Culture has a tough time with grief. Especially when it comes to the loss of a pregnancy, a majority of people feel stymied--not quite sure what to say, what to do, how to be. This age-old ethos has got to change, if only because the women and families going through these losses are in desperate need of support and connection. Silence is not proving helpful.
We can change the current cultural landscape by lending an ear, by being present, by showing up for the pain and for the hope. In so doing, we shift the focus from relational distance to emotional intimacy--showing up in a whole new way and fortifying our relationships. Here’s 4 reasons you should take the time to grieve your pregnancy loss.
- Pregnancy loss is more common than you think. Research has found that approximately 20% of pregnancies result in loss. This number can be quite daunting for those on the precipice of family building. But for those who have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth, this number might be incredibly comforting, especially during dark moments silently wondering "why me?!" Loss can be isolating and has a way of making people feel singled out in their misfortune, despite the significant numbers of people grieving. It's important to remember that bereavement comes in all shapes and sizes. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mourning and no timeline applies. Moreover, there is no right or wrong way to navigate the aftermath of loss. We do, however, benefit greatly from being aware of our thoughts and feelings.
- Sink in. Staving off feelings makes them stick. Though it might seem antithetical, rushing heartache typically has the hurt hold on that much tighter, longing to be acknowledged. It makes intuitive sense to scurry away from uncomfortable feelings, but when it comes to loss and grief, we ultimately benefit from sinking into our sadness rather than eschewing it. Just as we need to attend to physical aches and pains in our bodies to maintain well-being, our emotions deserve recognition and attunement.
- Authenticity. Showing up for whatever it is you are feeling is the most efficient and authentic remedy for the pain of pregnancy loss. Here's the thing: whatever you are feeling, other women have felt. You are far from alone and you will readily learn this as soon as you open up and share your story. Though our culture tends to pressure us to rush back to happiness, we only get there when we get there. Being honest with ourselves is more important than pasting a smile on our face if we aren't there yet. Self-imposed platitudes (i.e. "Well at least I know I can get pregnant") often have a boomerang effect. In this moment there might not need to be a bright side or a silver lining and that's okay. The upside is that feelings are ever-changing and what you're feeling today will morph into something different tomorrow.
- Compassion for yourself. You did nothing to deserve this loss--an important mantra to repeat if your mind wanders to self-blaming places. Embodying self-compassion is the surest way to gently journey through this challenging period. Shoving down difficult feelings rarely (if ever) successfully eradicates them, and tucking feelings away attempting to ignore them most definitely doesn't lead to joy. After experiencing hardship we want so badly to feel better quickly. But if we don't or we can't or it simply feels out of reach, self-empathy is a beautiful skill to hone in the meantime.
Written by Dr. Jessica Zucker. Dr. Zucker is a Los Angeles based psychologist and writer specializing in women's reproductive and maternal mental health. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed and elsewhere. She launched the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign with her first New York Times piece in 2014 and is the creator of a line of pregnancy loss cards: shop.drjessicazucker.com
Image above from the Pregnancy Loss Card collection. Buy it here.