Pregnancy loss is not often talked about in American culture, so many people are just unaware of the reality of the experience, and it is not sufficiently supported by our healthcare institutions. This does an incredible disservice to anyone who is going through it. If you’ve had a pregnancy loss, you may already know that the experience is big in its physical intensity and psychological depth. That reality is common and totally normal. It’s valid to feel overwhelmed. That said, there are things that you can do to navigate this time with more ease.
What you need to know about coping with pregnancy loss:
Before we can talk about steps you can take to cope, we must first establish some truths. It can be difficult to get to a place where you are able to accept them, but it’s important to establish them anyway:
If you are grieving, that’s valid
The emotional aftermath of a pregnancy loss depends on a variety of factors, but many people experience very real grief. It’s a process, it takes time, and you can’t skip it.
It varies from person to person, but for some, another pregnancy will not shorten the grief
Becoming pregnant again can seem like the perfect solution to any potential suffering experienced after a pregnancy loss. And going on to have a baby can make you feel less anxious and more joyful. However, conceiving will not necessarily erase all of the painful feelings. Instead of waiting for another pregnancy to find healing, consider what can help you feel better now.
You can make room for grief and gratitude
We often try to replace painful emotions like anger and sadness with seemingly more “acceptable” ones like gratitude or hope. This may come from you, but it may also come from the people around you. Unfortunately, if you’re grieving, this can keep you stuck in the recovery process. The emotions that we often try to suppress or control are important to have. Let yourself feel.
Pregnancy is loss not your fault
Guilt is common and normal, but you’re not actually at fault. The truth is, we don't know how to prevent pregnancy loss. Nothing that you normally do, such as exercising, having sex, or even taking birth control pills and most other medicines, is known to cause a pregnancy loss. Pregnancy losses aren't caused by stress, working too much, using an IUD, having an abortion, or having a sexually transmitted disease in the past either.
Pregnancy loss is typically a one-time occurrence
Keep in mind that pregnancy loss is usually a one-time occurrence — about 98% of people go on to have a healthy pregnancy the next time they become pregnant.
Recurrent pregnancy loss does not mean you won’t get pregnant
If you have another pregnancy loss, that doesn’t mean you’ll never carry to term. For future pregnancies, the predicted risk of pregnancy loss only goes up 8% (from 20% to 28%) after two consecutive pregnancy losses. After three or more consecutive pregnancy losses, the risk of another pregnancy loss is about 43%. If you’ve experienced recurrent pregnancy loss, it’s recommended that you seek out a fertility specialist who can help you navigate the next steps.
Allow yourself to feel your emotions rather than control them
You will likely be cycling through a lot of different emotions, including anger, guilt, sadness, relief, acceptance, and jealousy. 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.
You may need some time and space to recover
Some people feel physically and emotionally ready to jump back into normal activities right away, while others may need some time and space to recover. Your timeline for recovery will be unique to you, and your healing process may be different than that of your friend’s or family member’s. Your coping timeline will depend on where you are in your life and your current arsenal of coping skills. Allow yourself to take it one step at a time.
You don’t have to keep pregnancy loss a secret
It’s common in the United States to wait until 12 weeks to announce your pregnancy, which means you may be in a position where you’re grieving the loss of your pregnancy but haven’t told anyone you were pregnant. It may be challenging to break the news to friends and family members, but it’s incredibly important for your healing that you mobilize a support system. How broad you want that support system to be is up to you. See our article on How to Talk About Your Pregnancy Loss for specific, actionable advice on how to talk about pregnancy loss.
You may be feeling out of control:
It is totally normal to feel this way, and there are things you can do to help. Try to focus on taking one small step—it really can make a big difference. Then take it from there. One step at a time.
Even 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 those 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, such as free social media groups, journaling, books, and courses that offer similar support. You can also ask your doctor about any local resources that may be available for additional support.
Memorialize the baby or loss when it feels right to you
You may not want to do this right away, but it may be helpful to acknowledge the pregnancy and your loss down the road. This could take the form of a token, a tree planted, a piece of art, a letter to your baby, or anything that feels right.
Don’t be mad at your body, nurture it
You may be used to your body easily doing what you want, when you want it. But in this circumstance, you may have deeply wanted to be pregnant, and yet your body didn't comply. It’s natural to feel like you and your body are disconnected. Take this time to honor your body and identify things you can do to nurture it. This may be some form of self-care like drinking a restorative tea, booking an acupuncture or massage session, getting extra sleep or exercise, or continuing to eat the healthy snacks you started eating for the baby. It may also be a self-soothing practice such as intentionally taking the time to notice and write down everything your body has done for you on a given day. While these things will not make the experience of pregnancy loss go away or prevent a pregnancy loss, they are ways to reconnect with and make peace with your body.
Utilize your pre-existing strengths. Reunite with you.
Pregnancy loss is multifaceted. You may feel some degree of loss of your identity — like the person you were before this loss is far away and difficult to connect to. This is a good time to tap into the parts of yourself that previously existed and made you strong and unique. What were all the things you used to love? What made you feel most empowered? Try to reconnect with your pre-existing strengths and passions — whether that’s blogging, cooking, working on a side hustle, or planning an amazing trip — and remind yourself of your best qualities and abilities.
Give yourself permission to establish boundaries
It is ok if you are upset right now, and it is totally valid that you might be feeling sensitive to some conversations and encountering certain situations. Here are some tips for thinking through how to navigate.
Have a plan for baby showers, pregnancy announcements, and births
These are going to be some of the most difficult moments after a pregnancy loss. You may feel happy for your friends or family members who are expecting, but it may make you feel worse to participate. On the flip side, saying no to invitations may leave you feeling conflicted or guilty. That’s why it’s so important to think ahead, plan what you’re going to say, and make sure you feel equipped to handle these situations. (We offer specific examples for what to say in our How to Talk About Your Pregnancy Loss article.)
Unplug, mute, and unfollow as needed
This is a time when it’s important to be aware of your social media landscape. Ask yourself: What will allow me to feel like I have control over what I see every day? It’s okay to mute or unfollow certain accounts, or even take a break from social media entirely.
Talk about it when you’re ready and with whomever you choose
When you decide to tell the people around you about your pregnancy loss, and who you decide to tell, is up to you. Allow this to be your process, guided by what you need and when you need it, which can vary day to day and even hour to hour. For example, in the same conversation, you can tell your loved ones the news and let them know you are not ready to discuss it any further, but they are welcome to check in with you the next day or that you will come back to them when you are ready. There is no “right” way to share your experience, and as much as you can, make yourself the first priority.
Lean on your support network
You don't need to do it all on your own. Look to someone trusted to share in communicating out if you're not ready to. Not feeling ready to is normal and ok.
Ask them to share the news if you’re not ready to talk about it
You may not feel ready to communicate with people about a pregnancy loss at all. That is totally normal. One good option is to delegate the communication to a trusted friend, partner, or family member. They can let your network know what happened and that when you’re ready to talk, you will reach out. That way, you won’t be inundated with calls or texts.
Ask your support network for help and be as specific as you can
Friends and family members will want to help you, but they might not know what to say or do. As much as you’re able, be specific about what would be helpful. For example, ask them to watch other kids, drop off a meal, check in on you in the evenings, or motivate you to get out for a walk in nature. Let them know if you find it helpful to talk about the pregnancy loss or if it’s more helpful to have a distraction instead.
Find a pregnancy loss support group
Sometimes you just need to talk to someone who's been through what you’re going through. A support group can provide a place of community and mutual understanding during pregnancy loss recovery. To find an online group, try searching for “miscarriage support” on social networks. For an in-person community, ask your healthcare provider for recommendations.