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The Very Real Grief of Miscarriage

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Susan J. O'Grady, PhD - Blogs
By Susan J. O'Grady, PhDClinical psychologistJune 7, 2018

We can become attached to a baby long before they’re born – even early in a pregnancy we imagine who this little creature will be, how we’ll nurture and protect them, and how life will change with our new family. So when we lose that baby, many of us feel unspeakable despair that’s comparable with many other types of trauma, including post-traumatic stress injury or disorder (PTSD).

Emotional symptoms after a miscarriage occur in up to 90% of women, ranging from mild to severe grief. You may experience depression and anxiety, anger and irritability, difficulty concentrating, loss of interest, low or absent sexual desire, self-doubt, and disbelief and confusion. Many people will have sleep disturbances and dreams of the baby.

And to make it worse, would-be comforters, including friends and even the medical establishment, may try to minimize your grief, for example by saying that everything happens for a reason, or you can always try again. This well-meaning advice actually invalidates grief, giving the message that it shouldn’t be publicly expressed, only making it more difficult to talk openly. For this reason, psychologists have called miscarriage the silent or invisible loss.

But in order to really heal, you need to give yourself and your partner time to mourn openly without constraint.

Here are a few specific steps you can take:

  • Take time for self-care, especially keeping in mind the hormonal and physical changes you’re experiencing.
  • As time passes, find pleasurable activities where you feel competent.
  • Consider creating a grief ritual such as creating a memorial or writing letters to the lost baby.
  • Share your feelings with people who understand and are not critical or dismissive of you by telling you to move on. If your friends and family aren’t taking your feelings seriously, consider psychotherapy as a safe place where you can get validation and empathy.
  • Talk openly with your partner about the loss.

If you feel shushed up by friends and family, here are some specific ways you can ask for the right kind of support:

  • “Don’t give me advice or try to fix it.”
  • “Give me time to talk and to cry.”
  • “Understand that I’m going to skip some events during times when I’m hurting.”
  • “Don’t tell me to get over it or move on as if my loss isn’t real and significant.”

When I lost a pregnancy at 16 weeks, my husband and I spent a weekend walking on the shore collecting shells and stones. When we found the shell that seemed to speak to us as “her” shell, we took it home and found a place for it on a special shelf. It still sits there today, 20 years later.

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About the Author
Susan J. O'Grady, PhD

Dr. Susan J. O’Grady is a clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area providing psychotherapy and consultation for adults, couples, and teenagers. She has advanced training in marriage counseling and sex therapy and is credentialed in mindfulness-based interventions focusing on anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and emotional balance. In addition to her clinical practice, Dr. O’Grady writes on topics related to the psychology of living well at www.drsusanogrady.com.

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