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Miscarriage & Stillbirth: What Does Emotional Recovery Look Like?

FACTS TO KNOW
  • 81%

    People surveyed reported feeling guilt after loss. It's important to know that the loss was in no way your fault.

  • It's ok and normal to experience many conflicting emotions all at once. You may feel deep sadness, relief, guilt, anger, and jealousy all at the same time.

  • Tips For You

    • Discussing your pregnancy loss with someone objective or who is not part of your daily personal life can be helpful.
    • Your emotional recovery is unique to you and will depend on your individual situation as well as your support system.
    • It is okay to feel all of the wide-ranging emotions you may be experiencing. No emotion is “bad” or “good."
  • You're not alone. If you feel ready to share your experience, you can complete our survey on pregnancy loss.

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The emotional experience of pregnancy loss can be extraordinarily intense and varies dramatically from person to person. It’s important to keep in mind that pregnancy loss is normal, common, and not a sign that your body has failed. It is also not a signal that you will lose another pregnancy or that you will not be able to be pregnant — you may not be in a place where you're ready to be confronted with hopeful statistics, but it’s important to know that 98% of people who experience a pregnancy loss go on to have a baby. (See our article on the Causes of Miscarriage to learn more about what can increase and decrease your risk of pregnancy loss.)

Regardless of the statistics, you may still be feeling an intense range of emotions. Know that whatever you feel is valid, and it’s normal to need some time to process everything that’s just occurred.

Beyond that, there are a few things to know about emotional recovery:

The amount of time you carried does not necessarily impact the depth of loss that you feel

An earlier pregnancy loss does not always mean shorter emotional recovery. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), most researchers have not been able to find an association between the length of gestation and intensity of grief, anxiety, or depression after a pregnancy loss. Emotional recovery isn’t just determined by how long you were pregnant.

This can be a multi-faceted loss

The emotions you feel after a pregnancy loss may be complex and multifaceted. The people around you may struggle to understand what you’re going through. You may feel as if you lost not only the pregnancy but also your hopes and dreams for that baby or yourself. You may feel relieved or conflicted if you were not initially expecting the pregnancy, or you may not be sure of what you’re feeling at all. You may feel a temporary loss of physical strength or physical intimacy with your partner. You may feel a loss of identity, a loss of a sense of belonging and purpose, a loss of financial freedom, a loss of control, or a loss of trust in the world. All of these feelings are natural, valid, and normal.

Even just one therapy session can help

According to a Cochrane Review of six studies involving over 1000 people, there was a significant difference between psychological well-being (including anxiety, grief, depression avoidance, and self-blame) in people who received one counseling session versus no counseling sessions. Sometimes discussing events like pregnancy loss with someone objective or who is not part of your daily personal life can be helpful. There are many options here, including one-on-one therapy, group therapy, and text or virtual therapy. There are also other resources, including free social media groups, journaling, books, and courses that can offer similar support. You can also ask your doctor about any local resources that may be available for additional support.

Your emotional recovery timeline is personal

Everyone is different and your emotional recovery depends on your individual situation as well as your support system. You may recover quickly, but if you feel like you’re still recovering emotionally for months or even years after a pregnancy loss, that’s totally normal too. If you’re experiencing depressive symptoms two months after a pregnancy loss that are interfering with your ability to fulfill responsibilities and take care of yourself, you should seek out formal mental health evaluation and treatment.

Emotions often come in different stages

You will likely be cycling through a lot of different emotions. First, know that it is okay to feel all of them and that no emotion is “bad” or “good.” In fact, allowing yourself to feel, express, and process the full spectrum of emotions can help you heal. One helpful analogy is of trying to struggle against quicksand — the more you struggle, the more you sink. But if you allow yourself to float on the surface (i.e., allow your emotions to be freely expressed without fighting against them), you move closer to freedom. Expect to feel any of the following after a pregnancy loss:

Mixed emotions

It's important to remember that you can hold many conflicting emotions at once, including any of the ones on this list and beyond. You may feel relief and deep sadness or guilt and anger all at the same time.

Shock and denial

If you experience feelings of numbness or shock where it doesn’t feel like reality has sunk in, that is normal. In fact, sometimes our mind utilizes denial as a way to protect us from the overwhelming intensity of what we’re feeling.

Relief

You may have felt ambivalent or hesitant about the pregnancy and now feel some sense of relief that the loss has occurred. That is totally normal.

Anger

It’s normal and natural to feel angry with yourself, your body, your partner, your coworkers, your friends, or anyone around you.

Guilt

It’s completely natural to feel like it must have been something you did that caused the pregnancy loss, especially if you had mixed feelings about becoming pregnant. Don’t try to erase your feelings, but remember that there is almost nothing specific you could have done to cause the loss and that this is actually a normal part of human reproduction.

Jealousy

Jealousy is a completely normal emotion to experience after a pregnancy loss. According to a small qualitative study on 14 people published in the British Medical Journal, participants commonly expressed their shame at experiencing the emotions of jealousy and envy when they encountered other pregnant people or those with babies.

Acceptance

You may experience acceptance and feel at peace with what has occurred and be excited about the future.

Guilt is very common, but this loss was not your fault

It’s common to feel this way, but know that pregnancy loss is not your fault. The most recent National Survey of Public Perceptions of Miscarriage found that almost half (47%) of respondents, people who had a direct or observed experience with a pregnancy loss, reported feeling guilty. About 41% felt they had done something wrong and 28% felt ashamed. In Bodily's 2021 survey of nearly 6,000 people, 53% of respondents reported that they felt "a lot of guilt", and 81% of respondents felt some degree of guilt. This is natural to feel, but it’s important to remember that most pregnancy loss is due to abnormal chromosomes — meaning that when the sperm and egg united, the appropriate genetic material was not present, so from the very beginning, there was never a chance for this to develop into a healthy pregnancy. On average, the body gets it right 75% of the time (25% of pregnancies end in loss), and you were not able to change the outcome for better or for worse. 

The experience of grief and loss may be delayed

According to the APA, pregnancy loss can create a unique type of grief because it’s the loss of the future rather than the past. You may process this experience differently than other difficult experiences you’ve been through. You may initially feel okay then experience grief or sadness weeks or months after the fact, which is a common experience with pregnancy loss.

Your relationship with your body can become complicated

The physical signs of your pregnancy may linger

A pregnancy loss can complicate your relationship with your body or the way you look. You may have struggled to accept the changes that initially came with pregnancy, and you may now be struggling even more to accept the changes that linger after your loss — stretch marks, an expanded uterus, acne, scars. You may have gained weight and started wearing maternity clothes that you still need even though you are no longer pregnant, or you may have lost weight due to nausea. All of this can trigger new or unearth dormant feelings about your body.

You may feel like your body has failed you

Becoming pregnant may have changed your relationship with your body in a positive way. You may have been excited and motivated to care for your body as it cared for new life by, for example, getting extra sleep, taking prenatals, hydrating, and exercising. You may have marveled at your body and felt a sense of wonder toward what it was capable of in a way you hadn’t experienced before. A pregnancy loss can breach this sense of self-trust and self-compassion, and it can create a disconnect between mind and body as you process the experience.

You may resent your body

Up until this point, you may have had a symbiotic relationship with your body, but this experience may leave you feeling like your body has betrayed you. It may even impact your perception of yourself as a “healthy person” because you are in and out of hospitals and doctors offices, maybe for the first time in your life. The previous care and thoughtfulness you showed toward your body may deteriorate as you no longer experience this relationship as symbiotic, but rather as disconnected or even harmful.

Things you need to be aware of as you recover emotionally from a pregnancy loss:

How you recover emotionally from a pregnancy loss depends on a wide range of factors in your life, including having experienced the loss of a planned pregnancy, having a history of infertility or long periods of trying to conceive, having had no warning signs of the loss, experiencing prior pregnancy losses, experiencing loss at later gestational age, having no living children, being socially isolated, experiencing relationship strain between partners, and having a prior history of poor coping skills. It’s normal to feel sad or anxious after a pregnancy loss, and that can continue anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. Know that whatever emotions you feel — for however long you feel them — are valid.

It varies from person to person, but having a healthy baby may not erase your grief

For some people, going on to have a healthy baby after a loss will lead to feelings of relief and joy. For others, it may not affect their recovery at all, or it may even trigger the pain of a previous loss and cause sadness to reemerge. There is research showing that either scenario is common and perfectly normal.

Recurrent pregnancy loss can have a greater impact on mental health

If you’ve had multiple pregnancy losses and you feel like it gets harder each time, that’s completely normal. According to a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health that analyzed data from 192 people, women with multiple losses were more likely to be diagnosed with depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder than women with a history of one pregnancy loss. If you have had more than one pregnancy loss, you may want to reach out for more physical and psychological care and support. See our article How to Cope with Pregnancy Loss for resources on how to cope and seek out support.

You may need to advocate for the support you deserve

The psychological impact of pregnancy loss is sometimes overlooked because pregnancy loss is so common and its management is medically straightforward. Primary care providers, family physicians, obstetricians, and others may not be trained properly to assess the risk of and provide support for mental health problems following pregnancy loss. It’s helpful to know that you have other options. Some people feel adequately supported by their doctor and friends and family members, especially those who have experienced similar events. Others may want to seek out a support group, one-on-one therapy, or psychiatric support. When it comes to emotional recovery and your mental health, give yourself whatever support you need.

Trying again can be triggering, but that doesn’t mean you’re not ready

Ovulation tests, your period, physical intimacy — really anything related to conception and pregnancy — can bring up emotions related to the pregnancy loss. Know that feeling anxious about having another pregnancy loss is normal; it’s not necessarily a sign that you’re not ready to get pregnant again. It may be helpful to peel back the layers and ask yourself what that anxiety means. It may simply mean that having a baby is something you really want; but it could also mean you’re rushing to get pregnant again to avoid feeling the previous loss and you might need to slow down.

Have an honest conversation with your doctor about strategies that may help alleviate your anxiety. After your first positive urine pregnancy test, you may be able to take steps such as having a simple blood test done to measure your levels of the “pregnancy hormone” human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) — this can confirm the pregnancy and may give an indication as to whether it’s progressing normally; or you may be able to see your doctor for an ultrasound earlier. For some people, however, taking those steps may increase anxiety, so it could be better to wait. Having a good relationship with your healthcare provider can help make this experience feel less anxiety-provoking, and sometimes therapeutic modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy — a method utilized by many therapists — can decrease anxiety about specific life events, including pregnancy loss.

Explore our hub on pregnancy loss here.

Bodily does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The resources on our website are provided for informational purposes only. You should always consult with a healthcare professional regarding any medical diagnoses or treatment options.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4164469/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4468887/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6549705/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26000502/ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9916974/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4468887/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4256135/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3084335/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768229/ https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/im-pregnant/early-pregnancy/how-common-miscarriage
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