Pregnancy loss is often experienced alone, but to move forward, women need helping hands.
About 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. The vast majority (about 80 percent) of losses occur early in a pregnancy—sometimes before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. But later losses and stillbirths happen, too, as in the case of Chrissy Teigen’s recent loss.
No matter when they happen, a loss can be devastating. “Not only can a miscarriage be traumatic physically and emotionally, but it also represents abstract losses that others may overlook or not understand,” explains Catharine McDonald, MS, LPC, a licensed professional counselor in Glastonbury, CT. You can mourn everything from your ideal family planning timeline to the loss of a baby who already had a name.
Worse, it’s not uncommon for women experiencing miscarriage to work through part or all of their loss, often cramping and bleeding while no one around them has any idea what’s going on, says McDonald. And traditionally, women have not gotten support from those they need it from the most, adds Ann Smith, CNM, a support coordinator for Postpartum Support International in New York City, a nurse-midwife, and women’s health nurse practitioner.
In part, that could be because traditionally women also don’t share the news of a pregnancy until they are past the 12-week mark—and most miscarriages occur before 12 weeks.
Because most miscarriages are also not medical emergencies, Smith notes that too often, medical providers don’t provide appropriate support. “We have a very complicated attitude toward death in the United States,” she says.
But if you’ve experienced loss, the right support can help you move forward, find closure, and process your experience. Here, how to find it.
Confide in a trusted loved one
While everyone grieves differently, sharing with even one supportive family member or friend can make a big difference in how you experience a loss and move forward, she says. “Your network cannot support you if no one knows what’s happening,” reminds McDonald. If you do share, be direct and clear about what you need.
After all, minimization and invalidation—whether intentional or accidental—is a common type of attempted support that isn’t always helpful, notes McDonald. (This might look like well-meaning friends, family, and even healthcare providers using “at least” statements, suggesting you’ll get pregnant again, or telling you it wasn’t the right time.) “Statements such as these minimize the baby who was often wanted, disregard the loss itself, and overlook what the loss meant to the individual or couple,” says McDonald.
What you need instead: acknowledgment (by your healthcare providers, family, and friends) and validation (that your grief is valid).
To help your support system help you, try to speak up about your needs. You could say something like, “I just need to talk about it, can you be there to listen?” Or, if you need distraction and normalcy, try something like, “Can we spend some quality time together and not-discuss my loss? I’m sad and need to feel like myself.”
Consider a support group
A facilitated support group (Postpartum Support International has free groups dedicated to pregnancy and infant loss) can help you make progress in understanding your loss and moving forward, explains Smith.
The peer support is important (you can connect with other women who are going through a similar experience), but in a facilitated group, you’ll also have guidance from a trained professional.
Seek out professional help
A trained professional can help provide tremendous support if you’re going through a loss. The trick? Finding someone who has formal training in the physical and emotional nuances of pregnancy loss and the magnitude of grief and pain that can accompany miscarriage, says McDonald.
Postpartum Support International, for one, has a directory of mental health professionals trained in the perinatal period.
“Supportive professional and peer support can help individuals or a couple grieve and heal. This kind of support can also provide physical and emotional support going into a subsequent pregnancy, fertility treatments, or in making decisions about family-planning next steps,” says McDonald.