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How to care for your mental health if you've experienced a miscarriage

Intense emotions and grief are natural responses, and working with your emotions can help you get better

Sriranjitha Jeurkar

A few years ago, Time magazine reported that close to 30 per cent of pregnancies end in miscarriages. Other estimates say that at least one in four women in the United States will experience a miscarriage at some point. In India, a study of 2400 women showed that 32 per cent of the respondents had gone through a miscarriage.

Miscarriage occurs more commonly than is acknowledged publicly, and a woman who’s had a miscarriage is impacted physically and emotionally. White Swan Foundation spoke to gynecologists Dr Shaibya Saldanha, Dr Aruna Muralidhar, and psychiatrist Dr Ashlesha Bagadia to understand the emotional impact.

A miscarriage can be a significant loss in a woman’s life.

In many ways, a miscarriage is similar to the loss of a baby. The mother may feel intense grief and sadness, and needs some time to recover from her loss. The taboo around miscarriage also means that often, the mother has little space or opportunity to address her grief or her pain. This can make it harder for her to come to terms with her loss.

The later in the pregnancy, the harder it may be to deal with the loss.

As the pregnancy progresses, the mother goes through several scans, has ‘seen’ the baby’s image in them and begins to identify with the baby and build a connection. This is why miscarriages in the second or third trimesters can have a greater emotional impact on the mother.

Most women think they did something wrong, but that's not true.

A woman who’s had a miscarriage may experience guilt and regret, and report feeling like she’s failed at something crucial. She may begin thinking about what she shouldn’t have done to trigger it and blame herself. Common myths say that miscarriage occurs due to activity, travel, or because they ate a papaya. When miscarriages occur in unplanned pregnancies, the woman may think that she miscarried because she didn’t want the baby enough. However, most early miscarriages occur due to chromosomal abnormalities.

Some miscarriages are especially hard to accept.

While some miscarriages occur in an obvious way with bleeding, cramping, and lower back pain, others may be missed miscarriages, occurring without obvious physical symptoms. This can make it harder for the woman to come to terms with it - she may want additional scans, or checking of the heartbeat to see proof.

Early miscarriages may mean the grieving is private.

If the miscarriage occurs during the first trimester, the woman may not have shared the news with anyone but close friends and family. On one hand, this could make things easier for her as she doesn’t have to break the ‘bad news’ to everyone she knows. On the other, it makes her grieving more private, and she may feel unable to talk about her loss and mourn it openly, if she wishes to.

How the miscarriage is talked about can affect the mother’s mental wellbeing.

How the family reacts to the event can significantly impact how the mother copes. If the family blames the mother for the miscarriage, or hints that she must have done something to precipitate it, it is harder for the mother to recover. A loving, supportive environment can help the woman to address what happened, and how she feels about it.

with miscarriage: what can I do?

If you’ve experienced a miscarriage, it’s important to take care of your physical as well as emotional health. Here are some things you can do:

  1. Get adequate rest. You have been through a loss (and perhaps a medical procedure) and your body will be able to heal better when it gets a week or two of rest.
  2. Exercise your choice about who you would want to speak to about your loss. If someone you’re not comfortable discussing this with initiates a conversation, you can clearly and gently tell them that you would rather not discuss this.
  3. Talk to someone you trust - it could be your partner, a family member or a friend. Involving your partner in these conversations can be helpful, because they have experienced a loss too.
  4. Express your feelings in whatever way is most comfortable, through writing, art or other creative activity.
  5. Find a ritual that helps you to acknowledge and mark your loss, and to find a way to work through your grief.

When is it more than ‘just sadness’?

The mother is bound to experience intense emotions after the loss of a baby, but often, the intensity of the grief wears off in two weeks, and the mother feels better physically and emotionally. However, some women may need help coming to terms with their loss, if they experience:

  • Disturbed sleeping patterns: too little or excessive sleeping
  • Constant feelings of guilt (“I must have done something wrong” or “I’m at fault for this”)
  • Repetitive thoughts (“I’ll never be able to have a child now”)
  • Inability to talk about the loss with anyone at all
  • Other symptoms of depression including crying spells, hopelessness and unexplained physical health problems
  • Thoughts of death or dying

If you notice these signs for more than two weeks at a stretch, please reach out to a helpline or a counselor.