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Nurturing and Fostering Healing After Pregnancy Loss: A Guide to Coping and Moving Forward

More often than not, pregnancies are associated with feelings of joy and excitement. Unfortunately, so many women face the opposite, where their pregnancy can make for one of the most heartbreaking, emotionally traumatic moments of their lives.

According to a 2022 study, 26% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. While this number is certainly shocking, it highlights the devastating reality that many individuals and couples face.

For those who have endured the pain of loss during pregnancy, finding ways to cope with the complex emotions that follow is integral to healing and moving forward.

This article explores the different aspects of pregnancy loss, offering insights into the emotional journey it entails. We provide therapist-recommended guidance on effective coping strategies to help individuals navigate this difficult path with greater resilience and support.

What is Pregnancy Loss?

Even in our most dreadful nightmares, we cannot fathom creating an emotional experience as agonizing as that brought on by pregnancy loss.

Like a budding flower being plucked out from the ground before its petals can unfold, the promise of beauty and life has been taken from us, against our wishes. When a promise is cut short, the emptiness it leaves behind echoes louder than we ever could have imagined.

As a form of unexpected loss, pregnancy loss is defined as the end of a pregnancy before the fetus reaches full term. There are two main categories of pregnancy loss.

1. Miscarriage

Early pregnancy loss, commonly referred to as a miscarriage, occurs when a pregnancy spontaneously ends within the first 20 weeks of gestation.

Some of the most common causes of miscarriages include:

  • Genetic abnormalities in the developing fetus
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Uterine abnormalities
  • Infections during pregnancy
  • Immunological factors
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

While not all of these health issues cause miscarriages, they highlight the complexity of factors that can contribute to pregnancy loss.

2. Stillbirth

A stillbirth is another common form of pregnancy loss that refers to the loss of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Stillbirths may be caused by:

  • Complications in miscarriages
  • Placental abnormalities or insufficiencies
  • Infections during pregnancy
  • Genetic or chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus
  • Umbilical cord complications
  • Maternal health conditions (i.e. diabetes or high blood pressure)

What makes stillborn pregnancy loss particularly challenging is that, unlike miscarriages, stillbirths likely involve a full labor and delivery process. This is a deeply heartbreaking experience for expecting mothers as it involves both an emotional and physical recovery.

The Impacts of Pregnancy Loss: Navigating Emotional and Relationship Challenges

Both types of pregnancy loss are sensitive and distressing experiences that have profound emotional and relational repercussions.

The Emotional Impacts

Pregnancy loss can cause profound emotional turmoil, often leading to a complex mix of feelings that can be overwhelming for individuals and couples.

Symptoms can vary from person to person and may include:

  • Confusion
  • Shock
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Sadness
  • Phases of grief
  • Self-blame
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Shame

While these emotions aren't inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it's essential to recognize that there's no right way to feel in the aftermath of pregnancy loss. Every individual has a unique journey through these emotions, and the way these symptoms are experienced can vary greatly – both from person to person, and even for one individual within the span of a day.

What remains most important is granting yourself the gift of patience as you navigate this emotional landscape.

Pregnancy loss often emerges abruptly, making the initial stages of processing particularly challenging. Alongside this emotional journey, you might also encounter a transformation in your sense of self, as the anticipated role of becoming a parent takes an unexpected turn.

The Relationship Impacts

Alongside the emotional impacts, pregnancy loss may also affect your relationship with your partner.

Couples may cope with grief differently, leading to potential misunderstandings or conflicts. One partner might express their emotions openly, while the other might withdraw or appear less affected. This divergence in grieving styles can lead to a sense of isolation or frustration between partners.

The pain and heartbreak of pregnancy loss may affect many individuals long term as well. Even months or years later, certain dates can be particularly difficult such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the anniversary of the loss, and the expected date of birth.

It may also be difficult to watch other couples in your social circle become pregnant. It’s important to recognize that it’s natural to feel sad or angry when hearing this news.

Supporting Yourself Through Pregnancy Loss

Pregnancy loss is an immensely emotional and challenging experience that requires self-care and support.

Here are some recommendations to help you support yourself through this difficult time.

Allow Yourself Time to Grieve

Pregnancy loss is an emotionally overwhelming and devastating journey. Grief is a natural response to loss, which should be processed in a way that feels healthy for yourself.

Granting yourself the space and time to process these emotions can open the path for self-compassion and healing to run its course. Recognize that the loss you experience is real, regardless of how early in your pregnancy you were.

Grief is incredibly individual, shaped by our own personal experiences, feelings, and coping mechanisms. This also involves the idea that grief does not follow a linear path, and its intensity may fluctuate day to day or even hour by hour. It’s important to recognize that because grief does not follow a specific timeline, there's no predetermined duration for mourning your loss.

Honour your personal journey through this difficult time.

Coping Strategies

Coping with loss is a unique experience for all of us.

That being said, here are three therapist-recommended coping strategies that play a role in healing from pain and finding relief from emotional distress that may help guide you in taking your first steps in this journey.

1. Communicate and share your emotions

The experience of pregnancy loss can evoke a range of emotions. Communicating these feelings with a trusted loved one can help you process the grief and find ways to cope together.

Partners may want to consider being open and expressing their feelings, fears, and needs while being receptive to each other's perspectives. It's important to recognize that grief is a complex process that affects individuals differently, and couples may require patience and understanding to navigate it together.

Outside our romantic partnerships, pregnancy loss can also influence our relationships with friends and family. Supportive loved ones can play a vital role by providing a listening ear, offering help with practical matters, and acknowledging our loss.

2. Engage in fulfilling self-care practices

Self-care is a necessary tool following the loss of a pregnancy, as it serves as a foundation for healing and emotional well-being.

These practices such as taking a bath, reading a book, taking a walk, or watching a TV show have a way of replenishing our emotional reserves, giving us the energy to build back our strength to take the next step.

No matter what type of self-care soothes your soul, we encourage you to take deliberate steps to nurture your mental, emotional, or physical health every day. Prioritizing yourself can give you a sense of stability, help you manage your stress, and provide momentary relief from your immense sadness or anxiety.

3. Seek individual or couples therapy

Therapy offers a dedicated space where individuals can openly express their thoughts, emotions, and uncertainties in a safe environment.

Through counselling, individuals are able to gain insight into their emotions, discover validation and relief from their pain, and navigate the grief and emotional challenges that accompany pregnancy loss with greater ease and certainty.

Licensed therapists offer tools to manage anxiety, depression, and stress, helping individuals reframe their experiences and foster a sense of empowerment throughout the journey. For example, mindfulness is a practical tool that is often used in therapy to help couples face challenges together while prioritizing emotional connection, love, and compassion.

Moving Forward to a Brighter Tomorrow

As you navigate the challenging path of loss, remember to explore avenues that lead you toward closure and acceptance. Honouring the memory of the lost pregnancy can be a healing process. Consider creating meaningful memories or rituals that bring you comfort, and give yourself the space to reflect on your loss.

Looking ahead, contemplate future family planning and decisions, and understand that the timing and readiness to try for another baby, if you choose to do so, are deeply personal for every individual.

No matter where you are on your path toward healing, it’s never too late to ask for help – we are here to support you. When you’re ready, book a free consultation with a therapist.

International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day

October 15 is an annual day dedicated to remembering the lives of babies lost due to pregnancy loss or infancy. This day provides a space for families, couples, and individuals to openly acknowledge their grief and share their experiences while raising awareness about the emotional impacts of these losses.

For more information, visit http://www.october15.ca/.

Written by Laura Anderson BA, MA, MSW, RSW

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