Self-Care After Pregnancy Loss and Finding Resilience
By Jody Mullen
Pregnancy loss: It’s one of those things no one seems to want to talk about. Although as many as fifty percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage (the loss of a pregnancy prior to twenty weeks gestation), we’re still reluctant to speak openly about it. Women (and their partners) may feel afraid or ashamed to talk about their pain for a variety of reasons. They may feel it’s too personal to share with others, or they may blame themselves. I’m here to tell you that losing your pregnancy was not your fault and that you are not alone in your grief. Let’s first talk a little more about what pregnancy loss is and why it happens. Then I’ll give you some easy self-care tips to help you heal, both physically and emotionally.
What Is Miscarriage?
Miscarriage is defined as the death of an unborn baby prior to twenty weeks gestational age (or about halfway through a full-term pregnancy). The majority of miscarriages happen in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, sometimes before a woman is even aware that she is pregnant. Because an early miscarriage can seem like a normal menstrual period, it’s possible to be unaware that you are experiencing one. If you have confirmed that you’re definitely pregnant and begin spotting or bleeding, try not to panic. Some women experience light spotting throughout their pregnancies and go on to deliver healthy babies.
If this is your first pregnancy or the first time you’ve experienced any bleeding while pregnant, it’s important that you check in with your care provider. In a similar vein, if you have any reason to believe you could be miscarrying, like sudden, sharp cramps, it’s smart to reach out. Your doctor, nurse practitioner, or midwife won’t think you’re silly or overly cautious for making a quick call to check-in. It’s always better to play it safe.
What Causes Miscarriage?
As someone who has been down this road, I want to preface this section by saying that, if you have experienced miscarriage, you are not at fault. Many women blame themselves and feel a terrible sense of guilt following pregnancy loss. For example, they may ask themselves, “What did I eat? Did I exercise too much? I shouldn’t have worked so hard.” You should know from the get-go that most miscarriages are not preventable.
Miscarriage can happen for a variety of reasons. In most cases, it’s because the developing fetus had a severe problem, like a chromosomal abnormality. You didn’t do anything to cause your unborn baby to have an issue — it’s just something that happens (very frequently) in human reproduction. You could also miscarry a pregnancy due to a hormonal imbalance, a problem with your cervix or uterus, or an undiagnosed issue, like antiphospholipid syndrome. For some problems, it’s possible to work with a maternal-fetal specialist, who can help you carry to term and deliver a happy and healthy baby.
While you can’t eliminate your risk of miscarriage, you can take certain steps to help minimize it, like keeping any serious conditions, like diabetes or thyroid disease, under control. Your OB/GYN can refer you to a specialist if you need help staying well during pregnancy. You can also make smart choices, like avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drug use while you’re pregnant.
While you’re at it, should you quit coffee cold turkey? After all, isn’t caffeine bad for you when you’re growing a small person? Not so fast — if you enjoy your morning cup of joe, most doctors agree that you can safely consume about 200 mg of caffeine per day. So if you drank a cup or two of coffee or a soda while you were expecting and lost the pregnancy, please don’t blame yourself.
In many cases, you may never really know what caused you to miscarry, which can be frustrating. But you should know that you don’t need to beat yourself up. It’s very likely that there was a serious problem with the developing baby’s genetic makeup. Most women who suffer pregnancy loss go on to deliver healthy babies. You should ask your care provider when it’s safe for you to try to get pregnant again.
How to Cope With Miscarriage
When you learn that you’ve lost a very wanted pregnancy, you may feel shocked and absolutely crushed. You’ll likely cycle through the stages of grief before you’re able to come to terms with what has happened. After pregnancy loss, the stages of grief can look something like this:
- Denial: “There’s no way this really happened to me. Was it a bad dream?”
- Anger: “It’s not fair. I didn’t do anything to deserve this. I was doing everything right!”
- Bargaining: “I should have been happier about this. I should have been eating healthier food. I should have . . .”
- Depression: “I feel hopeless. I’m afraid I’ll never get pregnant again.”
The final stage of grief — acceptance — can look different for every woman. For me, it felt wrong to “accept” that my unborn baby had died. I accepted the material reality of the situation, but I couldn’t make peace with it. I’ve been able to have healthy babies since my loss, and that’s still essentially how I feel about the situation. I hate that it happened, but I know I can’t change it.
As you navigate the first days and weeks following your loss, here are some ways to take care of yourself.
Reach Out to Your Support System
Please don’t be afraid to share your feelings with a friend, family member, or trusted counselor. You’ll likely find out how many of the women you know have been through something similar, which can help you feel less alone. In addition, try to stay open with your partner, even if they’re processing the loss in a completely different way. Remember that everyone grieves differently, so make time to reconnect and heal together.
Ask for What You Need
Sometimes it can be difficult for us to prioritize our own needs — it might feel selfish or self-indulgent, for example. Right now, it’s totally okay to ask for things that will help you through your day. If you’re not up to cooking, ask someone to bring you a hot meal. If you’re lonely, call a friend and ask her to bring you some coffee. And this is a big one: If you spend time in the hospital or at your doctor’s office for follow-up care, it’s okay to request that you not be in the waiting room or anywhere else with a crowd of expectant mothers or postpartum women with their babies.
Find Ways to Remember
I know so many women who are afraid people will think they’re strange for wanting to honor their unborn babies. If it helps you to heal and find some sense of closure, there’s nothing wrong with remembering your baby. You might plant a tree, wear a special piece of jewelry, or light a candle on National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Do what feels right to you.
I know what you’re going through right now is not easy. Please remember that you’re not at fault, and you’re not alone. If you need someone to remember your baby with you, it can be me.
*This post may contain affiliate links to the products and services that we talk about.