Surviving after a miscarriage

Published on March 18, 2020

“When I came home from the hospital, and everyone quickly jumped up and gave me their chair, I was like I don’t need that. Don’t treat me as if I have a new born. I don’t have a new born,” Zehra reminisced.

“I feel like you can’t talk about it or people will think you’re crazy,” Lubna commented. “Why does it have to be kept so hush-hush? As someone who finds the idea of talking therapeutic, this was quite frustrating.”

The word pregnancy brings to mind images of smiling, gurgling babies. To some, it’s the image of the glowing mom-to-be. The myriad of questions regarding conception that a young woman faces soon after marriage – the frequency and underlying fervour of such questions – imply that pregnancy is somewhat sacred and nothing short of a blessing. To the couple, then, pregnancy represents the pinnacle of life after marriage. Lubna recounted getting married, moving abroad and making a career for herself. Both she and her husband were extremely excited about becoming parents when she conceived after six years.

So, what happens when there is a pregnancy loss? The soon-to-be-parents feel cheated out of a wondrous, natural experience that was to be theirs. In the blink of an eye, all their dreams are shattered and their hope for a family is lost, or temporarily put on hold. Lubna’s journey was filled with much anticipation. About the various stages of her pregnancy, including spotting, preterm pre-labour rupture of the membranes, and the final stages of her miscarriage, Lubna said she asked for one more ultrasound before they terminate the pregnancy. The ultrasound confirmed what the doctor suspected, and Lubna in the meantime had started experiencing significant cramping.

Miscarriage is the most common of the four types of pregnancy loss (miscarriage, still birth, birth loss, and abortion). A majority of miscarriages happen before the 12th week or by the end of first trimester; many women miscarry without having realised they are pregnant. The reasons can be anything from ectopic pregnancies to the death of a baby soon after it is born. The affected group is large and diverse. And the effects – at times invisible, at times denied – just as diverse. Guilt, like in Zehra’s case when she used to wonder what’s wrong with her body; blame, like Lubna’s case when she started to think she killed her baby; and failure, like Shehla’s case when she considered ending her life begin to surface. This is especially true if there’s lack of compassion from either spouse or other members of the family.

Often the couple and close family members are left psychologically and emotionally distraught, the severity depending on factors such as duration of pregnancy, history of similar incidents, duration of married life, and support after the pregnancy loss.

Lubna expressed a need to take her time in coping, and processing the experience. “I was lost. Since then, I have felt so nervous while trying to get pregnant. Especially when I missed my cycle in between, only to have periods three weeks later. And every day is like, living day by day. All this would have been impossible without the support of my husband. I feel like he dealt with it behind the scenes, so that when I was having a hard time with it, he could be there for me, just listening to me, letting me cry, and do whatever I wanted to do. I remember just being in bed for a very long while, and him having to do everything.”

Furthermore, the fear and rejection among women who are made to feel the loss of child was their fault makes them feel isolated. Shehla was accused of having aborted the child by taking pills. Despite the incident, she kept trying for a baby. But then she had another miscarriage. “I kept blaming myself and repeatedly apologised to my husband and in-laws for losing the baby even though I knew and identified this as being imposed on me. I couldn’t help myself from feeling this way. I knew enough of the literature, the facts and figures that it wasn't my fault, but I really went to that place emotionally.

For an experience that is medically and logically speaking beyond a person’s control, it is surprising to note the stigma surrounding miscarriage even in this day and age. “We're really quick to minimise pain, suffering, or the topic of death in our society,” Zehra noted. “Since there’s no visible wound people have no idea there’s been a loss unless I let them know. And it’s unfortunate but true that sometimes women don't know how to give voice to it.”

While some women are able to put aside their feelings and move on, others find that they need weeks or even months to be able to fully function again. In fact, a woman who had more than one miscarriage would react differently to each event. This might make it challenging for those providing support.

“I don't need pity from anyone,” Zehra added. “My relatives were trying to be sympathetic by bringing their babies to the other room, or not discussing pregnancy in my presence.” She found this to be painful. “They weren't trying to be mean, but they were being overly sensitive for me. Everything people did, would upset me. Because my hormones were going crazy. Because if they didn’t get up from that chair, I would probably have been like why didn’t they get up from the chair? And there were people who told me how many miscarriages they had or how common it is to have a miscarriage. One of my aunts told me she had 10 miscarriages. The worst I heard was, "your fetus wasn’t healthy". 

A multi-level approach to miscarriage which involves support and education for women, their families, and healthcare professionals may help minimise the extent of women's distress after miscarriage.

The women interviewed also stressed upon the benefits of sharing their story and promoting social change by eliminating shame associated with miscarriage.

“There was nothing there when I wanted something. Nobody else talks about it, which, in my case at least, made me assume there was something wrong with me. I think shame is too strong a word to use, but I was definitely not feeling normal for needing to grieve. So, it was really great to see that somebody was interested in exploring it, and supporting women better through this, telling what helps, what doesn't,” Lubna expressed.

(Note: Names of individuals have been changed to protect confidentiality.)

Category(s):Grief, Loss, Bereavement, Miscarriage, Relationships & Marriage

Written by:

Ahmer Zuberi

The writer is a Psychologist and determined to break the stigma around mental health. He provides counselling to overcome emotional turmoil and dysfunctional thoughts; allowing individuals to lead more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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