Miscarriage is rarely spoken of except by whispers. Funeral or memorial services are seldom held. Society tells women through its silence a lie: that healing after miscarriage and pregnancy loss is quick and relatively painless physically and emotionally. Now this may be the case for a few women, and that’s normal too, but for many others, grief can be present strongly for many weeks and still arise at times later in life. So what does healing after miscarriage and pregnancy loss really look like?
To begin with, physical healing takes time. If a miscarriage has been allowed to happen naturally then bleeding may last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. If a D&C has happened, a medical process where the cervix is dilated and any remaining tissue removed from the uterus walls, then the bleeding often lasts for less time but it can still last for a couple of weeks. If surgery such as a laparoscopy (keyhole surgery where small incisions are made in the abdomen) has happened to investigate or remove an ectopic pregnancy that has formed inside the fallopian tubes or ovary, then physical healing from the surgery may take 4-6 weeks.
One of the problems with healing is our understanding of how building strength and perseverance work. We often live in societies where giving up looks like failure, rather than a resting to regain strength. One of the biggest lies of emotional and physical healing is that going from strength to strength means pushing through constantly without giving ourselves rest. Rather than comparing ourselves to the day or week before in our healing journey, we compare ourselves to before and we can get frustrated at our current state. Remembering that grief comes in waves can be helpful in understanding why we felt okay this morning but we are now struggling to cope.
Here are 3 things to remember whilst healing from a miscarriage:
1. It is going to take time.
No matter what impression you get from the time you are allowed off work or from your friend’s comment that ‘it is time to get on with life again’, physical and emotional healing take time. It is normal for physical healing to take weeks after a miscarriage, and for emotional healing to take longer.
Pregnancy loss often means not only the death of a child, but also the death of dreams and hopes which must be grieved too.
Grief, when it is engaged with intentionally and regularly, should feel less overwhelming in time, but sometimes those waves can catch us off guard for a moment, even when we are feeling stronger. It is not a sign of weakness to spend time engaging with a strong wave of grief, but a necessary part of healing to be able to recognize the feelings and process them.
Grief is often a humbling process. We don’t like feeling out of control. Sometimes the grief hits us at inappropriate moments, like when a friend announces her pregnancy or at a family baby shower. It may be that we need to allow ourselves a moment to the side or in the bathroom to cry and recompose ourselves right then or we may need to wait until later to process the grief from the safety of our bedroom. However, facing our grief by sharing our difficulties with others, a partner, an understanding friend, or even writing down our struggles, are ways to make sure we don’t bury our natural and often unexpected feelings.
Emotional healing is also often like physical healing. After surgery, for example, your body is often in shock and overwhelming pain and needs to rest, but within a day or so you must force yourself to get up and go to the bathroom despite the pain. Each day you can do more and the pain is less, but forcing yourself to return to your normal level of activity and exercise too early will only cause pain and damage your body for longer. Equally, with our emotional healing, it is a process where we should be getting stronger over time as long as we don’t overdo it. Doing the hard work of processing emotions and then doing something lighter, and if possible fun at times, can help strengthen our hearts. Refusing to engage with our emotions after the initial shock of the miscarriage can be a bit like refusing to walk to the bathroom after surgery. Initially, it might help us avoid some pain, but over time it will disable us and make us numb or angry. We will create a pattern of avoiding all circumstances which cause us pain and begin to shut off relationships with others and disengage with areas of our lives.
2. Focus on progress, not perfection.
Healing is not about returning to normal as soon as possible. In many cases, emotionally at least, that is not possible – our lives and hearts have been changed forever. Having a miscarriage for me was a lot like a transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly and for many weeks I felt like I was in a cocoon. My life post miscarriage has changed my outlook on life. I have become more resilient as a person and perhaps, surprisingly more joyful. I don’t take life for granted anymore and I have become a more grateful person. But it has been an intentional embracing of each painful emotion, wrestling it, observing it, receiving it and then planting it in the ground and accepting with gratitude the transformation. It has taken time.
Both times after having keyhole surgery for ectopic pregnancies it took me about 4-6 weeks for my physical body to be back to normal. Three weeks after the second surgery I felt better and I was desperate to get back to normal life, so I joined a beach clean. That set me back in bed for a day or two after with all the bending! My body hadn’t done all the healing I thought it had yet and I was frustrated with what felt like going backward. But after a day or so I was feeling much better again and I could see that in general my health was progressing and each week I was getting stronger.
When I returned to leading a meeting in Peru (where I live) three weeks after the second surgery, I only felt I would be able to lead for 10 minutes rather than the usual 30. I felt it was important, however, for people to see the process I was in emotionally, and so I told them why I felt I could lead for 10 minutes but was going to hand over to someone else for the final 20 minutes. It was also part of the ‘doing what I can but not too much’, stepping back into work. You too may need to tailor your work day as you regain physical and emotional strength and not see the reductions as weakness but rather a strengthening process.
3. Look back at what you couldn’t do before and you can do now.
In the initial days after a miscarriage we can compare our physical progress day by day, but as time goes on it is often more helpful to compare week by week, especially when we have little setbacks. Emotional progress can also be noted week by week or even month by month. If we are unable to do something, whether it be physically like going for a long walk, or emotionally like attend a public space where there will be lots of babies one week, then we may need to accept that for today but set a reasonable target for when we do expect to be able to do it. Just as exercise is not ruled out forever, neither should we cut ourselves out from social interactions forever, even if we may need to tailor them for a while.
Look back at your progress (however small) and be grateful.
Where have you made progress in your physical and emotional healing so far?
Where is there still progress to be made?
What small steps can you take this week to lean into your healing process?
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Other articles you may find helpful:
15 Normal Emotions after Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss
Self-care after miscarriage and pregnancy loss: my story