pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. Pregnancy loss occurs in one of
every four pregnancies, though is still not often spoken about. Having experienced
two miscarriages myself, I can attest to the toll pregnancy loss takes on the
body. Unlike how miscarriages are portrayed in the movies, where the character is rushed to the hospital and the scene ends in 10 seconds, a miscarriage can take weeks to complete. Not only can the physical pain be paralyzing, but the emotional pain is equally as immobilizing.
Recent research is revealing that experiencing a miscarriage can cause PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Dr. John Mayer claims, “Miscarriage is an extreme trauma…breaking that trauma down even further, it is physical, emotional, and social” (Mayer, 2016 as cited in Miller, 2016). I agree miscarriage is a multi-layered, complex trauma. Levine (1997) describes PTSD symptoms as “fundamentally, incomplete physiological response suspended in fear” (p. 34). How do we begin to heal when we are feeling suspended, frozen, or trapped within our own bodies? In my experience, healing begins by moving through the pain and fear.
Unfortunately, pregnancy loss and infant loss is still a taboo subject. As a society, we find it difficult to talk about death, especially the death of a child. The societal norm of minimizing pregnancy loss contributes to the lack of movement required in healing. After my first miscarriage, I had no idea what to do with myself. I was in complete shock and felt numb, yet I went to work and carried on with life because I thought I was “supposed” to. In reality, I was experiencing many symptoms other women experience during pregnancy loss:
- lack of concentration
- lack of interest in daily activities
- loss of appetite
- low mood/depression
Miscarriage is hollowing – physically, emotionally, and socially.
The journey to healing has no timeline, nor is it linear. A realistic depiction of healing looks more like a rollercoaster – it goes up, down, around, upside-down, and starts again. Finding healing may be fast or it may be slow. Healing is not linear. Here are a few things I found helpful:
Finding Physical Movement
Though it may be difficult to get physically moving, no movement is too small. While we may think of movement as a large gesture, movement can be as simple as breathing, talking, or writing.
Breathing may sound simple, but when we are in the midst of processing emotions, we often “forget” to breathe. The parasympathetic division of our nervous system helps slow our heart rate and allows the body to rest and heal. One way to activate the parasympathetic system is by intentionally extending your exhale. Box breathing is a technique I have used.
Taking breath-work one step further, you can intentionally send your breath to places in your body that may require breath (ie. ribs, shoulders, or specific organs). When I visualized my breath travelling through my body, the movement of breath is accentuated and tension begins to melt.
Sharing my story was by far the best way to create movement for my grief. Whether it was with friends or my care team, speaking about my experience helped me move through the pain and the fear I embodied. Sometimes it felt as if I was moving backwards, but moving was better than feeling stuck.
Finding Emotional Movement
By allowing myself to talk about the miscarriages, all the emotions associated with the losses were free. I no longer had to suppress my feelings to fit the societal expectations I had imagined.
Dan Siegel claims we must “feel it to heal it.” When we can correctly name our emotions, we begin to calm both physiologically and psychologically. The irony of suppressing my grief, anger, confusion, and shame, was that I was suppressing my healing.
The grief of losing a child is unlike any grief I have ever experienced. Speaking to a professional supported the emotional processing that was too heavy to carry on my own. In addition to the support of a therapist, I was fortunate my doctor initiated regular appointments for miscarriage care and always included mental health as a priority.
Finding Social Movement
Pregnancy loss can be incredibly isolating. Often, we wait until 12 weeks of pregnancy before sharing the news we are expecting. This often leaves women or couples feeling alone to battle the devastation of losing their child during the early stages of pregnancy. Unfortunately, I have learned the sad reality that there is no “safe” time during a pregnancy. The reality is pregnancy losses can happen at six weeks or 36 weeks.
Being supported by a community is what helped my husband and me through our losses. What I learned is people want to help, but don’t know how. When I found the courage to ask for help with a meal or a grocery run, I was overwhelmed by the support. We are thankful for friends and family who often left meals and goodies at our doorstep.
Finding a pregnancy loss support group let me know I was not alone. I met women who shared their losses that happened 20 years ago. It was healing for me to listen to how grief evolved for individuals and how each mother honoured their baby.
No matter where you are in your journey after pregnancy loss, know you are not alone. If you are supporting a loved one through pregnancy loss, know you are not alone. Whether you are taking your first breath to honour your angel baby or have been honouring your angel baby for 20 years, I hope that you make space to acknowledge the unique movement of your healing journey. May you continue to find gentleness and grace for yourself physically, emotionally, and socially.
Levine, P. A. (1997). Waking the tiger: Healing trauma : the innate capacity to transform overwhelming experiences. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books.
Miller, K. (2016). A disturbing amount of women experience PTSD after a miscarriage. Retrieved from https://www.self.com/story/miscarriage-and-ptsd-connection
Siegel, D. (2013, December 8). Dan Siegel: Name it to tame it [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcDLzppD4Jc