“The day I found out that I was having a missed miscarriage, I noticed pregnant women everywhere. No matter where I looked or who I saw, I was reminded that the baby inside of me was no longer alive.”—Laura Ketchie discusses a topic close to her heart—fetal loss. October is National Infant/Fetal Loss month.
Through her experiences, and working with others, Laura has learned that speaking about something difficult like miscarriage helps to lessen its secrecy and stigma. Nearly 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, yet it is not a topic that is spoken about much. She wants to better educate others about miscarriage and loss using her experience for others to relate to.
Laura has worked with women who have lost pregnancies through miscarriage and stillbirth and has found that her own losses have informed her approach to counseling women coping with loss. Her advice to those with loved ones struggling with loss is to slow down. It can be really easy to say something trite and end up doing more harm than good. Often in attempts at trying to be helpful, loved ones can say hurtful things.
Be a “Presence”
She advises not focusing so much on what to “say”, but in being “in the moment with a grieving mother.” This really means being a “presence”. Allow the mother to speak or be quiet, if that’s what she needs. Another word of advice from Laura goes out to others who have experienced miscarriage. It may not be helpful for those who have experienced miscarriage to tell a grieving woman “I know exactly how that feels.” It’s a well-intended statement, meant to make them feel relatable, but it is not exactly true.
Pregnancy loss is different for every single individual. One woman’s miscarriage may mean something totally different to her than another woman’s miscarriage means to that woman. Pregnancy has different meanings for different people.
Grief work has to be tailored to the specific person experiencing it. As a counselor, Laura honors that person’s view of what that person’s pregnancy meant to that person. Even a person who has experienced multiple miscarriages will find different meanings attached to each pregnancy, and possibly feel different about each one.
How to Help a Grieving Mother
It sounds so simple—but be there for her. Be a presence. She may need her space, it’s okay if she does. Ask her if that’s what she wants right now. But your being a presence to her tells her that she’s not alone. When you are with her, less is more with what you say. Because loss is such an individual experience, if you try to relate in the moment, it may backfire, leaving her feeling more alone.
What to Avoid Saying to a Grieving Mother
Loved ones really want to be helpful. Trying to help a loved one through loss can feel uncomfortable and awkward. Just remember that what that pregnancy meant to her, does not mean the same thing a pregnancy may mean to you. Avoid saying things like “I understand.” Or “I lost my dog”. Or “God needed that little angel more in heaven” or “at least she or he never had to feel pain.” All of these statements are the loved one’s way of trying to relate or be there for the grieving woman, but they end up distancing her more. Other hurtful comments are “you are still young, you can have more” or “you can always adopt.” They do not seem to understand that you are grieving the loss of THAT child. You had hopes for THAT child. Not another child. Comments like “you can still have more” do not honor what THAT child meant to you and the hopes and dreams that you had for him or her.
Some Ways Grieving Mothers Respond
The meaning behind each pregnancy is different, so that woman’s feelings could be different, but there are certain patterns that seem to be commonly experienced by some women who have experienced pregnancy loss.
Laura has noticed from personal experience, and from other’s experiences that it’s not unusual to be hyper-aware of pregnant women and babies for an undetermined period of time. Grocery stores and stores selling baby products can also bring about emotion. Also, many women who have had miscarriages will be mindful of or triggered by anniversaries, such as the day they learned they were pregnant, the day they announced their pregnancy, the due date for her baby, and how old the baby would be now if the baby had survived.
Pregnancy/Fetal Loss is Traumatic
Pregnancy and child loss are traumatic events and the mother can in many ways exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Because of this, she needs to process her loss instead of burying it.
Pitfalls of Unprocessed Trauma
Unfortunately, a lot of marriages fail because of miscarriage. When spouses are unable to allow each other to process the loss together, the cost is oftentimes their marriage. A lot of times the breakdown in the relationship has to do with how well the spouses communicate with one another. The baby may have meant one thing to one and another thing to the other spouse. How we look at death is also a possible obstacle. Many times this has to do with what death meant to your family as a child, growing up. If a spouse shuts down and walls him or herself off during a time of loss, it isolates them both and drives a wedge in the relationship.
Ladies struggling with loss may also be experiencing the bondage of secrecy. Pregnancy and infant loss can be like depression. The more you do not talk about it the more enslaved you become to its negativity. It’s by talking about it that the negativity loses its power. The chains begin to fall off.
The Secrecy and Stigma of Miscarriage
Death is a universally uncomfortable topic. Any time someone dies, we are faced with having to look at our own mortality. Laura believes pregnancy loss is stigmatized because it is such a personal experience. There are very few rituals in coping with the loss of a pregnancy. In other cultures there may be ways of honoring the lost pregnancy, but in Western culture we’re all happy about gender reveals and baby showers, and when the next baby will arrive. There typically are no ceremonies to recognize the deceased. What little shred of closure someone could feel from experiencing a funeral is not what a woman who has had a miscarriage gets to experience. She is forced to either do nothing, or create her own way of honoring her lost child.
National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month
In October of 1988, President Ronald Reagan declared October National Pregnancy and Infant Loss month. He said, “When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them. This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world. It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes.”
He’s saying: these losses aren’t given a name.
A Script for Those Trying to Help a Loved One Grieve a Pregnancy Loss
Laura concludes today’s show with these words, “I would say that I cannot possibly ‘get’ what that pregnancy meant to you. I can only say what mine meant to me. We may share in that we have both lost, but I cannot know the feelings you had for that child. Then I would say that there are people in this world who do not have all the answers, but they would like to sit with you and maybe just be quiet. Or talk. If that’s what you want.”