In Canada, 15% to 25% of expecting parents experience pregnancy loss, nearly 80% of which occur in the first trimester. This number may be even higher, as some pregnancy losses go unreported. Regardless of what stage of pregnancy the loss occurs, it has a long-lasting emotional impact. Psychological symptoms can be severe and should be taken seriously. Some people may experience anxiety, post-traumatic stress, or depression. Other common feelings are anger, sadness, guilt, and grief.
Emotional recovery is a deeply personal experience and can impact many facets of the person’s life, including their relationship with themselves, their partner, and their friends and family. There could also be a shift in their idea of parenthood. Every experience with loss is unique, but recognizing the challenges can help families recover. Here are ways to better understand grief and begin the process of emotional healing.
Getting to know the stages of grief
Grief can be overwhelming. It’s no surprise that some people experiencing pregnancy loss find it difficult to believe or accept. This can also create a sense of loneliness, as the parent may isolate themselves from friends, family, and even their partner. Talking about the loss forces the parent to confront their denial, which can be challenging.
Denial can look like: The doctor made a mistake, I’m sure everything is fine.
For some, feeling angry is easier than facing other emotions. Grief, sadness, and guilt are sometimes much harder to deal with. By being angry at someone or something else, parents may be temporarily distracting themselves from processing the loss. Resentment and bitterness are common at this stage, and some may linger here longer than others.
Anger can look like: This is the doctor’s fault. They didn’t do everything in their power to help me.
When going through loss, it’s not uncommon to place the blame on oneself, and seek forgiveness or a second chance. Some may turn to prayer, while others may explore every path, however unrealistic, to minimize the risk of a future pregnancy loss.
Bargaining can look like: When I conceive again, I’ll avoid all forms of exercise to keep the pregnancy safe.
Compared to other stages of grief, depression feels much more passive. Some may feel defeated and exhausted from the first stages of grief, and they may feel an intense sadness that is amplified by coming to terms with loss. Depression during grief is completely normal, but if a parent has trouble maintaining a normal routine, or begins to have negative or harmful thoughts, it may be time to ask for help.
Depression can look like: I’m too tired to eat or go outside. I just want to be alone.
When the loss feels easier to deal with, the grieving process is nearing its end. With acceptance comes the ability to look back on the pregnancy loss without feeling overwhelmed. It’s normal to still feel sad, but the sadness no longer prevents the parent from going about their daily life.
Acceptance can look like: I still feel heartbroken, but I’m glad to have the memory of the pregnancy and recall how happy it made me.
Different ways to experience grief
It’s not uncommon to live grief differently. Some people may go through the stages of grief quickly, while others may stay longer at any given stage. In many cases, when emotional loss is amplified by physical loss, the person who was pregnant may grieve more openly and for a longer period of time. Partners, on the other hand, may appear to be less overcome by grief. Instead, they may cope by:
Caring for other children
Cleaning, cooking, doing groceries
Focusing on work
Turning to recreational activities
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Approaches to coping with grief
Change the narrative
Some psychotherapists suggest that rewriting the reproductive story allows people to visualize their idea of parenthood and pregnancy, and understand how loss disrupted this idea. The process can help normalize feelings and initiate healing.
Join a support group
An in-person or virtual pregnancy loss support group gives you the opportunity to share your experience in a helpful and compassionate setting. It can help you feel less isolated. It allows you to be honest and open about your emotions. Support groups can also help you find other local resources.
Try cognitive behavioural therapy
CBT helps us develop strategies to cope with daily stress and prioritize well-being. It also focuses on restructuring negative thoughts that are often unhelpful. CBT and mindfulness practice can help people understand their feelings and work on recovery. You can try Dialogue’s internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy (iCBT) program.
Being a supportive partner, friend, or family member
If you know someone who has experienced pregnancy loss, consider how you can be there for them. A network of support can make the healing process easier.
Simple gestures mean a lot. It’s okay to ask them what they need, but they might be too much shock and grief to know. Here are some practical ways to help:
Provide warm clothes.
Buy menstrual pads.
Cook a meal.
Help with paying bills.
Do grocery shopping.
Small acts of kindness can also provide a lot of comfort:
Sit with them in silence.
Use kind words.
Check in with them regularly.
Normalize their feelings and thoughts.
Empathetic dialogue is comforting and supportive, while attempting to rationalize the loss can be well-intentioned, but it can also be hurtful.
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How can Dialogue help
If you experience symptoms that you’re unsure of, or simply want to learn more about pregnancy, Dialogue’s medical team can help. Our nurses and doctors are available 24/7 and can offer counselling on early signs of pregnancy loss, options, side effects of procedures and medication, and emotional support. We’re here to help.
Get more information about health and family care.