Shortly after I had a miscarriage last year, my father-in-law made this comment to me: “What you went through was a big deal, you know.”
His remark struck me as being of one of the kindest things anyone said to me after the incident. I could only nod. The loss of a child at any stage is a big deal, and it felt really good to have him acknowledge that and acknowledge me.
I had support from other people as well. A woman at church gave me a small gift on my first Sunday back. Another woman who had suffered a miscarriage earlier that year came up to me and asked me if I wanted to talk. We both shared our stories. Two friends brought me dinner and pretended not to be horrified by the fact that I hadn’t taken a shower in a few days or vacuumed my floor.
But there were other people who treated me like nothing happened. The people who couldn’t handle hearing any medical details. The people I needed help from that didn’t show up.
However, miscarriage is a big deal, and the worst part about it is that miscarriage sufferers usually suffer in silence. A woman who has had a pregnancy loss may feel ashamed. She may feel that her body is defective. She may feel like no one else understands. Miscarriage sufferers need support.
Even if you have never suffered a miscarriage, you probably know someone who has. And what they are going through or have gone through is monumental for them. Although their reactions may vary, they want to be acknowledged, noticed. Some may not be ready to talk about it, but my guess is that they still need to feel like people notice them and care.
Here are five things every woman should know about pregnancy loss (whether you are going through it or are helping someone who is):
1. Let yourself rest.
My first miscarriage occurred in my first pregnancy. It was an early miscarriage. I was probably around 7 or 8 weeks, but I still had excruciating cramping and pain and several weeks of “getting back to normal” after the miscarriage happened. Needless to say, I spent three solid days in bed. After being in bed for several days, all of the tissue passed, and the cramping stopped. However, the bleeding did not.
The recovery period was very similar to that which I experienced after my full-term pregnancies. I had light bleeding that occurred for several more weeks after the miscarriage, and then the bleeding stopped and normal monthly functions resumed another several weeks later. Even when I was able to resume my old activities and felt somewhat physically better, the grieving process was one that lasted for many more months.
I hadn’t told many people that I was pregnant, so I had the odd experience of returning back to church and work — and telling no one what had happened. While I pretended that everything was normal in my life, I felt very sad and depressed for some time. I eventually did tell some friends at work, and it felt really good to share what had happened. However, the recovery time, emotionally and physically, was more than I expected.
I have found this to be true of many women I have talked to: We as women are so used to being the caretakers of other people, we often don’t allow other people to take care of us. If we have always been in optimal health, we assume that miscarriage won’t take that much out of us.
I had a friend who began miscarrying at work on a Friday and continued throughout her day teaching. She kept popping Advil, left at her normal time to pick up her daughter — had the miscarriage that night — and then returned to work the following Monday. Suffice it to say, she was not able to make it through the day and was given stern orders by our department head to take some time off.
As she recounted this story to me, I was in utter shock! Her body and emotions needed time to heal, but we as women often don’t get the luxury of taking a break. When a miscarriage occurs, however, time is needed to let your body and soul recover.
2. Be your own health advocate.
As I mentioned before, I was extremely naïve about miscarriage. Had it not been for online forums and articles, I would not have known what to expect because no one had ever shared with me about miscarriage. I assumed it was something that would never happen to me.
While I was able to stay at home and pass everything on my own in my first miscarriage, I realize that it could have turned into a situation where I needed medical help. A nurse from my doctor’s office called to let me know that a miscarriage was inevitable based on my low hCG levels but did not really give me advice on what to do.
I never scheduled a follow-up visit or anything to see how I was doing health-wise after that miscarriage. However, in retrospect, I would advise anyone going through a miscarriage to view it as the big deal it is in terms of both your physical and emotional health. I would advise staying in contact with your doctor’s office — really watching and monitoring your symptoms — and throwing aside any qualms about going to the hospital if you are excessively bleeding or feel you need extra assistance.
With my second miscarriage, I was further along (11 1/2 weeks) and had so much bleeding immediately that I had no choice but to check into the hospital. I was a little embarrassed by what a mess I was when I checked in, and quite frankly, I didn’t really speak up for myself like I should have. I had one nurse check me in and then several more rotate through my room to care for me.
I was also scurried off to an ultrasound room and then another room for an examination. No one person was keeping tabs on how much blood loss I was experiencing. Although the doctor mentioned to me that I had an extremely low red blood cell count, I didn’t think to say how many trips I had made to the bathroom or how much tissue and blood I had lost.
At one point, I even had a nurse scold me for passing out, and I was too dumbfounded and weak to even counter.
Shortly after that, I was wheeled into an operating room for surgery, and I thought that my ordeal would be over. However, that was not the case. After the procedure, I was released even though I needed a blood transfusion. I did not realize this until I returned home and began to have problems with dizziness and a racing heartbeat.
Even at this point, I called my doctor’s office because I thought something felt wrong, but they assured me that I was most likely experiencing side effects from drugs they had given me in the operating room. I deferred to their judgment even though something didn’t feel right in my body.
I figured I would get better in a few days. However, when we went to pizza on my birthday, and I nearly collapsed walking across the parking lot, I knew something was up. I went to the follow-up at my doctor’s and laid out my symptoms. It was then that they did a blood test and discovered that my hemoglobin levels were at a 7.1 (a 7.0 is blood transfusion level).
Moral of the story: If something doesn’t feel right, speak up about it! With medical personnel all around us and professional doctors in crisp coats, we assume that they will just know what is going on.
However, I found out that while doctors can tell a lot from certain tests and procedures, you can greatly help them by letting them know about your symptoms, your health history, how much blood you are losing, etc., so that they can truly help you.
3. Ask for and accept help.
My second miscarriage was different than my first because I accepted help. I didn’t try to be the stoic survivor I was after my first miscarriage. I was very open with people that I had a pregnancy loss, and I gratefully accepted the assistance. I know the fear in telling people is that it will be worse to get over or they will act awkwardly around you, but I actually found that not to be the case at all.
Yes, there will be some who say the wrong things that hurt more than help (we will get to that in a minute), but overwhelmingly, there will also be those people who genuinely want to help and can if you let them.
At the start of my most recent miscarriage, I told my husband that morning I needed him not to go to work that day. At first, he just assumed I was experiencing a little spotting, and it was normal. He figured I could just drive myself to the doctor later that day. But I insisted that he stay with me because my mama intuition was telling me that this was bad — I did not want to be left alone with my young children in the state I was in.
Once we ascertained the situation was such that we needed to just go straight to the emergency room rather than the doctor’s office, my father-in-law came to pick up the kids and take care of them. My brother-in-law came to sit with my husband while I was in surgery. We needed help.
And when we came home and I realized that I was not doing well at all in the recovery process, I asked my husband to stay home from work for the next few days. The booster club of his team set up a meal train for us. In the weeks following, I arranged care a few mornings a week for my son (with family members and a babysitter). I was in no position to take care of my kids or my household until my health got better, and I gladly accepted the assistance.
I found people were really relieved to be able to do something for us. People generally want to assist you, but you just have to tell them how they can best be of help.
4. Know that anger is part of the grief process.
People expect to be sad after a traumatic event. They expect to cry and be depressed — but another part of the grief cycle is anger. After my second miscarriage, a good friend of mine gave me a pregnancy loss study to go through. The authors devoted an entire section of the study to dealing with anger after a miscarriage.
When I read it, a lightbulb went off in my head because I realized that I was carrying around some anger, and I needed to deal with it because my unresolved anger was making me act in wrong ways to some people. If the truth be told, the person I was angry at was God, and the other people were just getting the brunt of that.
I could not believe that God would let me go through pregnancy loss two times. I felt absolutely humiliated the second time because I had been so confident that my miscarriage tragedy was in the past. Anger in and of itself isn’t sin — but anger that isn’t dealt with can turn into bitterness and resentment.
I was able to get rid of the anger when I poured out my feelings to God. I also had some trusted friends that I talked with. I told them everything I was thinking and feeling. Being open about my anger and grief helped to get the negative emotions out.
5. Expect that not everyone will understand.
If you choose to share your tragedy (which I recommend because I believe it leads to a speedier recovery), there will be some people who can’t handle it or won’t know how to comfort you. With my most recent miscarriage, some people did not even acknowledge that I had gone through anything when I re-emerged into the public.
The mistaken assumption people have is that they will hurt you by bringing it up, but I found that it was worse to be ignored. Then there were other situations where I thought I would get support from individuals, but I found them to be too busy or too horrified by my tragedy to help.
In those instances, do not dwell on those hurts. Think back to the times that you failed someone or avoided someone because it was awkward and you didn’t know what to say. For as many people who don’t acknowledge you, there will be those who do, so expect both and know that some people don’t know how to help a person in crisis (especially if they haven’t been through that particular crisis themselves).
You can make it easier for others by just bringing up the topic yourself and showing others that you are in a place to talk about it. And, if you are the supporting friend, a simple “How are you?” after a miscarriage will put your friend who has suffered the loss at ease and open up the conversation to go in the direction the person is most comfortable with.
We as women are used to being the nurturers of others. It is hard for us to accept assistance or allow others to take care of us. However, pregnancy loss is a time when you need to give yourself permission to slow down, ask for what you need from the people around you, and allow yourself to heal.
If you yourself have not gone through a pregnancy loss, I believe that you can still serve as a valuable support to a friend or another woman in your community who has. You can serve her best by checking up on her, listening to her, and being there for her when she most needs support.
As a survivor of two miscarriages, I don’t relish what I went through. However, I did survive — and survive well, with God’s help. He is the binder of all wounds, and He knows just how to take care of you, whatever your loss. You need only let Him. His help may come through the many hands of the people around you.
Is there anything else you would add to the list? Leave a comment below.