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How to heal after miscarriage

In our column and podcast series, Professor Sarah Niblock, CEO of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, explores challenges that affect us all. This month, she looks at miscarriage, the stigma around it, and how to recover and move on in the way that is authentic to you

by Psychologies

5 minute read

One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, which a tragic statistic. And if one miscarriage isn’t harrowing enough, it’s estimated that one in 100 women in the UK experience the loss of a baby more than once. Miscarriages cover a range of experiences – from loss on the day that you find out you are pregnant to much later on in the pregnancy.

Yet the grief and complex range of emotions behind those cold numbers is all too rarely talked about. Yes, there is a better understanding within medical care, but parents report that there is room for improvement in wider society. Well-meaning people will try to persuade them that ‘it was meant to be’ and ‘it’s probably for the best’ when parents’ grief, albeit invisible, is raw and real.

A personal journey

In this month’s podcast, I speak to Julia Bueno, UKCP psychotherapist and author of The Brink Of Being (Little, Brown, £18.99), in which she draws upon her own life, her interactions with clients and discussions with experts. She describes how each person’s experience is unique and there is no across-the-board approach to responding to miscarriage or healing afterwards.

In the wake of a miscarriage, parents can suffer profound distress and confusion which, if left unaddressed, may have a significant impact on their mental health, work and relationships. Talking to a registered, qualified psychotherapist in a safe and non-judgemental space is a way to address emotions they may not feel comfortable sharing with others.

As well as the emotional dimensions of miscarriage – which Bueno stresses can be severe at any stage in the gestation of a child – the physical experience can be traumatising. Social stigma around women’s reproductive processes remains acute. We live in a time when depictions of menstruation in the media aren’t realistic, so it is difficult for anyone who hasn’t been through it to understand its visceral physicality. The way a woman is looked after in hospital or at home will also have an impact.

Culturally, there is an expectation that women will recover, with loved ones anticipating they’ll move on swiftly when, in fact, the opposite can be true. This is partly based on the notion that the maternal bond is only forged at birth. It is common practice not to even announce the pregnancy during the first 12 weeks, but that does not mean an intense emotional bond has not been forged with what might medically be described as a bundle of cells.

Friends and family members may advise a woman that she can best overcome her grief by quickly conceiving another child. A desire to have a baby still exists after a loss and, even if a woman gets pregnant again, it certainly doesn’t discount the loss she felt previously. In fact, a woman can experience significant grief. Her baby has gone when she has already emotionally invested in a future that includes her child. This can lead to feelings of anger or even shame and possibly blaming her own body for the loss.

Gamut of emotions

Bueno stresses that miscarriage affects both parents in similar and different ways. It can be challenging in the context of social and gender expectations of fathers, as well as mothers. As most miscarriages happen within the first 12 weeks, grief can be abstract, however there are some partners who can feel even more saddened by the loss than the mother. Guilt is a typical emotion among partners, who worry that they did not look after the mother sufficiently.

Psychotherapy can be helpful in enabling mothers, partners and even extended families to address, rather than repress, their feelings. UKCP therapists are skilled in working with loss and the raft of emotions that accompanies it. You don’t have to let go of, or move on from, your child. You can find your unique way to carry your connection with them, however brief, forward in your life.

The UKCP Talking Therapies Podcast - Recover after a miscarriage

Listen to Sarah Niblock and Julia Bueno discuss miscarriage and how therapy can help here

Image: Getty