What Are the Stages of Grief After a Miscarriage?

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Suffering a miscarriage can cause a tremendous amount of pain and suffering for the person and their partner. Because of the transitory nature of pregnancies ending in miscarriage, society doesn't emphasize the mental and emotional wellbeing of the surviving parents. Very little support, if any, is given to the bereaved parents with the expectation that they'll move on from this type of loss reasonably quickly. 

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Both parents suffering through the death of their unborn child may experience maladaptive grief due to a lack of information, education, and overall support as they struggle to understand their loss. How much initial backing they receive relates to how well they adapt to their grief. The emotional experience of miscarriage may be challenging to manage in the weeks and months post-loss without access to the proper and necessary grief resources.

Does Everyone Experience the Same Grief After a Miscarriage?

Everyone's reaction to loss is different. No two people will ever grieve the same. Even when the loss affects both parents of the unborn child, as in a miscarriage, each partner's grief experiences will be unique to only them. 

However, there are some common characteristics in how individuals suffer through miscarriage grief. The effects of their grief experience are directly related to the lost pregnancy and the feelings and emotions accompanying this type of loss. 

Still, grief processing is related to an individual's capacity to cope with and accept their loss, their past experiences, and how well they handle stress in general. 


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How Do the Stages of Grief After a Miscarriage Work?

Much like any other type of significant setback, grieving individuals can expect the emotional consequences of their loss to go through several stages. While not everyone experiences the different stages of grief, many people will suffer through some or all of them. There’s no particular order in which these stages occur, but there is an overall organization to how most people experience them.

The stages of grief originated with the Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her behavioral analysis of several individuals facing terminal illnesses. Her findings evolved through the years as medical researchers and grief professionals used this model of grief to measure their patients’ post-loss emotional responses. 

List of the Stages of Grief After a Miscarriage

There are also five distinct stages of grief for individuals who suffer a miscarriage. Although the grief experience here is much different than in other types of loss, coping with miscarriage can be just as profoundly painful and debilitating as experiencing the death of any other loved one. 

The parents yearn for the lost pregnancy and the loss of hope that died with their child. They may also exhibit signs of anger toward one another, their medical team, and even other expectant parents. Here are the stages of grief as they apply to parents who’ve suffered the loss of a child due to miscarriage.

Cognitive disorganization

Parents at risk of miscarrying spend a lot of time worrying about whether they’ll give birth to their child or the pregnancy will end in miscarriage. Additional fears and anxieties they might struggle with are if the baby or the mother’s uterus will suffer damage. Mothers who are at greater risk of spontaneous miscarriage have the added stress of wondering how their partner will react to the loss of their child.

For parents who’ve suffered a prior miscarriage, the added stress and pressure of having another abnormal pregnancy might be more than what the relationship can healthily sustain.

Dysphoria

Much like other types of grief, parents who experience the loss of their much-anticipated child will suffer through intense emotional stress reactions to their loss. Both partners equally grieve the loss of a child, the hopes they had for them, and the future they envisioned for their families.

The physical trauma of miscarriage for the gestational parent adds another level of stress to their physical and mental wellbeing. The shock that comes from getting the news of a miscarriage to the ensuing periods of denial may lead to avoidance of the painful reality of the miscarriage. The parents may feel numb when getting the diagnosis and might not remember what their doctor told them.


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Health deficits 

When a parent loses their child to miscarriage, they’re unprepared for the negative emotions and grief reactions that follow. Even when warned of the possible miscarriage, the reality of the possibility doesn’t fully sink in until it happens. Bereaved parents experience the adverse reactions associated with searching and yearning soon after experiencing their loss.

Often, they begin mourning while still in the hospital or soon after discharge. The parents may seek validation or tangible proof of the miscarriage, going back to acting as if they’re still expecting a child until painful reminders of the miscarriage come up. As a result, their physical and mental health suffers.

Disrupted functioning

Soon after the loss of their unborn child, parents can feel at a loss for what to do next. They don’t know where to begin sharing the sad news with their friends and families out of fear, guilt, and shame. Many bereaved mothers can’t bear to tell their friends and family that they’ve miscarried because they fear judgment and comparisons to other new mothers in their social circles. 

Because there’s no pregnancy to plan their lives around, bereaved parents start the process of accepting their loss and may start talking about trying for another child. For many parents, this is a way of deflecting the pain and sadness of losing their child. Many will see their social and work lives suffer as a result.

Resolution

The resolution stage begins with the positive aspects of the grieving process. This stage is where parents find acceptance of the miscarriage and begin their efforts in finding meaning in their loss. Parents may notice a decline in negative emotions related to their loss, and some take this as a learning experience.

They may begin talking openly to others about their loss and integrating the miscarriage into their story of hope and survival. Plans for the future start sounding more concrete, and they take steps to let go of the failed pregnancy. Many parents emerge from this experience with changed perceptions and identities. 

Frequently Asked Question: Stages of Grief After a Miscarriage

Many parents who’ve suffered the loss of their unborn child have questions about what they’re going to experience. They may also need guidance on their expectations following the loss since most doctors don’t prepare bereaved parents very well for what comes after.

Most medical professionals stick to giving the clinical details of miscarriage without emotionally attaching themselves to the bereaved parent’s pain and suffering. The personal grief and sadness of miscarriage become something parents can’t openly discuss with anyone outside of themselves. 

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Where do the stages of grief come from?

The stages of grief unique to miscarriage stem from independent research conducted by Bonanno and Kaltman on several Swedish women suffering from the loss of their unborn child. Through a series of interviews and skilled cognitive behavioral therapy, psychiatrists and researchers narrowed down the cumulative effects of miscarriage grief to five stages similar to the Kübler-Ross model. 

While similarities exist, miscarriage grief creates a unique bereavement process for once-expectant parents to work through. The stages attributed to this type of loss give expectant parents who’ve suffered the death of their unborn child the opportunity to reinvent themselves as they gain a new perspective for their futures. 

How long does grief last after a miscarriage?

The usual effects of grief following a miscarriage last anywhere from several weeks to a few months. A person’s social support from friends and loved ones, their partners, and healthcare providers all play an integral role in healing grief. Having the needed support combined with renewed hope and plans for the future leads to a healthy progression through grief.

As with many types of normal grief, miscarriage grief lasts anywhere from a few weeks to several months. For the gestational parent, the process can include specific milestones that may act as grief triggers, such as:

  • Acceptance of the loss
  • Taking down the nursery
  • Fitting back into regular clothes
  • Getting their first menstrual cycle
  • Resuming intimate relations

Are there any alternative models of grief?

Grief resulting from miscarriage mirrors the typical grief trajectory of other types of losses. An alternative model to follow is Dr. Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages Grief or Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning. Miscarriage grief isn’t complicated or maladaptive grief in and of itself. Most bereaved parents will get through their loss within the typical timeframe for normal grief. 

Within the first few weeks, experiencing severe emotional pain is a normal part of the grieving process. If those feelings do not subside after a few weeks, you may need to consider seeking grief counseling or other means of working through your loss. Bereaved parents can seek free grief counseling within their communities or other resources to help them adjust to their grief after a loss. 

Miscarriage Has Its Own Grief Trajectory

Expectant parents who suffer through miscarriage loss exhibit signs and symptoms that closely mirror those of normal grief. While the grief trajectory resembles other types of suffering, the grieving process has its unique consequences for parents suffering the loss of their child. Miscarriage grief allows bereaved parents to explore their hopes, dreams, and desires for their futures while mourning the loss of those ideals with the death of this child.


Sources:
  1. Sources. Adolfsson, A., & Larsson, P. G. (2010). Applicability of general grief theory to Swedish women's experience after early miscarriage, with factor analysis of Bonanno's taxonomy, using the Perinatal Grief Scale. Upsala journal of medical sciences, 115(3), 201–209. doi.org

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