Recovering from Miscarriage and Stillbirth

consolingRecovering from miscarriage and stillbirth is not an easy journey, even if it is followed by a successful pregnancy.

It is quite natural for parents who have previously experienced miscarriage and stillbirth, to be anxious about a new pregnancy. Even when the pregnancy results in a healthy baby, the previous loss can interfere with the attachment process.

Spontaneous miscarriage is defined as a pregnancy loss before 20 weeks’ gestation with an 80% occurrence in the first trimester. Though vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of a threatened miscarriage, not all bleeding will result in a miscarriage. One in four pregnancies result in miscarriage and the cause is not usually found.

Stillbirth is defined as a baby born over 24 weeks gestation (or 400g) with no signs of life. It is often unexpected and one third will have no obvious cause. Reduced fetal movements are one of the few indicators for late stillbirth.

Contributing factors to both miscarriage and stillbirth can be infection, genetic problems, maternal health problems, environmental toxins and ante-natal bleeding.

Other facts:

  • 6 babies die every day in Australia as stillbirth (2000 per year);
  • 3 million worldwide;
  • For every one SIDS death, 35 babies are stillborn.

It is normal to feel a range of intense emotions that are difficult and painful. Death of a baby is one of the most shocking experiences for a human being to bear. Parents are likely to feel vulnerable, withdrawn and generally not want to participate in the normal rhythm of your life. Nothing feels real for a while and overwhelm or physical exhaustion are common responses to the shock and grief of loss.

Recovering from Miscarriage and Stillbirth

Whilst there are many ways to cope and move forward, these few suggestions seem to embrace the most common issues:

  • Engage with others to gain support through friends, family and professionals. Talking about what happened can be difficult, but helps with overcoming the isolation. Significant others may find it hard to know how to support and comfort you, so initiating honest communication can help.
  • Accepting your feelings. There are no wrong feelings – it is normal to feel angry at the world, even those closest to you, and especially those who are enjoying a healthy pregnancy. Whilst it is common to blame yourself and replay events looking for what you could have done differently, it is unhelpful to stay in self blame. Gather facts from health professionals and challenge blame-talk with rehearsed statements such as “there is no evidence it was my fault” or “sometimes there are no explanations and I will allow myself time to grieve”.
  • Share how you are feeling with your partner. Sharing feelings and how you are both coping can be a way of supporting one another. You are likely to be grieving in different ways; men are usually less ‘out there’ with their feelings. Don’t judge each other’s way of processing or expressing grief.
  • Time. Don’t push yourself to stop feeling sad. Remarks such as “You can try for another baby” or “get on with your life” are unhelpful – you will mend at your own pace. It may take some time before you feel you can pick up the pieces of your life again. Sadness will take you by surprise, especially around significant dates such as when baby was due or first birthday or Christmas.
  • Work. You may be entitled to paid maternity leave or sick leave. Time off for both of you, from your usual routines, can help you cope and come to terms with your loss. Self care, time to rest, process and discuss your loss will be aspects of the time you spend away from your usual working environment.

There are many ways to grieve and express your loss and the time it takes will vary. Hopefully this article can give you some strategies to consider and some links to assist your further reading. It is important to hydrate, eat small frequent meals, rest, exercise and stay connected to your support systems.

If after a few months you feel you are still struggling with recovering from miscarriage and stillbirth, please feel free to make an appointment to see me (I can work with clients face-to-face in Brisbane, or by Skype or phone for those further afield).  Emotional support, together with some psychological first aid and practical coping strategies, is valuable for your mental health.

Author: Julie Fickel, RN, PG Cert Health Science, PG Dip Midwifery, Cert 4 T & A, Cert 4 Pastoral Care.

With over 20 years experience in family health, Julie Fickel has developed skills around communication and supporting individuals and their families to cope with change, grief and loss; fostering resilience during times of crisis or distress, and more recently trauma therapy.

Julie offers counselling sessions via Skype, telephone, and face-to-face at M1 Psychology Loganholme. To arrange an appointment, please call (07) 3067 9129 or book Julie Fickel online now.

This article is dedicated to LUCAS 24/05/2013.

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