One in four women will have a miscarriage. Despite this being fairly common, women who experience them can often feel alone in their grief.
Growing support groups like Angel Babies Victoria have been able to offer women who have had a miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death a space to share their story with other women who have had similar experiences. But society at large still has a lot of work to do with acknowledging this kind of grief.
The emotional response a woman and their families feel after experiencing a loss of this type is often minimized as an unacceptable form of grief. Families might get support right around the time of the baby’s death, then it might never get brought up again unless the woman tries to get pregnant again.
Psychologists call this “disenfranchised grief” because the importance of the loss isn’t always recognized by others. And because our society is uncomfortable with death in general, this is often a difficult loss for people on the outside to understand.
Dr. Katy Gold, an associate professor at the University of Michigan and former chair of the International Stillbirth Alliance, said there is room for improvement with health care professionals following up with families once they’ve left the hospital after experiencing a miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death. Another part of the problem is the dismissal of the death of a baby with thoughts like, “At least you didn’t know the baby,” which often invalidates a family’s grief, making the situation much worse.
Well-intentioned people might often find themselves saying or doing the wrong thing because they might not know what else to say. But merely offering an ear to listen or saying, “I’m really sorry,” is OK if you feel like you can’t find the words to say.
A little bit of empathy and understanding can go a long way in supporting a family after the loss of a baby, in the short-term and long-term.
There is no finish line in the healing process and while intense grief-stricken emotions may lessen with time, losses stay with people forever.