Losing a pregnancy is one of the hardest things someone can go through. And unless you’ve experienced this yourself, it’s impossible to fully grasp what a miscarriage is like.
An estimated 15% to 20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. This can bring up feelings of guilt, extreme sadness and anger. A pregnancy loss can make it difficult to function on a daily basis and involves hormone surges, a physical healing process and a need to put yourself back together mentally.
Everyone is unique in how they grieve, but there are some things that have worked throughout the years for those who have experienced pregnancy loss. Here are just a few ways to take care of yourself after a miscarriage:
Sure there’s yoga, candlelit baths and mani/pedis. But sometimes working through grief involves throwing out the perfect vision of taking care of yourself and doing what makes you truly feel good.
“There are some days where the water feels so high over your head it’s impossible to breathe. It’s OK to take wine, lock yourself in the closet and hysterically cry it out,” said Rena Ejiogu, author of “However We Can: A No-Shame Journey to Motherhood.”
“After we got the news about a third loss, my husband and I went straight from the OB-GYN to Shake Shack and got all the works,” said Nikole Flores Savage, a public relations professional in Miami. “It helped!”
Nadine Courtney, a writer in Santa Monica, California, said she “binged all six seasons of ‘The Americans’ and ate my weight in chocolate.”
Write your feelings down
After her third miscarriage, Amy Tangerine, author “Making Memories,” turned to journaling.
“Writing down the words helped me process and slowly realize that it wasn’t my fault or my body’s fault,” Tangerine said. “Nature knows better than we do sometimes, and it’s OK to write in big brush script letters, ‘This really sucks and is totally unfair.’”
Kailey Clymer, a public relations consultant in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, started a blog, Stillborn Still Strong, to cope with the loss of her son. “I was able to heal through being vulnerable with complete strangers, most of whom could relate to what I was going through with their own losses,” she said.
Find people who understand what you’re going through
Connecting with others who have experienced this kind of loss can be very healing.
“Knowing that you’re not alone, learning how other people are handling this pain and having someone to connect with during particularly hard moments is powerful,” said Sarah Levine-Miles, a licensed clinical social worker and perinatal psychotherapist.
She suggested searching for Facebook groups about pregnancy loss, turning to resources like Postpartum Support International, Motherfigure’s maternal wellness directory or a local group recommended by your medical provider. You can also set up an appointment with a therapist or professional grief counselor who can help you work through it.
“Loved ones, no matter how much they care and try, can be hurtful with comments and advice,” said Dr. Lora Shahine, a reproductive endocrinologist at Pacific Northwest Fertility in the Seattle area.
She suggested surrounding yourself with people who lift you up, declining invitations to baby showers and taking a break from social media or muting friends who are posting all about their baby bump or gender reveal parties.
“You need time to heal, and boundaries can protect you for that important time you need,” she added.
Don’t push through the pain
Don’t force yourself to get back to normal too quickly. “It’s important to remember it’s not just your physical health that matters during a pregnancy loss, but your mental health might be suffering during this time as well,” said Matt Grammar, a licensed therapist and founder of Kentucky Counseling Center.
And those who lose a pregnancy must go through major hormonal changes, which can lead to a roller coaster of emotions. “Being patient with yourself during these changes can help you start to heal,” Grammar added.
Let go of expectations around productivity and what you “should” be doing. “Take the time to listen to your body, sleep and slow down,” Levine-Miles explained. “Take up friends and family on their offers to help around the house or with other children.”
Welcome some distraction
“Ultimately, it is recommended that you process your loss in order to achieve some healing. However, in the immediate aftermath of a pregnancy loss, distraction may be the best thing for you,” said Karen Balumbu-Bennett, a licensed clinical social worker based in Los Angeles who is certified in perimental health.
So go ahead and lose yourself in a new podcast or audiobook or binge the heck out of the latest streaming series. Bonus points if you can find something lighthearted that makes you laugh ― or revisit a childhood favorite. “Watch movies or TV shows that don’t focus on family, parenting or loss… basically, avoid content that is triggering,” Balumbu-Bennett said.
Let yourself off the hook
Self-blame can be common following a miscarriage. But medical professionals are quick to point out a pregnancy loss is not the expectant person’s fault.
“Clear your mind of any self-blame. You did nothing wrong,” said Catherine Burton, a marriage and family therapist in Southlake, Texas.
Sixty percent of miscarriages are said to be caused by abnormal chromosomal fusion during fertilization, which is something you and your partner have zero control over. And, in many cases, doctors are unable to find the cause. So having a stressful day, accidentally eating something on the “don’t eat while pregnant list” or overdoing your workout did not cause your loss.
Talk about it
“If you don’t tell the people you’re closest to, they can’t be there for you when you’re grieving,” White said.
This approach was beneficial to Holtz. “I needed to talk about my experience and share it with those that were willing to lend an ear,” she said. “By doing so, I found support from the most unexpected people.”
Opening up also helped her realize how many people have also experienced a loss. “While it did not necessarily lessen my emotional pain, it was healing to see that others who had gone through it persevered,” Holtz explained.
If it’s hard to say the words, White suggested delegating communication to someone, like your partner or your best friend, who can spread the word to the people you want to know but might not feel comfortable telling yourself.
Find rituals of remembrance or closure
“My biggest fear after my own loss was that people would forget about my baby,” said Ellen Holtz, a ROOTS bereavement coordinator who has experienced her own pregnancy loss. “Though I did not have many tangible memories — an ultrasound picture and a copy of her footprints is all I have — she is no less the daughter I loved and cherished from the time of her conception.”
She and her family planted a small garden in their lost baby’s memory.
J.J. Barnes, a 36-year-old writer in the United Kingdom, buried of the cards she was given and things she bought for the baby and planted a shrub on top.
“I had no baby to bury after my miscarriage, but I felt like I needed to have closure and a proper goodbye,” she explained. “It gave me a chance to put her to rest.”
Acknowledge your feelings
“Some people will tell you wholly unhelpful things ― ‘At least the miscarriage was early,’ ‘You can try again,’ ‘At least you know you can get pregnant,’” said Dr. Kate White, author of ”Your Guide to Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss.” “They mean well, but statements like these can make you feel like your pregnancy loss is something you should be getting over.”
Pregnancy loss, White added, is a life-changing event for many people: “You’re not just losing the eight-day, eight-week or an eight-month pregnancy; you’re losing all the hopes and dreams you had for this baby-to-be.”
So, validate that it’s OK to be completely devastated and that it’s going to take time to feel better.