Miscarriage: How to Heal and How to Help
Rachelle J. Christensen - October 16, 2012
Anyone who has recovered from a miscarriage knows how painful and long the mourning process can be. For those experiencing this loss, and for those who hope to comfort one who has miscarried, read firsthand experiences and ideas for coping.
When I discovered I was pregnant with my first baby, each day was filled with joyful planning of the day when I could hold a soft newborn. Then about eleven weeks into my pregnancy, I began spotting.
I insisted on seeing my doctor, who, unable to find a heartbeat, ordered an ultrasound. My hands shook as we were admitted to the ultrasound room. The radiologist passed the ultrasound transducer over my abdomen in silence. He studied the fuzzy black and white images with a furrowed brow. “Have you been on fertility drugs?” he asked.
Surprised, I answered, “No, this was our first try at getting pregnant.”
He nodded and looked at the screen.
My husband and I watched anxiously as he enlarged the picture on the screen and three small sacs appeared.
“Is that triplets?” I asked in disbelief.
He nodded, and then he made a small X on each of the three sacs. My heart sank as I tried to comprehend what those X’s meant. The next few days dragged by as I grasped at the hope that the doctors were wrong. When my body went into labor, I could deny reality no longer.
After my miscarriage, we returned to our empty home devastated. I spent an entire day on the couch crying and asking the Lord why He had let this happen. My husband struggled with the loss and worried for my health. My despair amplified his grief and feelings of inadequacy, knowing he couldn’t spare me this pain. After weeks of joy and excitement, emptiness clawed at our hearts.
We belonged to a young married student ward where almost every couple had children. I didn’t know anyone who had experienced a miscarriage. I had never expected to have this trial.
People gave me advice, and although they meant well, much of it was misinformed. I struggled with attending church because it seemed there was always someone asking, “When are you going to have kids?” or offering suggestions and distorted doctrine.
My husband and I did our best to cope with our grief. The emptiness inside my abdomen overshadowed my days. It should have been stretching, reaching toward that due date in March—the birth of the new spring—a beautiful time for a baby to be born. My babies were due in March. I didn’t cope well. My due date passed. I hadn’t conceived. An entire year passed, and still I wasn’t pregnant.
I experienced another miscarriage and problems with infertility. Finally, our daughter was born on a beautiful April day nearly three years after my first miscarriage.
What You Can Do If You’ve Experienced a Miscarriage
The pain I felt as I struggled with my miscarriage didn’t go away immediately. It took a long time to heal, and even now, although years have passed, this experience continues to affect my life and the way I interact with others as I strive to be more understanding and aware of life’s challenges. But there are steps you can take to help the healing process and be able to move forward.
Understand that grieving is okay.
One of the most difficult aspects of miscarriage is the lack of physical evidence to others. Often, people think a couple has no need to grieve. Whether you were three weeks or 23 weeks pregnant at the time of your miscarriage, you may experience a great sense of loss. You have a right and a need to grieve.
Grief can take different forms for each individual. Often, the most severe cases of grief result from a death which is unexpected, tragic, or unexplained. Miscarriage falls into each of these categories. When you break a bone, you know why it happened and how to fix it. With miscarriage, the meanings and remedies are not so clear-cut.
Don’t get offended by the good intentions of others.
Interacting with others is often difficult but necessary during a grieving period. What should we say when someone asks a thoughtless question? The best advice I heard was to answer, “Why do you ask?” With this simple response, we can avoid becoming angry and hurt and hopefully uncover the reason the person is asking. I reminded myself often not to be offended when well-intentioned people offered condolences in ways that made me cringe. They are not perfect, and neither am I.
Don’t forget your spouse.
It’s easy to be consumed in your own grief and forget that your spouse is suffering too.
Many husbands feel overlooked and forgotten during the mourning and comforting process. One man said, “It was my baby too, and I am hurting just as much as my wife. I know it’s different, but I’m not only hurting for the loss of the baby, I’m hurting for the pain my wife is going through.”
Husbands do have a need and a right to grieve, but most will grieve differently than their wives. Because the woman experiences all the physical changes of pregnancy and miscarriage, it is often hard for the husband to identify with the same emotions. He will likely feel grief, but he may not express his feelings as openly.
Many husbands feel they need to be strong for their wives and families. Some feel that if they could temper their hurt and disappointment, it would help their wives deal with the situation better. But on the inside, they wonder if they are somehow responsible and feel a sense of failure at their inability to protect their spouses from pain.
Reach out to comfort and support each other, and try even harder than normal to show your love for your spouse during this difficult time.
Let the gospel be a source of comfort.
As I struggled for answers, I searched the scriptures and studied the doctrines of the gospel for answers and comfort. Priesthood blessings can be a great source of peace and personal direction, and your bishop can also provide help and understanding.
How to Comfort Someone Who Has Experienced a Miscarriage or Stillbirth
We face our grief and trials differently. What comforts one might offend another. That seems confusing, and you may wonder, then how will I know what to do?
Kneel and ask Heavenly Father how you can help the person in need.
The Lord wants to help them and you are His proxy to serve others.
Be a good listener.
A simple “I’m sorry,” or “I love you, and I hurt for you,” is often the best way to offer comfort to someone, along with being a good listener. But what if it’s your best friend, sister, or daughter? You may need to say more than that when she calls to talk to you. You might say, “I’m here for you, whenever you want to talk—24 hours a day,” “That must be so hard,” “I’m sure you’re hurting right now,” “I will pray for you.”
Acknowledge the miscarriage rather than avoid the subject.
If you avoid the person, they may feel abandoned. Recognize the suffering, but refrain from saying, “I know exactly how you feel.” Even if you have been through a similar situation, everyone processes things differently.
Don’t diminish another person’s suffering.
Instead, acknowledge that they may be experiencing feelings they don’t understand. If someone has suffered a pregnancy loss, please don’t tell them, “It’s better this way; it probably had birth defects.” That line of reasoning doesn’t offer any comfort.
Don’t try to rush someone through their grieving process.
Just like a broken bone needs weeks to mend, people suffering from a miscarriage need time to heal. You can allow them the time they need and continue to be a source of encouragement and help.
Think of times when you have experienced loss and how you felt.
Each of us has dealt with some form of loss in our life. Pondering on those experiences may help you to comfort your loved one with empathy. The scriptures contain many examples of the Savior providing comfort to those who suffered. He commanded us to mourn with those that mourn. As we strive to emulate this Christ-like attribute and seek guidance from the Spirit, we will be able to provide help and comfort to others.
This article originally ran in the September/October 2012 issue of LDS Living. Subscribe or order a single copy.
Rachelle J. Christensen is the author of Lost Children: Coping with Miscarriage for Latter-day Saints, as well as two suspense novels. Learn more about her at rachellechristensen.com.
© LDS Living, September/October 2012.