When the crib remains empty

With a little patience and gentle efforts a couple can overcome the anguish of a miscarriage

Husband consoling wife

Like all couples, Priya and Jatin were ecstatic about their pregnancy and were busy preparing for their baby’s arrival. They were busy welcoming their baby by renovating the house, discussing the child’s future, selecting names and so on. Then, one morning Priya complained of bleeding and they rushed to the gynaecologist’s clinic, where the doctor informed them of Priya’s miscarriage.

Jatin and Priya’s world came crashing down. Priya was in shock. She just couldn’t accept that she had lost her baby; Jatin, though disappointed, pulled himself together to support his wife. Like Priya and Jatin, many couples lose their babies unexpectedly. And although they all respond differently to this unfortunate event—some might go in denial, others might get angry at the unfairness of the situation, and still others may blame themselves for not taking enough precaution.

But often each couple goes through all the three stages—denial, anger and guilt. It’s a cycle of grief. The fourth stage, in many cases, is that of depression and the transition towards mourning and acknowledging reality. Sophia a housewife who miscarried in her first pregnancy shared that, “I felt I had lost something precious, l felt empty and that nothing was worth but the baby”. Like Sophia most mothers experience crying spells, lack of appetite and energy, low concentration, excessive or lack of sleep and isolation.

The final stage is that of acceptance, where the women learn to accept that they have lost their baby and gain resilience to move forward. This doesn’t mean that they forget the pain—just that they learn to cope with it enough to prevent it from interfering with their lives. This stage is considered the first step towards recovery.

Miscarriage is hard not just on the mothers, but also on the expectant fathers. After all, it’s their flesh and blood too. And the stages of mourning remain the same for the men, but are more subtle. Jatin, for instance, though heartbroken, put up a strong face and pulled himself together to support his grieving wife. Sophia’s husband couldn’t utter a word. “He was just numb. Probably none of us realised that he was heartbroken as well,” she said.

The repercussions

Miscarriage profoundly impacts a marriage—often leading the couple to come closer. But the opposite too happens in the case of some couples. They often lose interest in sex, have flashbacks, blame each other for what has happened and withdraw in their shells. Such couples are prone to depression and anxiety disorders and find it difficult to plan a baby in the near future.

The situation becomes more difficult to handle in case family and friends are insensitive towards the situation. It is seen that families are able to cope better since they are not directly involved with the unborn baby. This sometimes makes it difficult for them to acknowledge the grief that the couple is going through, making the couple feel alone in their journey.

It’s possible to heal

  • Allow yourself to experience the pain. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
  • Rest for at least a few days post miscarriage and take a break from work if you find it difficult to confront colleagues and friends. Going on a short vacation as a couple helps recover from the trauma.
  • Take care of your health post miscarriage as it scars not just emotionally but also physically. Massages, aroma therapy and guided imagery help relax mind and body.
  • Share your grief with your spouse or closed ones. Suppressed emotions lead to mental disorders and sharing your feelings, especially with spouse helps understand your spouse’s feelings, which will help you cope with this together. It is important for healing and recovery.
  • Be assertive and learn to say so firmly if you are not comfortable around relatives or friends.
  • Seek professional help to gain some direction in this time of confusion and stress, especially if you are finding it difficult to perform day-to-day activities, feel depressed after several weeks, experience mood swings or experience traumatic flashbacks.
  • Talk to your doctor about miscarriage and conceiving again.
  • Join a support group to understand that you are not alone in this journey. Learning the experiences of others helps you grow as a person.
  • Find creative means to express your feelings such as writing a journal or creating something in the memory of loss, something which symbolises your attachment to your unborn child like sowing a seed or creating a scrap book or making a painting or writing a poem.
  • Write a letter to the unborn child; it’s a cathartic outlet. You could write the things you wanted to tell the baby or the good times you had planned with it, how you felt about the loss and how you plan to cherish the memories of the time you shared with it.
  • Read books related to miscarriage to help you cope. I Never Held You: Miscarriage, Grief, Healing and Recovery by Ellen M Dubois or Miscarriage: Women Sharing From the Heart by Marie Allen and Shelly Marks are two good books that could help.
  • Maintain a thought diary to monitor your guilt and other emotions that tag along with it to keep your emotions in check. This will also help you identify the situation and negative thoughts that leads to negative emotions.
  • Work on letting go of “if only” or “what if” questions. Catastrophising only worsens coping with the predicament. Forgiving yourself and any other thing you might be holding responsible for your fate makes letting go of guilt easier.
  • Consider Cognitive Behavioural Therapy [CBT] as it helps restructure unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.

Although miscarriage is a difficult and stressful process, you still have opportunities to conceive in future and to have a healthy baby. So, keep the hope alive.

But don’t rush into it and give yourself enough time to recover from the experience, which you will in due time.

What family and friends can do

Acknowledge the loss even though you have not had direct experience with the baby, the loss is still real for the parents.

  • Do not try to suppress the couple’s expression of loss
  • Be supportive of the couple in terms of words or gestures
  • Use empathetic words like “I can understand, it must be difficult for you”, “how can I help you?” instead of words like “it was not a fully developed baby” or “don’t be sad”.
  • Provide the couple opportunities to share but at the same time provide space for them to recover and have some alone time.

This was first published in the July 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Reshma Nathani
Reshma Nathani, MSc, Mphil, is a professional counselling psychologist based in Pune, India. She works with individuals, children, couples, and families suffering from a vast array of psychological difficulties. In the past few years, she has been involved in teaching life-skills, coaching, social work, research and supervising.

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