The Emotions Following a Miscarriage

A miscarriage, the unplanned ending of a pregnancy before the completed 20th week, can bring about a wide range of emotions and responses for women and their partners.  In a research study in 1986, Rana Limbo and Sarah Wheeler found that 75% of women who had experienced a miscarriage felt that they had lost a baby while 25% felt the loss was not significant but simply another life experience.  This was one of the first studies to document the range of emotions that women feel after a miscarriage: from relief, to being unsure, to devastation.

Many couples report a “loss of hopes, dreams, and plans” following a miscarriage.  This is true regardless of the length of the pregnancy or the size of the baby, and it is true whether there are other children or whether the pregnancy is unplanned or planned.  This loss leads to grief, a normal healing process which helps the woman and her partner find a way to go on with life.

Upon first learning of a miscarriage, couples often feel shock, disbelief, and numbness.  Some couples have stated that it is like an “out of body experience.”  Other feelings may include anger, sadness, despair, frustration, fear, helplessness, and loss of self esteem. 

A woman and her partner may feel somewhat the same way immediately after the loss, but within days, weeks or months they may have very different emotions.  Men, struggling with their own feelings, can find it difficult to know how to deal with their partner and her emotions. 

Some mothers have reported feeling “as if something is missing,” “as if a part of them died”, or “they are alone.”  Parents also describe upsurges of grief, where strong feelings of sadness and grief wash up and over them, or grief triggers, where people or places can bring about intense feelings of loss.  Learning a friend is pregnant may trigger feelings months or years later.  These responses (and many more) are normal and are a part of the grieving process.  

After the loss there may be strong emotions, which can last for days, weeks or months.  The due date, anniversary date of the miscarriage, and special holidays can also be extremely difficult as they bring back painful memories and cause temporary upsurges of grief.  Grief has its own timetable and each person grieves in their own way.

The following experiences are common in the early months after the loss: difficulty sleeping, significant weight loss or gain, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, withdrawing from social activities and from family and friends, and loss of enjoyment in life.  These symptoms of grief should become less overwhelming as time goes on.  

However, if these symptoms do not diminish—or if a person has suicidal thoughts, feels worthless, or abuses alcohol and/or drugs—it is advised to seek professional help from a therapist skilled in differentiating grief from depression.  Unlike grief, these symptoms require intervention with counseling and sometimes antidepressant medications. 

Author: Nancy Kingma, RN, MA, LLP