The mindful way through miscarriage
Tips for dealing with a pregnancy loss
Turn towards your feelings, not away
When we feel pain, sadness, grief our instincts are to try and suppress these feelings and to turn away from them to protect ourselves from the pain. However, this is like trying to hold a ball underwater: it takes effort to hold the pain down and whenever we let go of the effort, the ball is going to resurface with even more power.
Give your baby a name, imagine the gender if you don't know it.
Write a letter to your baby. Put down on paper whatever your want to say to your baby, don't hold back.
Talk to someone about your baby and your feelings. Don't hold that ball underwater and don't do it alone.
Know all of your feelings are valid
It doesn't matter if you've known you were pregnant for a few months, a few weeks or even a few days or minutes. A pregnancy is never, ever 'just a pregnancy test'. As soon as you find out you're pregnant, your image of your future and of yourself shifts. You take on the identity of a mother from that very first moment.
A loss of a pregnancy, at whatever stage, is a loss of the future, of your plans, of your identity and of a part of yourself. You are allowed to feel sadness and any other kind of emotion that arises. All feelings are valid.
Resist telling yourself that miscarriages are common, it's natural, there are so many people in the world worse off than me etc. etc. While these things are true, they don't mean that you aren't experiencing pain. Allow that pain to be there.
You might worry that you're going to wallow in your sadness.. However, that's the beautiful paradox of being fully open to your feelings, sometimes called 'radical acceptance'. Allowing your feelings to be there actually helps them to genuinely shift whenever the time is right.
See below the resources section for a guided meditation on turning towards difficult feelings and the self-compassion mantra. Both excellent tools when experiencing difficult emotions.
Watch out for unhelpful thoughts
After my third loss, I noticed a thought that popped into my head: 'I'm a failure as a woman.' OUCH! I mean, thanks mind, how to kick a person when they're down! Thankfully, I already had a mindfulness and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Training) practice that meant I could observe that unhelpful thought for what it was: just a string of words in my mind. The thought was not true and I wasn't going to go down the path of believing it was. And I certainly wasn't going to spend time trying to argue with it (alright, I admit I DID argue with it for a minute before I caught myself!).
Typical thoughts to look out for after a miscarriage are:
This is my fault.
I did too much walking / cleaning / yoga / coffee drinking etc.
There's something wrong with me.
I'll never have a baby.
I don't deserve to have a baby.
If you have any unhelpful thoughts like these or any others, try to take a step back from the thought and realise that it's just words. Remember that you are not your mind. See if you can watch the thought as something separate from you. Instead of having the thought 'This is my fault' you can say to yourself, 'I notice that I am having the thought that this is my fault'.
With my unhelpful thought, 'I'm a failure as a woman', I used an ACT technique of singing the thought to the tune of happy birthday :) It sounds ridiculous, but it helps to make that thought a whole lot less powerful.
Other techniques you can try are repeating the thought over and over really fast, or saying it reeeaaallllyyy sssslllooowlllyyy :) Want to learn other techniques to help you manage unhelpful thoughts? I'm here for you.
Be kind to your body
We've mentioned the mind in the tips above, but the body has a lot to do with pregnancy and loss too. Growing a baby is physically demanding from the very first instant. Give your body a break. It probably looks and feels a little or a lot different than it did before you were pregnant. You know what? That's more than OK. It IS different than it was.
With my third loss, my morning sickness was the worst of all my pregnancies. I threw up a lot, and spent a solid two months feeling constantly nauseous. The only way I managed to deal with this was by almost constant eating :) The result, I gained 4 kilos. And even though I was only 14 weeks when the pregnancy ended, I already had the beginnings of a distinct baby bump.
Immediately after the termination, I felt determined to 'get back in shape'. I started planning how I was going to do intermittent fasting, start doing workouts again, planning how I could lose all that weight and fast! I had a fortunate moment of clarity when I checked myself - was I planning this out of self love or self loathing? The answer wasn't very nice.
I have years of yoga and mindfulness training, but I still fell into the trap of wanting to punish myself. Try to make sure you don't fall into that trap too.
Continue to live meaningfully
Don't be tempted to hide from the world or shy away from things that are meaningful to you. There's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in losing a pregnancy. While you may find it too emotional or too awkward to discuss your loss with people, try to ask what's important to you and take action despite your discomfort. I promise that it will never be as bad as you imagine.
For example, with my first loss, I'd told my physiotherapist that I was pregnant, and when I had a miscarriage, I couldn't face going there again. So I didn't. However, I lost out on a great physio and she lost a client without knowing why. In the long run, I would have gained greater strength by facing my fear and going there anyway.
I appreciate some of these tips are easier said than done, and if you need some support, please feel free to reach out to me for help.
The body scan is the foundation of mindfulness practices, this one has been adapted for women experiencing pregnancy loss, to help develop a greater connection with our bodies. It takes around 25 minutes.
This is a short meditation (under 10 minutes) to help us deal with the inevitable difficult emotions that we experience after a loss.
Adapted from Kristin Neff, you can do the self-compassion break at any time throughout the day or night. You can listen the short recording above (under 5 minutes) or also do the practice alone by following the steps below:
1 My loss hurts. I'm suffering right now.
2 I'm not alone, other mothers have also lost their babies and felt this pain, just like me.
3 May I be kind, loving and patient with myself.
See here for my story of miscarriage and pregnancy loss.
I personally find great strength in poetry, and this one feels very relevant when experiencing loss.