Do you remember that old children’s song- going on a bear hunt? The refrain goes like this:
These lines chanted emphatically over and over again every time an obstacle is encountered, remind me so much of the conversations I’ve had with patients about grief. We don’t want to feel it, we’d love to find a way to sidestep it, but ultimately, we must go through it to get to the other side.
Last week I wrote about common emotional reactions following a miscarriage. This week I want to focus on coping with the grief that follows. This includes caring for yourself emotionally and physically, feeling supported in your relationships, and getting connected to help. There is no one way or right way to cope. Loss is deeply individual and respecting your own reactions without judgement is immensely important. My hope is that these strategies and reflections will help you find your way to through it.
- Recognize that your body is going through a significant physical change- even if the miscarriage was early in your pregnancy. Any time the body shifts from pregnant to not pregnant there are significant hormonal changes. Give yourself the space and time to rest and heal.
- Allow yourself to feel the range of emotions that may arise. Trying to suppress the feelings or telling yourself that you shouldn’t (or should) feel a particular way is not helpful and can make it more difficult to move through the grieving process
- Healing takes as much time as it takes and the journey can feel arduous. You may find it more manageable to think of breaking time up into smaller chunks. Try to take it day by day, or if you need to, hour by hour.
- Many women find it helpful to concretize or memorialize the loss. Some women wear physical reminders of their loss such as a jewelry that symbolizes the pregnancy. Some make memory books or art. Some have ceremonies. Some name their babies. In other countries and cultures there are rituals specific to miscarriage and pregnancy loss. For example, in Japan, there is a Buddhist ceremony and statues of Jizo in cemeteries to memorialize lost pregnancies. In, Israel there is a memorial garden. These rituals and public spaces provide a sense of validation and acknowledgment of loss of that is profoundly impactful.
- Prioritize your emotional safety. If there are situations that feel triggering to you such as having lunch with a pregnant friend or going to a baby shower, its OK to say no for now. Recognize that anniversaries (e.g. estimated due date, monthly markers) may also be hard so anticipate around possible triggers and stressors so you can shore up your supports.
- The same goes for people in your life who are not offering you the support you need. You may find that in attempts to be helpful, some friend and family are dismissive of your feelings. Set boundaries and take space from them if you need it. If its helpful, enlist a partner or trusted friend to help you navigate this.
- Share or don’t share your loss however you want to. It’s up to you. If you would like to tell your boss that you need to take a few days off from work because of a miscarriage then feel free to disclose. If it feels emotionally safer to keep that information private that is OK to. If it feels too painful to share the news, you can ask for help in disclosing your loss.
- Recognize that loss can be very hard on your relationship with your partner. He or she may experience the loss differently, and have a different way of expressing grief. Try to make space for each others process, recognizing that you may feel distant or even angry at your partner.
- It may be helpful to connect with others who have experienced a miscarriage. This could be a friend or family member, or you may find support from a support groups offered online or in-person.
- If you find you are struggling with your grief, or that you are becoming depressed and/or anxious, consider seeking professional support from a trained therapist who has experience working with women who have lost pregnancies. I always recommend when searching for a therapist that you meet with several people to find a fit that feels right for you.
- Remember it’s OK to find the joy. Some women feel guilty if they have moments of happiness or laughter while grieving. Hang on to those sparks of joy. You are not dishonoring your loss.
In sum, when navigating this bear hunt, take your time, feel what you need to feel, draft a support team, and take space when you need it. Sometimes you will crawl, sometimes you will sprint, sometimes you won’t move at all. But if you honor your feelings and needs, you will make it through to the other side.
Below are some links to resources that you may find helpful.