By Christine Bordelon
When a person is substituted for the statistic – 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage – that means many couples are familiar with the pain associated with the loss of a child.
How couples recover and the time it takes to grieve this loss varies, but there are concrete steps to take to ease the pain, said Elizabeth Wilson, LCSW, senior therapist/clinician for the past nine years at Woman’s New Life Center in New Orleans.
“You have to work through the grieving process,” Wilson said. “The more you work through the grieving process, the greater the healing.”
Husband and wife do not grieve at same rate, she said, making it “so important to empower the couple to acknowledge what they are going through and give them tools to grieve effectively.”
Wilson says she meets couples individually who are facing a pregnancy loss through miscarriage to put the loss in the context of where that woman emotionally began her pregnancy.
A couple who had a planned pregnancy is happy and generally have lots of support and joy surrounding the event before a miscarriage rocks their world.
Unplanned is not unwanted
If it was an unexpected pregnancy, the woman might still be adjusting to the pregnancy when a miscarriage occurs. “Unplanned does not mean unwanted,” Wilson said. “It’s not that they don’t want their child.” A miscarriage might bring momentary relief in this situation because the “crisis” is over, yet the woman also experiences sadness because she lost her child. “Time and space is needed to adjust to this new reality.”
Since Wilson works with women in both crisis pregnancies and those considering abortion, she’s found women who have changed their minds about abortion and decided to have their baby and then experience a miscarriage pile guilt on top of dealing with the loss just like unplanned pregnancies.
“I will first validate her fears and normalize what she was experiencing instead of making her feel like an outlier,” Wilson said. “Many times, a woman uses distortion – ‘I caused this because I didn’t want this, I didn’t plan this.’ That is a total distortion. We say you need to bring it back to reality. A more realistic statement would be – ‘I was not ready for a baby, but I was planning for it but lost it.’ That’s truth-based.”
All couples need to work through the stages of grief:
- 1. Shock or denial. Many times, the miscarriage happens without warning, Wilson said. “It takes time to work with the shock. Our minds and bodies are designed to work through the shock, to protect us from the reality we are not ready for. … We discuss the steps of grief and normalize this for a woman and her husband or partner.”
- 2. Anger: Once denial comes in, one faces loss. People are angry with themselves, their partner, doctor, God or just the unfairness of this. This is where cognitive therapy comes into play to help with the powerlessness. Males, who are used to being in control, have no control over this situation. This can increase stress and anger, individually and as a couple, because spouses may be in different stages of recovery.
- 3. Third stage is bargaining: A person is trying to make sense of something totally out of his or her control. Questions and doubts creep in – “Can I get pregnant again? People might promise God whatever is in their power to gain stability again.”
- 4. When bargaining isn’t making them feel better, depression in terms of a loss, comes in. There’s a lack of hope, doubts about having another baby. A woman or man may feel they are being punished for some reason. They may be hard on themselves, thinking it was something they did or did not do to contribute to the loss. Sometimes women can be uncomfortable around other pregnant women who are a reminder of their own loss. “We help women work through the grieving process and remind them they are very vulnerable at this time and would think things they normally wouldn’t,” Wilson said. “It is so uncomfortable to be vulnerable and confused about what to feel. There may be a crisis of faith. This is not lasting. It is part of a process. It is time-limited, but it’s deep and painful because it a profound loss.”
- 5. The last stage is acceptance. This is where the loss can be bearable. They have the depth (realizing loss is part of having relationships) without the intensity or pain. Seek help or talk with someone who has gone through this before who could listen and validate with feelings. “We tell them to be patient and kind to yourself.”
A loss of a child through miscarriage can be either a dividing (if there were previous problems in the relationship) or unifying factor, so “it’s important that mother and father have a confidante they are talking to during this time.”
When multiple losses are involved, Wilson has seen couples experience a crisis of faith and ask why this was happening and what it meant. “If the woman had had a previous abortion before the miscarriage, they might feel they are being punished in some way. They have to be reminded that the grieving is for this child – it is a separate loss from the other.”
Wilson suggests Catholic women who have suffered a miscarriage might want to talk to their pastor about holding a memorial service. “It’s really beautiful. This is where the loss is not the end. It’s about being surrounded by hope, faith and grace. It’s makes such a big difference.”
She also says some of her clients find comfort in buying a piece of jewelry (a charm on a bracelet or necklace) to wear as a remembrance of the baby’s life.
The Woman’s New Life Center is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Call 831-3117.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AVAILABLE RESOURCES TO COPE WITH MISCARRIAGE
- Woman’s New Life Center: Individual, couple’s counseling for those grieving the loss of a child through miscarriage or stillbirth. New Orleans office: 4612 S. Claiborne Ave. Open Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., 496-0212. Baton Rouge Office, 760 Colonial Drive, Baton Rouge, (225) 663-6470.
- Compassionate Friends: Its mission: When a child dies, at any age, the family suffers intense pain and may feel hopeless and isolated. The Compassionate Friends provides highly personal comfort, hope and support to every family experiencing the death of a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister or a grandchild, and helps others better assist the grieving family. Local chapter: 265-0581.
- Gentle Hands Ministry: This ministry serves families who have suffered the death of a child through miscarriage, stillbirth, early infant loss or other tragedies (St. Aloysius Catholic Church, Baton Rouge).
- Burial of abandoned or indigent babies: Compassionate burials for indigent babies: http://www.cbibinc.com/
- East Jefferson Hospital: The Perinatal Bereavement Support Group at East Jefferson General Hospital is open to anyone at any time in their journey who has experienced the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death. Families meet to discuss coping strategies and to offer their support and compassion. Every third Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. Fourth-floor classroom in the Woman and Child Department. Register through HealthFinder at 456-5000. 4200 Houma Blvd., Metairie.
- An online education program for healthcare practitioners (not for grieving parents): Resolve Through Sharing Program Gundersen Lutheran Medical Foundation – La Crosse, Wisconsin) offered through local hospitals. http://www.gundersenhealth.org/resolve-through-sharing/