits of grief, maintaining the illusion that other women and couples - seemingly unaffected by loss - conceive easily, and give birth to healthy babies. This misguided belief ultimately reinforces the perceived shame, and renders the bereaved parent alone in their mourning, believing that no one really understands what they are going through.
Interestingly, when women open up about miscarriage, they are often surprised, and comforted by the number of other women who have also experienced loss. Women can find some solace in online support groups, but the supportive nature of these groups is time limited, as people's situations change.
Miscarriage brings emotional implications for subsequent pregnancies. Although relieved to be pregnant, the woman no longer feels the unbridled joy she may have once felt. Instead, there can be questions, doubts, fears and anxieties. Thoughts and feelings that need to be managed, milestones that need to be passed, uncertainty that needs to be endured, and hopes and dreams that need to be quelled.
This is the devastation of miscarriage.
If you are reading this because you have experienced miscarriage, we are so sorry for your loss.
If you are interesting in supporting research into miscarriage, find out more here.
Written by Dr Renée Miller
Principal Perinatal Clinical Psychologist
Perinatal Loss Educator
Co-founder The Perinatal Loss Centre, Melbourne, Australia
Founder Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network, Melbourne, Australia