Recently I’ve seen a couple different discussions of miscarriage that emphasize how grave and terrible a miscarriage is, including this article from Babble: 10 Things You Should Never Say to a Miscarriage Survivor. Now, I agree with that article – those are really stupid things to say to a woman who’s just had a miscarriage. And I certainly agree that a miscarriage is a terrible experience. Everyone knows that “miscarriage” means losing a pregnancy, but there are further nasty elements I didn’t know about until I had one. First, it’s a fairly drawn-out process, rather than an event. It took several days for my body to finish the obvious part of the process, and several weeks for my HCG levels to drop and the medical visits to be over. Also, miscarriage really kicks you while you’re down – you’re having this traumatic emotional experience, and in addition it’s painful and can be really horrifyingly gross. So I agree that miscarriage is a terrible experience on just about every front.
But the thing that isn’t true for me is the idea that it’s a lasting trauma. Of course I felt gutted when the doctors told me what was happening, and all my hopes for that baby disappeared. But really, my main source of pain was the worry that I would never be able to have a baby at all (it was my first pregnancy). As it turns out, one year after my miscarriage, I had a three week old baby. I was very nervous during the first few months of that second pregnancy, but everything went fine. She’s a terrifically wonderful 8 year old now. And she’s part of the reason I don’t have lasting pain about that first pregnancy – as you can see from the timing, she wouldn’t be possible if that first pregnancy had stuck. Of course if it had, I’d have a different fabulous kid and wouldn’t know I was missing anything, but still my hindsight will forever be colored by my love for this child. So the comment that “they will always grieve the one they never got to know” just doesn’t apply to me. I really don’t grieve anymore, even though I did have to grieve at the time.
People say you never get over a miscarriage, and it will be sad forever. Again, this isn’t the case for me. I can remember how sad and wretched I was at the time, and I can imagine that many women do feel lasting sadness, but actually I have gotten over it. People say that losing a pregnancy is the same as losing a born child, and for me that’s also untrue. I think I would truly be sad forever if I lost one of my children. Maybe it’s because I really don’t view an embryo as a “baby.” In fact, it upset me that the medical professionals who informed me of my miscarriage kept saying “your baby.” I felt distressed enough at the end of all the potential and hopes, I didn’t want people telling me I’d lost more than I actually felt I had! Of course this is difficult for the health care folks to navigate – probably a majority of women would prefer they use the term “baby” and would be offended and hurt if they said “embryo” or “fetus” instead.
And that’s the real upshot of all this musing – it’s legitimate for women to feel however they feel after having a miscarriage. And they’re bound to have strong feelings. That combination is what makes all those dumb comments so problematic – no matter what you think you know about miscarriage, each woman is going to have extremely potent and individual feelings (and some of them may even conflict with each other), and to vocally assume you know her feelings is insensitive. I agree that the best thing to say is “I’m sorry.” Maybe “Is there anything I can do for you?” And if you’re close, I’ll offer something useful a family member said to me: “It’s OK to feel awful, and it’s OK to feel OK too, when you do.”
(Oh, and I have some black humor for you that I appreciated even at the time, when I was grieving. If you are having a miscarriage and you stay up all night watching movies to distract yourself, do not choose the ones I did: Like Water for Chocolate (huge focus on a baby and breastfeeding), Love and Sex (main character has a miscarriage), and Someone Like You (main character’s sister has a miscarriage). I kid you not, I had no idea about the movies except the first was critically acclaimed and I’d been meaning to see it, and the latter two were fun, silly romcoms – what better to take my mind off my own troubles!)