Miscarriage - Why "Keep Calm and Carry On" fails so often
The emotional pain & suffering associated with miscarriage is, in my opinion, grossly underestimated. It is as though miscarriage is too normalised, and therefore the emotional pain that comes along with it becomes silenced… papered over. This doesn’t make sense to me. We understand grief don’t we? We understand what it means to lose someone close to us. But somehow this grief gets muted when it comes to the unborn. You know what? It shouldn’t. It is not only the loss of your baby, of your child, it is the loss of what could’ve been and it mustn’t be silenced.
Where there is a feeling of grief, the grief gets lost… it gets lost in the race to answer “what’s next”! Often, the way we cope with miscarriage or loss, is to keep going, to keep trying! In many ways it seems to make sense. The only thing that will take this pain away is a baby, is to succeed… so we keep going. Yet, in the face of recurrent miscarriage or likewise several failed cycles; the loss accumulates and starts to manifest in other ways.
Much like your physical heart, your emotional heart can also “clog up”. Obstructions in the heart can cause a heart attack. Likewise, our emotional hearts are just as susceptible to injury. Living in a world that downplays miscarriage creates undue demands on your emotional heart, undue demands that can accumulate and cause injury.
Let’s just say it as it is. A miscarriage is, without question, a trauma.
Miscarriage can mean heavy bleeding, passing clots and tissue. The symptoms can often feel like labour which is just so cruel. It can, quite frankly, be terrifying. It can happen out of the blue, with no symptoms and with no warning. Then comes the passing of “products of conception” which is a very sanitised way of ‘not saying’ what is really happening - the loss of your baby; It’s the loss of what it is, what it was & what it could’ve been.
Scans and scanning rooms can instantly shift from places of hope places to becoming a backdrop to the trauma. It often starts with a feeling that something is “off”, perhaps some bleeding, perhaps some pain or perhaps there was no warning. The watching of the technicians face; looking for any clues, waiting, not breathing…. Then the silence before “we can’t find a heart beat”. The waiting, endless waiting…. “With a dead baby still inside”. Deciding, do we let it pass naturally? Do we wait for that “tissue” to pass? Do we need a procedure? What does this mean for my body? More scar tissue? More damage? More trauma??
Then comes the challenge of trying to make sense of it. The lack of any clear explanation creates something of a vacuum. A vacuum which, for many of us, means frustration and a sense of ruminating over potential causes. I get it. Who doesn’t want to create meaning and order out of a painful and chaotic experience. This sense of seeking resonates throughout the experience of miscarriage. Who or what is to blame is the very question dominating your every waking moment in the immediate aftermath.
Many would say these thoughts and feelings are inevitable. As rational beings, we all have a need to assign meaning, cause and blame to negative life events, even to events that are largely out of our control. However, without a biological reason or explanation I see many women turning blame inwards upon themselves. This is one of the hardest consequences of miscarriage, the resulting; “what did I do wrong, there must be something wrong with me, why am I being punished”? are the gaps that get filled in when there is no logical reason.
This tendency to blame yourself exists alongside the sense that when no medical explanation exists, the ‘logical’ conclusion is that you are the problem. What I often see is that any sense of self-blame is compounded by a sense of shame. Unlike feelings of guilt, you’re doing something wrong, shame is the feeling that you’re being something wrong. When you experiences shame, you feel ‘there is something basically wrong with me’.
My experience in working with miscarriage shows just how powerfully women believe there is something intrinsically wrong with them. Unexplained infertility, which includes unexplained miscarriage, is less tangible than things like an ovulatory disorder or tubal dysfunction. It is this lack of any reason seems to leave the unexplained, unexplainable;
It is as C. S Lewis describes: it is easier to say,
“My tooth is aching” than to say, “My heart is broken”.
If we think again about physical attacks of our hearts, when a heart attack occurs there is a clear process of rehabilitation that follows. An attack on the emotional heart also needs rehabilitation, it requires healing.
There are ways that a therapist can help. That isn’t to say they will make the pain disappear, but what we can do is help you to process; with sensitivity & compassion. We can help you to let go of the pain - but not the memory. The Conceiving Conception workbook gives you techniques that I use with my patients to help with this rehabilitation, with this healing.
In a therapeutic setting, a very powerful way of beginning the conversation is to start with the naming of the baby - your baby that has been lost. If you are reading this and have experience of miscarriage, I am so very sorry for your loss. I would invite you to take some time to think this through. Don’t listen to those that urge you to forget about it, it’s just one of those things, to move on. You should talk it through with a trusted companion or to a therapist. I would urge you not to fall into the cycle of blaming yourself.. Take the time to perhaps think about what you may say to your baby, if you had the chance. I urge you to do this with such sensitivity, to do this with love. Because I know that you loved them.
This is just one way we can start healing this pain.
I would like to finish post by saying; miscarriage is not “one of those things’. It isn’t helped by “it will be alright next time” or “you can just try again”. Miscarriage is trauma and should not be normalised, minimised or silenced. Most importantly, it bears repeating - it is not your fault. To the women & men that have experienced miscarriage with love - I offer my sincerest condolences.