Written by Rachel Kennedy, LCPC
How do you grieve an intangible loss? For many people impacted by pregnancy loss, it can be difficult to navigate feelings around the loss they have endured. It can feel extremely isolating to grieve a pregnancy loss or miscarriage because social supports may not know about the pregnancy or understand the gravity of the loss. The term disenfranchised grief is used in situations where society does not recognize or honor the grief a person is experiencing, and often, miscarriage and pregnancy loss fall into this category.
For many, there is both an emotional and physical impact following the loss of a pregnancy. Physically, the body may still look or feel pregnant. The physical reminder of the loss can cause individuals to feel like their body has failed them or feel uncomfortable in their bodies. Emotionally, there may be vacillating feelings of anger, sadness, and often guilt. These emotions can be felt by both partners and may vary in intensity depending on the day, or even hour. Because pregnancy loss feels extremely isolating, it can be hard to ask for support or talk to friends and family about these feelings. Often, even when someone does seek support around their loss, they may be met with words that feel dismissive or hurtful. Though supports are not intending to harm, saying things like “It was not meant to be,” or “At least you were able to get pregnant,” can further isolate the individuals experiencing pregnancy loss.
It is important to address feelings of grief and the emotional and physical impact of pregnancy loss. Healing can look different for everyone and is not linear. Some ways to work through grief after pregnancy loss may include:
- Reclaiming the physical body: Finding a way to connect with the body after loss can be empowering. Picking something to reconnect with the body is an individual choice but may include: gentle exercise, acupuncture, relaxation activities, or eating nourishing foods.
- Finding a way to remember: Many people find it difficult to recognize and honor their grief after miscarriage or loss due to the complicated emotions that arise during this time. It can be valuable to find a way to ritualize or make space for the loss by finding a significant way to memorialize the child lost. Some ways to remember may include lighting a candle on significant dates, planting a tree, purchasing a piece of jewelry that has meaning, donating to a charity, or participating in a Wave of Light Ceremony on International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day (October 15th).
- Connect with others who “get it”: It can be difficult for supports to understand the feelings that come after pregnancy loss. Finding a community of people with the shared experience of pregnancy loss or miscarriage can decrease feelings of isolation and build connection with others. There are ways to connect with others on social media or through support groups both virtually and more locally, and in person.
- Share your story: Many people who have experienced pregnancy loss find it is helpful to share their experience in some way. Some may journal and keep their story more private while others prefer to share via social media or through conversation with friends and family. The choice to share the experience of loss is deeply personal and may not feel comfortable or appropriate for everyone.
- Therapy: Another way to get support and work towards healing after pregnancy loss or miscarriage is to engage in therapy. A therapist can assist in processing grief and complicated emotions after loss. A therapist with experience working with grief and loss or who has training related to perinatal mental health may be a good fit. Therapy can be helpful for both partners after pregnancy loss and may also include couples counseling.
Navigating feelings and relationships after pregnancy loss and miscarriage can feel overwhelming. There are supports available when it feels comfortable to access them. It is important to know that everyone grieves on their own time and it is okay to take space or need time following a loss. Some organizations to find more information or support through, include: Postpartum Support International, Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support, and The March of Dimes.