My Baby Lost – The Grief and Loss of Loosing a Child through Miscarriage
By Liz Crowe
This article will explore the many grief and loss issues associated with miscarriage. It will examine the possibility of using ritual or ceremony as a way to grieve the death of a child. This article is not written solely from a professional perspective. It is also a reflection of my personal journey as a mother who loves her children and experienced the lonely path of miscarrying a much wanted child.
To Know what is Lost we must Recognise what we had.
For many of us, from the second we close our eyes and wish for a baby every moment that our child is not with us is too long. Parents, particularly women, can be in love with a child, before it is conceived. We wait with abated breath the time when our bodies will become the sacred vessel to carry our precious child through to this life on earth. Pregnant women carry with them an aura of power and mystery. Being pregnant can create such raw and unique emotions that it can be hard to put these feelings into words. Pregnancy is another rite of passage into womanhood. When we are thinking about conception or are pregnant we tend to gravitate towards other pregnant women, babies and children, couples and families. Sometimes our support networks and our activities change as everything starts to shape around the journey of pregnancy and the need for stability, security and warmth. Similar to a bird, the mother or the couple try to establish an insulated and enclosed nest in which to bring a child safely home.
On the announcement of a pregnancy we can expect much celebration and joy, love, guidance and ritual. Everything can change with the announcement of pregnancy even though essentially everything is the same. It can be hard to think of anything else. We will become a family! What will the baby look like? What do we want for our birth? So much to think about and learn! So much to experience! So much time to wait! So much anticipation and love! Hours spent tenderly rubbing our tummy in a dream like state, connecting strongly with the little one within.
Then sadly for approximately one in five pregnancies (20%), it is suddenly and swiftly over. For reasons, often unexplained, the pregnancy stops, the baby dies. It can feel like a violent abrupt ending to something so wonderful. . The couple, who just moments before, were surrounded by love and delicious expectation, are left in silence, with questions that possibly cannot be answered. The home which had been a hub of activity and celebration is quiet.
Miscarriage and Grief
It is important to remember that no two people will experience miscarriage the same.
Love, attachment, dreams and hopes do not miraculously arrive with the birth of a child. They can start prior to conception and certainly from the moment you look at those two amazing pink lines on the end of a home pregnancy kit. So the death of a child through miscarriage needs to be viewed for most parents exactly as that – the death of a child. Miscarriage brings an end to a very unique and important attachment to the baby. Research demonstrates that the “strength of the attachment bond to the baby in utero is not dictated by the gestational age of the child” (Bennett et al 2005).
Unlike most other deaths, miscarriage is difficult because it can be hard for some people to understand what exactly has been lost. Confusion over what has been lost is called ‘disenfranchised grief’ or ‘ambiguous loss’. Essentially this is a loss that people are unsure of. There may even be some question as to whether or not a loss has occurred? With uncertainty about how to respond, members of a person’s social network (friends, partners and family) often do nothing. They may even avoid the bereaved because they are uncomfortable with the uncertainty. There is often no ritual for grieving this type of loss in our culture.
The way in which a woman discovers she has miscarried may contribute to her ongoing grief and trauma. It can be terrifying and confronting for a woman when she starts to bleed during pregnancy. Depending on where you are it may be difficult to get help without exposing yourself to colleagues and strangers. If you discover your baby has died during an ultrasound, there is a high probability the person conducting the scan is not trained in the delivery of ‘devastating’ news and this can create confusion, and further disenfranchisement from your grief. In my experience the male doctor conducting the scan felt I should be ‘relieved’ that I wasn’t “really miscarrying as there hadn’t ever been a baby in the first place”. Try telling this to all the love, bonding, hope and plans I had invested in over the last nine weeks! I had to remind myself that this man was in the business of delivering joyful news and that he was struggling personally with my tears. I know that many women have similar stories surrounding their own miscarriages. It is common for the mother and maybe both parents to remember the due date of the baby that died and the day of the miscarriage for years to come.
The grief and losses are many in miscarriage
• The loss of a baby/child.
• The many losses of ‘what might have been’.
• Loss of the person that child was going to be and their role in the family.
• The dream of being a parent to that child.
• The additional fear and loss of reduced fertility.
• The threat that parents will never enjoy, celebrate or relax about pregnancy again.
• The strain and disruption the miscarriage may place on relationships with partners, family and friends.
Miscarriage is such a deeply intimate experience that we must be conscious not to hold anyone to our personal standard of pain and moving on.
Miscarriage and Guilt.
For a woman the grief may also be complicated by guilt. Research into miscarriage and perinatal loss has found that the majority of women struggle with the issue of guilt following the miscarriage. Regardless of how many times a woman may remind herself that the miscarriage was out of her control it is almost impossible not to ask yourself what you could have done differently. “Why was I still drinking coffee?” “My body was telling me to rest but I still went for a walk that afternoon.” This guilt has no logic. It can make us feel like our body has not only ‘lost’ a precious baby but that we have let down our partner and family by ‘failing’ to remain pregnant. As one mother so aptly said “it is a mothers role to keep her child safe and in the dark of night I think the ‘what ifs’ and how my body let those babies down before they were even born.”
The Silence of Miscarriage
We all know the high rates of miscarriage, yet few women openly talk about their experience. (The high rates of miscarriage are not a comfort to the woman who loses a baby.) This leaves a woman who has just miscarried isolated. A friend said to me “I remember my miscarriage as a very lonely experience, I felt separate even from my husband.” A woman who has told no one of her pregnancy may externally choose to keep going like nothing has even happened as she struggles to make sense of her grief alone.
Others Reactions to Miscarriage
Family and friends may be uncomfortable about the miscarriage. People are not sure what to say and do. There is no funeral. If the couple were yet to announce the pregnancy to the world there may be no-one to even talk too about the loss, no one else in the world who even knows. Because with a miscarriage there is no body to bury or mourn even the closest of friends can be at a loss as to what to say, what is appropriate, whether to acknowledge and bring up what has happened or not? There may be whispers or words of unwanted advice –
• “She was only six weeks, it was lucky it happened so early before they became used to the idea.”
• “That’s why you shouldn’t tell people you are pregnant so early.”
• “At least you know you can get pregnant.”
• “There’ll be other children.”
• “It’s for the best, there must have been something wrong with the baby.”
• “She’s only young, there is plenty of time.”
• “It happens to one in every five pregnancy’s so its really common.”
The comments may come with good intentions but they do nothing to console and allow space for grief. There is no gathering to mourn the terrible loss of what is now gone – a precious and much wanted baby.
Having lost a baby to miscarriage the thought of future pregnancies can be both exciting and terrifying. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings. Literature suggests that pregnancy be delayed until both partners are feeling emotionally and physically ready for a new pregnancy. Once pregnant again parents may find themselves mourning the child that they have previously lost even several years later. It’s important to discuss with whoever is caring for you during your subsequent pregnancy, perceived and actual risk, so that you can be realistic about any fears.
Miscarriage and Rituals
Having no opportunity to externalise grief in an event such as a funeral is one of the hardest challenges of miscarriage. Many parents now are choosing to have a ritual for their miscarriage inviting trusted family and friends. “A ritual is asking for acknowledgement of what has transpired and support for the process of letting go and moving on” (Brin 2004).
A ritual creates a sacred space for everyone to acknowledge the loss of the baby. It can help create meaning and provide some space for mourning. “The ritual provides an opportunity to address people’s deep need to express themselves” (Brin 2004).
Before organising a ritual it is important to discuss what is the intention of the ritual? Is it to focus on the death of a child through miscarriage; the anniversary of the miscarriage; or to build hope and energy around the possible arrival of a new healthy child?
Ideas for rituals include:
• A balloon with a message to the baby about the hopes and dreams that parents had and the pain in the miscarriage.
• Beautiful music for reflection, mourning or energy.
• To plant something in memoriam of the baby.
• A sharing of a meal and ceremony with friends and family.
• To make something – a painting, quilt, collage to remember the baby.
The ritual should be what ever creates meaning and makes sense for the parents who have experienced the miscarriage. Regardless of how parents choose to acknowledge and cope with their miscarriage, it is important to realise there is no right or wrong ways to grieve. For me, building a spiritual relationship with my baby has brought great comfort.
Liz Crowe is a Paediatric Social Worker who specialises in working with children and families in times of crisis and grief. She lives in Manly West with her wonderful husband Michael and her two divine little boys Noah (4) and Aiden (17months).
Bennett, S.M.; Sarnoff Lee, B.; Litz, B. & Maguen, S. (2005) “The Scope and Impact of Perinatal Loss: Current Status and Future Directions, Professional Psychology: Research and Practice; 36(2), pp180-187
Brin, D. (2004) “The Use of Rituals in Grieving for a Miscarriage or Stillbirth”, Women in Therapy; Vol 27(3-4), pp123-132
Doka, K. J. (1989). Disenfranchised grief. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
McCreight, B. (2004) “A grief ignored: narratives of pregnancy loss from a male perspective” Sociology of Health and Illness; 26(3); pp 326-350
Murray, J (1988) When the dream is shattered: coping with child bearing difficulties: infertility, miscarriage, premature birth, loss of a newborn, abnormality. Adelaide: Lutheran Publishing House