As some of you may know, October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. As an Edmonton doula and instructor of Edmonton prenatal classes, I have a great deal of knowledge on what goes into getting pregnant. However, like many of you who are reading this, I am an unfortunate member of the pregnancy loss club as well, as I suffered miscarriages before both of my children. I have been no stranger to this world – my second loss became quite public and although it was never my intention, I am proud to be an advocate for supporting mothers and normalizing this extremely hard life event. Today in this post, I want to talk a little bit about what it is like to suffer a loss, why they do (or do not) happen and how those of you who have never experienced this can appropriately support someone in your life struggling with pregnancy loss. **Disclaimer – though also incredibly hard and equally important to talk about, this post will be based off of personal experience so I will not be diving into infant loss.
A day in the life of a loss victim
The loss of a pregnancy is gut-wrenching for so many reasons, one being that you don’t really see them coming. While the majority of losses actually happen before you’ll even pee on a stick (unless you are monitoring the crap out of your cycle and test early), the people who suffer are the ones who knew they were in fact pregnant to start with. You start out with that first positive and after the shock wears off, you’re incredibly happy! You start planning out where the baby’s room will be, thinking up names, dreaming of what they’ll look like… if it’s your first pregnancy the thought of losing all of this probably never crosses your mind. Until you don’t feel sick, or your boobs don’t hurt or stop hurting, or you feel energetic rather than tired. Many of us don’t realize that these can be signs that our pregnancy is no longer viable, until the unthinkable happens… you go to the washroom and see blood. Some of us don’t even get that part, we go until our next routine ultrasound to find out we’ve lost our little growing bean. That initial panic, followed by the unbearable confirmation, is probably one of the worst feelings I have ever had in my life. Coming from someone who has had a 7 week loss and a 13 week loss, no age of your baby makes losing them any easier. They were once there and then suddenly they are not. Then comes the part where you have to start making the decisions that you wish you never had to make – do I let this happen on it’s own or use medical interventions to carry along the miscarriage? Do I tell people or hide it? Do I try to get pregnant again or not, and how soon? Decision-making while grieving can almost be numbing in a way, as you’ve got to put your emotions to the side for a bit and think about your body and it’s well-being. Many of us feel ashamed to tell anyone what happened, almost like our body failed us and we don’t want to let the world know. After the miscarriage is over, we’re trying to heal while seeing pregnant women on the streets or watching a mother feed her newborn or seeing small children play. This is no small event and takes a lot of time, love and support to fully get over, which is why it is important for people to know how to help us through this obstacle (which i’ll get to later). Even after having two healthy children after losses, I still get choked up listening to stories about loss, as it brings up memories of my journey and it still feels so incredibly raw.
Did I do something wrong?
Many of us go through a state of trying to figure out where we went wrong. How we let this happen, or what we did to cause this. It doesn’t help that society has it’s own ideas of how “women cause themselves to lose their babies”. As an advocate for shedding the truth on losses, it doesn’t seem to matter how many times you correct or fact-check people, someone will always tell you that you did something wrong to cause you to lose your pregnancy. Maybe you jumped on a trampoline, or you had a headache so you took an advil, or you drank alcohol when you were 2 minutes pregnant and you didn’t yet know, etc. Some might even try to tell you that your body might not be capable of bearing children, and I’ve even heard these crazy theories from potential clients as an Edmonton doula. Let me tell all of you, right here, right now, THESE ARE WRONG. Unless you have been to a doctor after recurrent losses (3 or more) and have been diagnosed with some sort of issue that won’t allow your body to carry out a full term pregnancy (and event if you have), YOU did nothing wrong. First off, 60% of known miscarriages are due to a chromosomal abnormality (and much more of unknown pregnancies). This means that either the egg that you released that month, or the sperm that made it to the egg, was not suitable for life. We all have them in our system, it is literally a crap shoot on which we release at that time. Aside from this uncontrollable issue, there are a number of disorders such as PCOS, Endometriosis, cervical incompetence, etc. that can cause miscarriages but once again, none of these are from anything you did/did not do. Sure a healthy lifestyle will help you to get pregnant quicker and might even allow your body to release more “good eggs” than “bad”, but we all know someone who does not eat well or exercise often or who does not take care of themselves that has had a healthy child. It’s important for moms to get this incorrect and detrimental idea that they caused their pregnancy to end out of their head.
Saying the right thing
So here comes the hardest part about loss. What the heck do you say to someone who has just lost a baby? I’ve heard it all, from “well at least you know you can get pregnant” to “your baby was so small, at least it wasn’t actually alive” and much more. And for some of you who have not suffered a loss, these might look like a totally normal and considerate things to say. The thing to remember is that we lost a part of us, and that part of us mattered. We aren’t interested in thinking about future pregnancies, we want this one back, and going back to my earlier statement, it doesn’t matter how far along we were, a baby is a baby and losing it really sucks. A general rule of thumb to navigating communication with a loss mom is less is more. A simple “I’m sorry, please let me know how I can help” or “I’m here for you if/when you are ready to talk” goes a very long way. Bringing your personal agenda into this situation, such as religion, is also a bad idea unless you know that the loss mom is religious. It probably goes without saying, but please don’t use this time to push said agenda – this will only cause resentment or distrust. Finally, know when to reach out and when to back off. Showing up unannounced might seem like something really nice to do in any other situation, but a lot of loss moms want to be alone or grieve by themselves with their partner or family. Give space when space is needed, and hold space for them to release their sorrow if/when they are ready.
I feel like I am in an extremely unique position to help moms with pregnancy loss. As a doula in Edmonton, I can fully understand the importance of being confident in your body’s process of giving birth… but as a mom who’s lost multiple pregnancies, I know the feeling of almost being let-down by your body. The grief and disappointment of pregnancy loss often extends past the physical healing period and into viable or “rainbow” pregnancies, and we often feel as though our body may fail us again. It’s important to take back that confidence and to feel empowered in your rainbow birth, and this is where I’ve got a unique skill set. I’m hoping for the future of my Edmonton doula career that I can support as many moms as possible through rainbow pregnancies. So if you are a newly expecting mom who has suffered a loss prior and is feeling overwhelmed, please reach out! You can get ahold of me through my contact page, and for more information about what my role as a doula would look like see my 5 Myths About Doulas post and my Doulas Are For Partners Too post. If you are in the process of trying to conceive again after a loss, I’d love to hear from you as well (even if it’s just to talk).
Regardless of where you are at in your pregnancy loss journey, you are not alone and it’s time to talk about your loss. You owe it to yourself and future children to process and heal from this experience. I’m here for you ❤