8 steps to emotionally healing after miscarriage and loss
The road to pregnancy is often paved with loss. Miscarriage. A failed IVF cycle. Only one line on the pee stick. Aunt Flow’s unwelcome arrival. With each disappointment, your dreams seem to drift farther away. You feel a sharper sting each time you see your sister, friend, or stranger sporting a cute baby bump.
As the overwhelming sense of loss buries you, how do you return to yourself? How do you take pleasure in life as you did before baby-making consumed you? How do you recover physically and emotionally to prime for a healthy pregnancy?
I experienced a miscarriage. Ironic considering I’m a fertility expert. It can happen to any woman, at any age. I just never thought it would happen to me. In fact, the pregnancy came as a surprise, a somewhat stressful and inconvenient one at that. I know that must be hard to imagine for those of you willing to cut off a limb in exchange for a positive pregnancy test.
For my partner at the time and me, madly in love but together but a new couple, both single parents who know how hard raising a child is when the parents aren’t together, the news felt daunting. Facing my boyfriend’s upcoming deployment as a U.S. Marine and subsequent absence during the birth and first few months of our child’s life together, we were totally freaked out. We both dreamed of getting married first then consciously making a child together, choosing to grow our family when ready, something we each missed out on the first the time around.
It took us a few weeks to accept this reality and get on the same page. It strained our relationship. My partner buried himself in the demands of the military, all but forgetting about the pregnancy. Feeling alone, I scrambled to figure out how I would manage all this on my own during his deployment. About two months into the pregnancy, we finally surrendered and allowed ourselves to feel excited, to appreciate the promise of the new life we created together. And then he had to go away for three weeks in preparation for his deployment.
During those three weeks, I dragged our sons to two anti-climactic prenatal appointments during which the midwife couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat with the doppler. She reassured me it was most likely due to the position of my uterus.
Finally, during a third appointment at twelve weeks pregnant, the ultrasound screen revealed there was no baby. Just an empty gestational sac around the size of 9 weeks.
Before the appointment, I thought I might feel relieved if the pregnancy wasn’t viable. A boatload of stress would instantly lift off my shoulders. But instead, I burst into tears as the empty sac stared back at me on the screen. I kept hoping the fuzzy baby image would appear from behind a shadow and the nurse would say, “Oh there it is! There’s your baby! The little bugger was just hiding.”
At 14 weeks, my body finally worked up the momentum to expel the phantom pregnancy from my body. With the physical loss, came more grief which was a sadness that my partner couldn’t truly relate to. It’s not that he didn’t feel sad, but he couldn’t experience it as I did. He hadn’t changed his lifestyle habits to nurture a life that never was. His hormones hadn’t taken him for a life-threatening ride. His heart hadn’t opened as a mother’s does the minute life takes root in her womb.
And so the wave of grief washed through me, and I had no choice but to ride it.
Grief, by nature, is a lonely feeling. Loss leaves you feeling like something is missing. Like you are less than you were before. And there’s just no way around processing grief. Well there is, but if you avoid the process, grief will bury itself within you and cause emotional and physical disease. It will keep trying to release itself by sending you messages, maybe in the form of a persistent cough, or skin problems, or depression or anxiety. Unless you let it wash through you and transform itself, it makes itself at home inside you and stirs up trouble.
You may hold onto the grief out of fear of losing something more, yet it is through the process of letting go that you’re gifted the preciousness grief has to offer. A deeper sense of peace. An open compassionate heart. A greater appreciation for all that you have. Loving support from others. Ironically these gifts lead to a more fulfilling life. The deepest wounds offer the richest lessons.
You can’t skip the steps of grief. And the steps are different for everyone.
Grief and loss need soothing, self-care, and patience. Grief is a washing over, like ocean waves cradling you gently back to solid ground, to your life and the joy it still has to offer. You can then put one foot ahead of the other, just as you did before, but on a new path never to be the same as before the loss. Not a better path. Not a worse path. Simply a path you follow with a mark left on your heart that will forever influence your spirit. It changes what you long for and what you cherish.
From loss you gain a deeper sense of love. Nothing cracks open a heart and releases seeds of compassion quite like grief does.
It is SO important to FEEL grief. To allow it. To stop yourself from judging it. To go through the middle of the stormy scary place where it seems that the tears may never end. But I promise, they will end. And it actually feels so good to release the sadness. Why do we fear grief? Why do we judge ourselves as weak or pathetic or tell ourselves we should be over it?
Grief is beautiful. It hurts but it is the healing process. The body knows what to do. The tears, the crying, the fatigue are all signs of the body and the spirit taking care of you. It’s the expression of acknowledgement of the preciousness of life. Expressing that what we hold dear has meaning.
If you allow it to wash over you, taking as long as it needs to cleanse your spirit, you will return from the darkness renewed.
8 Steps to process loss and prepare for a healthy conception:
Sign up for my free Guided Relaxation to Recover from a Miscarriage here.
1.) Give yourself what you need.
If you need to be alone, be alone. If you need to talk, reach out to a loving listener. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to sit and stare at the wall, stare away. Honor and trust wherever you’re at and however you feel in each moment. What you need will change as you go through the process.
2.) Reach out for support.
Grief often reveals how surrounded you are by the love of others, whether it’s that of your mother or of a complete stranger. No matter how alone you may feel, you aren’t. If the company and understanding presence of another sounds comforting, reach out. Most caring people are happy to be there for you and offer love.
3.) Nurture yourself.
Eat healthy. Get plenty of rest. Stay hydrated. Go for a walk or exercise in a way you find enjoyable. Get a massage and acupuncture. Offer yourself love. The stronger your body is, the better you will be able to process the grief. (Oftentimes, grief is heightened by physical exhaustion.)
4.) Express yourself creatively.
Writing in a journal, painting, singing, or any form of creative expression helps you find meaning in your experience and release the energy of grief.
5.) Seek out support.
Get professional support, join a support group, talk or read stories of others who experienced a similar loss. Find solace in knowing you’re not alone in your feelings and that they’re completely natural.
Cry and cry and cry as much as you need to and whenever you need to. It’s part of the healing process. You're not weak if you need to cry. It's simply the body knowing what it needs. Considering it a cleansing, like a detox.
Watch funny movies. Hang out with loved ones that make you laugh. Laughing releases endorphins that will cheer you up. Laughing helps you let go of grief in a fun way!
8.) Notice how you feel when you see a pregnant woman or baby.
Catch yourself if you start feeling sad thinking that you’ll never have that. Remind yourself that you’re healing, and when the time is right, your child will come, too.
For more support, you can sign up for my free Guided Relaxation to Recover from a Miscarriage here.
Heidi Brockmyre is an acupuncturist, herbalist and fertility and pregnancy specialist with a background in Chinese medicine.
She has over 10 years of experience helping women grow their families. She's supported hundreds of women in her clinic in San Diego, and thousands of women around the world in her online community.
Heidi focuses on helping women create total fertility wellness by preparing the mind, body, and spirit for fertility and pregnancy through her virtual fertility self-acupressure programs.