Expert Alison McClymont gives us advice on how to deal with unfortunate miscarriages during pregnancy.
According to recent NHS figures, miscarriages are currently thought to affect 1 in 7 women who know they are pregnant and 1 in 5 women who don’t know they are pregnant. The current thinking is that the majority occur in the first trimester, causes of which can vary greatly depending on previous medical history, age and lifestyle choices. However, these figures do little to tell the story of the experience of a miscarriage and how this loss can affect a woman’s physical and emotional wellbeing. The good news is that there are plenty of resources available in Hong Kong to help get you through this difficult and life-changing experience.
What to Expect After a Miscarriage
Losing a pregnancy can be one of the most traumatic things a woman will ever have to endure, but for many women it is a pain that they choose only to express privately. In my work as a therapist I have seen a number of women who have suffered the loss of pregnancy, both early and late term. While each woman’s story is individual, the feelings resulting from the loss can be similar.
These feelings may include sadness, guilt, depression, anger, disbelief and shame. The hormonal changes that a woman’s body goes through following a miscarriage can exacerbate these feelings. It is important to realise that all of these emotions are common and normal following any form of bereavement. It is also important for women to be allowed to acknowledge their loss as a bereavement.
No matter how long a mother has carried a child, the bonding connection a woman may feel with the pregnancy should not be ignored. There has never been any research to show that a woman who loses at 9 weeks feels less pain or distress than a woman who miscarries at 25 weeks, and in both scenarios a woman should be allowed to mourn her loss and manage her grief in the same way.
It is also important for women who may not yet have felt “bonded” to their child to remember that this feeling did not cause a miscarriage. There is equally no research to show that feeling ambivalent about being pregnant causes a miscarriage, and some women who initially felt this ambivalence can be taken aback by the grief they encounter upon the loss of their pregnancy. There is no right or wrong way to feel about discovering you are pregnant, nor is there a right or wrong way to feel about the tragic event of losing your pregnancy.
Understanding Stages of the Grieving Process
When working with women who have lost a pregnancy, I encourage them to work through the stages of the grieving process at their own pace. The stages usually follow the pattern of: disbelief, denial/anger at self and others, and finally, acceptance.
In the disbelief stage a woman may question, “How could this have happened? I have always been healthy”, or “This can’t be happening to me, everything was fine”. It may be particularly difficult in the weeks directly after a miscarriage while continuing to experience “pregnancy symptoms” due to the pregnancy hormone still existing in the body. Be gentle with yourself, and give yourself time to rest and heal physically.
In the anger stage a woman may blame herself or others for the miscarriage: “I should have done…”,“It was because I did…”, or feel anger towards the situation with thoughts such as “Why has this happened to me?”. This is often a lengthy and painful stage to overcome, but it may be helped by seeking out the advice of medical practitioners and understanding your own medical history, the facts about why your miscarriage happened, and if there is anything that could help prevent future miscarriages. By having a thorough understanding of the facts of your miscarriage, you do not have to be left in confusion or pain. This might also be a helpful time to seek support from other women who have suffered a miscarriage, perhaps through a support group or online forum. It may also be the time women choose to talk their emotions through with a therapist or qualified professional.
Whilst the anger stage is hard, it can and will move on to acceptance, where you might be able to say something like, “I understand I am not the only one this has happened to and it was very painful, but I can move on and will feel happiness again.”
An important part of the grieving process is giving yourself the space to move through these stages and to show compassion to yourself; accept it is a difficult time, but it will get better.
I have helped women through these stages in different ways. For example, some women wanted to name their baby or to create a special anniversary to mark their baby’s presence in their lives. Other women have wanted to keep some of their maternity wear or baby clothes as a memento of their pregnancy, and others have wanted to remind themselves of their child through a special piece of jewellery or stone. It’s important for women to remember that marking your experience does not mean you are holding on to the past in an unhealthy way, rather that you are acknowledging your emotions and experience in a compassionate act. You do not have to forget in order to heal. Nor do you have to feel the sadness forever; finding joy in other areas of your life or having future pregnancies do not dishonor the memory of your child or your experience.
It is equally important in the process to acknowledge your partner’s grief. There is unfortunately little support out there for fathers who are suffering after a miscarriage. It can be a difficult time for couples, but by supporting each other emotionally and allowing each other to manage your own grieving process as you choose, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and you will go on to find happy times again.
Miscarriage Resource & Links
Nobody needs to suffer the pain of a miscarriage alone. Currently in Hong Kong, there are many well-respected OB-GYN’s who can help you to understand the medical facts behind your miscarriage, and how you might support your physical healing process. There are also a number of online forums where women can receive support from others and read their stories: Babyloss; Netmums; The Bump.
There is currently no support therapy group in Hong Kong specifically for miscarriage, however a number of fertility clinics in Hong Kong offer in-person counseling for a number of fertility related issues. The Family Planning Association of Hong Kong also offers online counseling for general concerns. If you want to seek individual help to guide you through the difficult experience of losing a pregnancy, therapy with a trained psychologist or therapist may be very beneficial.
Remember that you aren’t alone, and you can and will get through this difficult time with the support of friends and family along the way.