The first question most people ask regarding the future is, “Does it ever get better??” The short answer is, yes, it does get better. I was assured of this many times and every time I heard it it felt like a lie. I couldn’t imagine how things would ever get better, how I would ever stop waking up in the middle of the night to cry, how I would ever be able to look at a new baby again. Even after my second loss, when I knew from experience that things would eventually get better, it felt like a lie. Living in the immediate aftermath of a pregnancy loss is like sitting at the bottom of the well while people assure you the sun is out. But I am here to tell you that this is truth: it will get better. You will never be the same person, but hopefully you will be a better person. One who will recognize pain in others and be more compassionate. “Normal” will not be the same normal you had before. Your innocence is gone. Most people, while they know it is possible to lose a baby, assume it will not happen to them. When it does, a whole wall is torn away and the vulnerability and fragility of life is revealed with such starkness that it takes your breath away. That wall will never be rebuilt, but you do gradually learn to live with that knowledge.
The next question is usually “When will it get better?” I found an image that describes the answer to this perfectly:
The short answer is “I don’t know”. Truthfully, everyone is different. Everyone is living in different circumstances. Everyone experiences a unique loss. But practically speaking, there is at least a visible progression. You wake up one morning and realize you slept through the night. You find yourself laughing at something. You think about your baby and don’t immediately tear up. You get to the end of a day and realize you didn’t cry. These little steps are always seen in retrospect. The important thing to remember here is no one can tell you how to grieve and no one can tell you “how long” to grieve. You can have a good day or two and then wake up one morning and come across a stray appointment card for the OB’s office, sending you in tears to your room for an hour. These things can’t be predicted and they mostly can’t be prevented. This sounds awful, I know. The thing is, you will go from having a good few minutes to a good hour, to a good half-day, to a good few days. “Good” in this case, means “functional, calm, etc.” it does NOT mean, “forgetting your baby”. There will be two steps forward and three steps back, two steps forward, one step forward, two steps back, three steps forward, etc. This is normal.
Some other questions:
“Will I forget?”
No, you will never forget. Sometimes you wish you could forget, sometimes you are terrified you’ll forget. The truth is, you never will forget, but you will tend to remember best the things that you think about the most. This is an encouragement to think about the good things, the blessings. The moments when I was told definitively that my babies had died are crystal-clear in my memory. I find this unfortunate. But I try not to think about those moments and other bad moments more than I can help. I try to remember the good things: the kindness of strangers, the beauty of the babies’ bodies, the love from friends. I do suggest that you write out an account of the pregnancy and birth and anything else important to you and keep it somewhere. Do it while you do still remember the details. Then put it away. You will be able to let your mind move softly away from the grimness of some of the details while having the assurance that should you wish to remember them, they are recorded.
“What if it happens again?”
Ah, the anxiety of the encore performance. I can speak from experience here because I had this anxiety and yes, it happened again. What I can tell you is I’m still living and breathing and functioning. If you are blessed with another pregnancy, do what you can to take care of yourself and have a doctor/midwife who takes you and your concerns seriously. Beyond that, pray. There are no assurances but the odds are always better that you will have a living baby in nine months than not. I know we don’t go by odds, but they are there just the same. God will not desert you. Once you conceive a baby this baby belongs to God and He will take care of him. You will be parents forever of this little one, regardless of the outcome. If you knew you would have a baby in your womb for only 4 months, would you rather it be full of anxiety and distance, not wanting to love the baby in case he didn’t make it, or full of love and joy? You would surely want to be able to say that your baby knew four months of love and joy. It gives me comfort that every night of my pregnancy with Andrew I held my hand on my abdomen and told him how much I loved him and goodnight.
“When do I go back to work?”
Naturally this depends on what kind of work you do. There are physical considerations as well as emotional considerations. Physically speaking, you can check with your doctor or midwife as to what they think is best. The farther along you were in a pregnancy the more likely you are to need several weeks of physical rest. On the other hand, an earlier miscarriage can entail just as much labor and blood-loss as a later loss and you need time to recover from this. Emotionally speaking this can vary. Even with a very early loss you will need at the very least a few days to get over your shock before you can make sound decisions. Especially if you were showing or if your coworkers knew you were pregnant you will have a difficult time facing the questions and having to retell your story multiple times. Consider letting them know in some form or fashion before you return so at least you’re not having to make announcements. Unfortunately you will almost certainly encounter people who will ask “how are you and the baby doing?” because they didn’t get the bulletin. Take a deep breath and answer honestly.
As far as work at home (and there is always work to be done at home), don’t overdo. Carrying heavy laundry baskets around 12 hours after delivery is a good way to start some heavy bleeding. Remember that even though your baby is not in your arms, you went through labor and delivery. Don’t cut your recovery time short because you feel you didn’t “earn” it. The good way to know when you’re doing too much is to monitor your bleeding. If it picks up, you need to back off. Take naps. Put your feet up. Allow other people to help you. You can gradually resume household duties. But that’s just addressing the physical side of things. Mentally you will be in a fog and may have trouble making decisions. If you’re homeschooling or otherwise taking care of other children you may find you are easily overwhelmed. Allow the kids to take a short vacation before starting back. Or at least concentrate on subjects that they need the least help with or subjects that you are the most comfortable doing. This is not the time to take a field trip to the state court house. Do not beat yourself up for not being superwoman. Do not allow other people to do it either.
While you do need time to grieve, process and rest, it can be helpful to get back into some sort of routine. Start slowly but try to accomplish something (even just ONE thing) every day. You can feel some comfort in getting even small things done and being busy helps keep you from having too much time to think. Don’t swing the pendulum all the way over and try to be so busy that you have no spare moment in an effort to put off grieving. It will always backfire. Accept that grief is something you must go through, not around, over or under, and take the waves that come.
“Is this grief or depression?”
(from “The Actual Process” under “Recovery”):
One thing that people are not told to expect is some depression. Obviously, there is the grief from losing your baby, but there are other factors at play. When you deliver, whether at 8 weeks or 40, the hormones that have been very high during pregnancy drop precipitously. This is usually referred to as “the baby blues” and if more severe or persistent, “postpartum depression”. What most people are not aware of is that women who miscarry are at as least as much risk for postpartum depression as women who deliver live babies and usually more. If you have delivered a living baby you will be distracted by the care of a newborn and you will be surrounded by balloons and flowers and congratulations. After a miscarriage you not only do not have these, but you have the added grief of pregnancy loss. There is an excellent article on depression after miscarriage here. Do not hesitate to get help if this is becoming a problem. Pills will not make grief go away, but you may need some support for the physical causes of depression.
“Actually, I’m doing ok. Is there something wrong with me?”
No. Be grateful! Just because you are traveling a slightly easier road of grief than some does not make you a bad person and it doesn’t mean you didn’t love your baby. Sometimes people miscarry before they even knew they were pregnant. Sometimes people are in the midst of other turmoil (major family upset, another family member’s death, etc.) and the miscarriage simply diminishes in importance. Some people are simply more able to see things in perspective and continue to function normally while grieving. Everyone grieves differently. You can’t look at someone who is laughing at a joke her children told while pushing them on the swings…72 hours after miscarrying…and say, she must not have loved her baby and didn’t want him. True, some people will cope by completely denying that anything has happened, but others simply have more inner resources to pull from and just, well, “bounce back” faster.
“My husband/wife is already moving on/stuck in a rut.”
I’ve already said that no two people grieve the same. Well, a husband and wife are no exception to this. Add to that the interesting fact that while men and women both grieve, men tend to hide it because they feel they need to be strong for the wife. In the wife’s eyes this looks like the behavior of a traitor. He didn’t love our baby as much as I did! For the husband, he may be frustrated that he can’t “fix” the problem. Men are generally fixers. Show them a problem and they want to fix it. No one can “fix” a miscarriage however. What he sees is a woman he loves crying her eyes out day after day. What she sees is a man she loves who is carrying on as if nothing is wrong. (These are oversimplifications, but you see what I mean.) A large number of marriages break up after the death of a child. Don’t be a sad statistic. TALK to each other. BE HONEST about what you’re feeling and thinking. FORGIVE each other for not being perfect and not being able to “make everything ok”. DON’T BLAME each other for causing the miscarriage. REMEMBER YOU’RE ON THE SAME TEAM.
[See Help for Men for more information including helpful links.]
“What are some things I can do?”
- Pray. Pray not only for yourself, for strength and peace, for your spouse, for your other children, but also for the child(ren) you lost. [Look on the “Prayers and Liturgics” page for more information here.] While they are pure souls it will make you feel better to pray for their peace and repose in Heaven. Also, and this is something a lot of people don’t think about, ask for their prayers. We ask the intercessory prayers of the saints, ask for your child(ren)’s intercessory prayers! Surely they would pray for their mother! As Elissa (in the comments) pointed out, she takes comfort in “let them have a job in the family”, by praying for others. I have asked my sons’ prayers for me, for our family.
- Have memorial services on the 40th day and anniversary. [Again, see “Prayers and Liturgics“.] This cements that our babies are still members of our family. It warms my heart to see the children running around to collect bouquets of flowers to decorate the graves before we leave for the cemetery. They participate by singing, holding items for Father, clearing weeds from around the graves.
- Do charitable acts in your child(ren)’s memory. Give alms, volunteer, donate items. It helps keep the connection if these are things connected with babies/children, but they don’t have to be. I crochet an knit tiny hats for a charitable organization who gives them to hospitals for deceased babies and who mail them out to bereaved families. [Some suggestions are listed on the “Resources” page.]
- Reach out. Help other women and families who are suffering the same burden of grief. There are many ways you can do this. Reach out to people in your parish, your neighborhood, your family. Many times families feel very isolated after the death of a baby, especially due to miscarriage. It’s hard to “be there” for people in that much pain – be a friend. You don’t have to cook two dozen casseroles, just hold hands, don’t walk away, listen. Listening is severely underrated.
[This page is a work in progress and intended to be a collaborative effort. Please leave comments asking questions or saying how you coped after a loss. Because everyone will experience something a little different, your experience may be very different from mine. There is NO ONE RIGHT WAY to grieve.]