I spoke about miscarriage last week in my post Can We Talk About Comparing and thought I would talk a bit more specifically about it today. I guess you could say the topic is on my mind. While Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness/Remembrance Day is officially in October, for me the month of remembering has always been March. That’s because March is the month that should have been my daughter’s birthday month, but isn’t.
I’m a “Boy Mom,” and I love it. My life is all dinosaurs and scraped knees and fart noises. I love the energy my sons bring to my life, and it is a privilege to watch them grow up. I really can’t picture my life any other way. But in March, I remember. I remember that there was once a little girl in my life too.
We were planning on naming her either Eleanor (Ellie), or Abigail (Abbie). A cute “ie” nickname for an official name that doesn’t have the “ie” sound. That’s because I’ve always adored “ie” names, but it just doesn’t work with our last name. (Becoming Ashley Lilley took some getting used to. I’ve always thought it sounds a bit like a fairy name, and I should be flitting from flower to flower or something…) Now, we call her Iroh (eye-row), a name my husband suggested that means both “love” and “grief.” I’m glad we named her, because now we can talk about her more easily.
Some Facts about Miscarriage
Miscarriage awareness and information varies greatly from place to place and age to age. In third world countries, miscarriage is extremely common and expected. So much has to go right to carry a baby to full term. I think in modern North America with all of our medicine, screenings, and interventions, we forget just what a miracle new life is. The truth is, pregnancy is a delicate process of thousands of tiny steps, and any one of them can go wrong.
In past generations (here in North America) miscarriage was more talked about and more expected as well. My great-grandmother and her neighbours had multiple miscarriages. It was known. My grandmothers both had one miscarriage each, but it was talked about less. They were “given their privacy.” My mother had a miscarriage, and no one knew except essential family members and a trusted friend.
I’m not a medical professional or a sociologist, but I can’t help but notice that the safer pregnancy has become, the more taboo miscarriage has become. It’s wonderful that we are losing less children and mothers to complications, but it hurts that a side effect to these medical breakthroughs is stigma and shame for the women who still experience what used to be (and still is) an incredibly common side effect of pregnancy.
- In North America, 1 in 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage, and 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss (this includes miscarriage, but also stillbirth, loss because of birth complications, and SIDS)
NOTE: This is 1 in 4 pregnancies, not 1 in 4 women. Out all pregnancies that occur today, 25% (1 in 4) of them will end in grief. That means if you are a woman who has had multiple children with no losses, there is another woman out there with several losses to make up that average. Someone you know is hurting.
One quarter of all pregnancies is not a small number. If you are experiencing a loss, never think that you are rare and defective. You are normal, and you are not alone.
- Miscarriage takes many forms and goes by different names. The type of miscarriage indicates what type of care is required. Some miscarriages require no medical intervention. Some require medication. Some require a surgical procedure. If surgery is required, the hospital will recommend 6 weeks of rest/light work/no lifting just as if you had delivered a full-term baby. I think it is important to know that not everyone experiences a miscarriage the same way, emotionally or medically/physically. It is never a good idea to assume that someone should “get over” a miscarriage quickly. Some mothers are still on medical rest long after their friends or family members think they should be “back to normal.”
I had what is known as a Missed Miscarriage. This means that my daughter died several weeks before it was ever detected, because my body held on and tried to protect the pregnancy instead of starting the natural miscarriage process on its own. By the time it was shown on an ultrasound (sonogram) that there was no heartbeat, I had already developed an infection. I required a D&C surgical procedure, antibiotics for the infection, and was advised to take 6 weeks of rest, which was a near impossibility with a small toddler at home who I technically wasn’t supposed to be picking up. I tried to take it easy, but I simply had no choice but to get him in and out of his crib and high chair. I think many mothers like me find themselves in the same situation and wish there more options for support.
- Don’t be surprised to hear or see the word “Abortion.” Abortion is such a religious and politically charged word in North America. The debate gets nasty. Labels and prejudices get applied. It seems a person’s moral standing hangs in the balance every time the word is spoken.
It can be a terrible shock then, for a couple to lose a baby that they loved deeply and wanted desperately, only to see the term “abortion” on medical documents. That is because “abortion” simply means “the expulsion of a fetus from the uterus before it has reached the stage of viability.” Churches and the news stream have made us most familiar with the concept of an elected abortion, but miscarriage (also known as spontaneous abortion) is included in the medical definition too. This has caused a lot of pain and unnecessary guilt for religious mothers and families, so I wanted to give fellow parents a friendly head’s up, and passionate pro-lifers a suggestion to be careful and kind. Words hurt.
- The next pregnancy will be terrifying. From the moment the pregnancy test comes back positive, parents who have experienced a previous loss find themselves stuck in a strange suspended reality. It is normal to not know how to feel. It is normal to not want to celebrate or set up the nursery, just in case. It is normal to be jealous of, or even angry at other parents who seem happy and blissful. It’s also normal to feel like you are betraying the baby you lost by having another.
When I became pregnant with my youngest, I was afraid constantly. I kept waiting “for the other shoe to drop.” I held my breath at each scan. During the week of pregnancy that I had lost my daughter in, I was a complete wreck. If this is you right now, you are not alone. You are stronger than you know, and you can get through this.
Ways to Honour A Lost Baby
As a culture, we don’t recognize the loss of a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth the way we do the loss of any other family member. There is no visitation, funeral, graveside memorial, or celebration of life to attend. Yet many parents need to memorialize their child in some way to work through the grief.
I have a locket that contains the birthstones of every member of my family. When we lost our girl, I added her birthstone as well. I wanted to recognize her as a member of my family, and it feels right to carry her with me alongside my sons in that way.
I also make a note in my journal every year on her birthday. Some years when the grief has been stronger, I have written more, other years it has been as short as, “Happy Birthday in Heaven! Love Mommy.” I try not to force myself to write any more or any less than I want to on that day. It is simply a record of how the grief has ebbed and flowed, and it is for my benefit alone.
Here are a few more ideas that I have seen and heard of from my friends and from fellow authors. Perhaps something here will feel right for you.
- Name your baby. It’s harder/more awkward to talk about “the baby I lost,” compared to a real name of a real child. Even if it is only for you, I encourage naming. You may not want to talk about it now, and that is perfectly fine, but the name will be waiting for you for when you are ready.
- Memorial jewelry (such as my locket).
- Memorial art for your home. Etsy is a wonderful place to look for ideas that incorporate poems, photos, footprints, and important dates.
- Name a star after your baby so they are always looking down on you from the heavens.
- Make an annual donation to a children’s charity on your child’s birthday.
- Participate in a charity walk or run. (You can often select the name on your pennant. Wear their name in their memory.)
- Sponsor a child through Worldvision or a similar agency. Some agencies will allow you to select a child with a specific birthdate, so you can sponsor a child the same age as your own, and watch them grow up.
Some things that may help you on your unique grief journey:
- Articles: The website Her View From Home has many beautiful stories from mothers who have been there. One that spoke to me was called Lies My Miscarriage Told Me.
- Organizations: The Compassionate Friends is a network organization with chapters all over North America. They support parents who have a lost a child at any stage, from miscarriage up to adult children. They hold regular in-person meetings so bereaved parents can support each other. It is not affiliated with any denomination or religion.
Caleb Ministries is a Christian faith-based ministry for women experiencing miscarriage, stillbirth, infant loss, and infertility.
- Contact your local hospital, funeral home, or churches to find local events. For example, my community throws a “Blue Christmas” celebration for those who have lost a loved one that year, and are finding the holidays difficult. They light a Christmas tree, and place an ornament on it with each name that families wish to remember.
- Memorial Jewelry & Art: Etsy Search: Miscarriage Keepsake
- And when nothing else fits, make your own resources. When a friend and I bonded over our shared miscarriage grief and a frustrating lack of local resources, we decided to work together and hosted a Miscarriage & Infant Loss Support Night for our community. She went on to lead a Bible Study for bereaved parents through a local church. There seems to be some truth to the saying, When you can’t find the light, be the light. Helping others is therapeutic.
If you have found this page because you are going through a loss, I am so so sorry. There is no grief quite like it, and it is ok to feel it all. If you are one of my regulars, I hope you will find the information helpful for the next time a friend goes through a miscarriage, or to help you heal a past broken heart. Much Love, Ashley
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