About two months ago, my oldest daughter, who was three months pregnant, suffered a miscarriage. She is still very upset and depressed about it, and I wondered if you had any suggestions about how I can help her begin to get over this loss.
For many people, a miscarriage is every bit as difficult losing a newborn infant. Often a miscarriage occurs so early in the pregnancy that the mother does not even realize that she is pregnant, and she is astonished at the powerful grief she experiences over losing a baby she did not know she was carrying. Even if she is aware of the pregnancy, she may not have announced it to others, so her loss goes completely unnoticed by those around her. In both cases, she may be reluctant to tell people of the miscarriage, and so has little support during her period of mourning. This is in contrast to the death of an older child, in which the parents would receive abundant social support, and their tremendous loss would be acknowledged by their families and community.
Even when others are aware that a woman has suffered a miscarriage, they are unlikely to recognize it as a loss of the same magnitude as any other death. It may be every bit as significant to the parents, however, and it is important that both they and others recognize their grief as real and valid. Insensitive comments such as, “You can always have another baby” deny the individuality of the child that has been lost, and trivialize the family’s grief. There are a number of ways to acknowledge and respect the parents’ sorrow, and thus help them mourn and achieve a sense of closure.
If she has not done so, your daughter may find it very helpful simply to give the child a name. This acknowledges that he or she was a real and important person, despite not having survived long enough to be born. This, in turn, helps the parents and other family members recognize that their grief is real, valid, and a normal response to the death of a child. Many parents find it helpful to go a step further and have some sort of memorial service or ceremony to commemorate the infant’s death. This can be as formal or informal, small or large, and as public or private, as the parents wish. It may involve just the immediate family sharing their grief in the parents’ living room, or could be a full memorial service involving many friends and family members. Again, such a ceremony serves the purpose of acknowledging the infant’s life, validating the parents’ grief, and helping the family achieve a sense of closure.
It is also important to realize that your daughter is not alone. Around 25% of women will experience a miscarriage at some point, and as a result there are a multitude of resources available. Support groups, books, counsellors and Internet discussion boards are all valuable sources of support, encouragement and community to help parents cope with the loss of an unborn child. You may want to offer to explore some of these options with your daughter: perhaps you could attend a support group meeting together. This will have the added benefit of helping you work through any emotions you may have about the miscarriage: after all, this baby was not only your daughter’s child — it was also your grandchild.
As with any death, the pain of a miscarriage diminishes with time. However, there are moments, even years later, when it can return as powerfully as ever. Make sure your daughter knows she can call you any time she needs to talk. It would also be a nice gesture to call her, or even send her flowers or a card, on days when she might be feeling sad, such as Mother’s Day or the anniversary of the miscarriage. You needn’t worry that doing this will reopen old wounds by reminding her; the women I know who have had miscarriages admit that at such times they are always thinking of their lost babies anyway.
If your daughter’s depression seems excessively severe or is not improving, she should visit her doctor. Temporary use of therapy or medication may help her. Otherwise, her healing process is probably best aided by the passage of time, and the love, support and understanding of those close to her.
E-mail your questions to Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. Heather is an AU student offering objective advice to her peers; she is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.