Shame can be a strong feeling for some women, often mixed with guilt, a sense of failure and not feeling good enough. With an influx of post miscarriage hormones, we can experience a storm of emotions that can be confusing, leave us feeling far from our ‘normal’ selves and a sense of going mad. And for the perfectionists among us, the feeling that our body has betrayed us can be a double blow and throw us deeper into shame.
Guilt and shame are both emotions of self-valuation. The difference is; guilt is defined as “I did something bad” and shame is defined as “I am bad”. Expert on shame, Brené Brown says, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” Shame is based on judgement of who you should be, how you should be and what you should be. This judgment can come from family, friends, colleagues, medical professionals and more importantly, ourselves. When judgement is reinforced by fear, blame, disconnection and secrecy, shame thrives.
The antidote to shame is acceptance, courage, empathy, compassion and being nonjudgmental — an art that takes conscious effort, from both the person sharing and the person having the honour of being the supportive listener. To build shame resilience, we need to:
- Learn to recognise triggers, for instance at baby showers or around uncaring people with no empathy, and gossips.
- Become more self-aware by gaining perspective, understanding we are not alone and being able to share what we know.
- Grow the ability to reach out to others to create change.
- Learn to honestly express our feelings and ask for help.
When deciding to share and be vulnerable, choose the person and timing well. They will need to be empathic, trustworthy, caring and be completely present. If there is no-one suitable and thoughts and feelings are overwhelming, please consider seeing a counsellor.
Each person has their own unique experience. With the kind permission from the brave women who have written about shame, we have set out the following examples from our Bulletin Board.
“As the pain and heartache of miscarriage lessens, I am aware that I carry a certain amount of shame. It has been almost a year since we lost our first pregnancy and I am still uncomfortable telling people. I can’t entirely explain why. I will try to make sense of the feelings for myself as I write this. Thank you for the opportunity.”
“It is partly that there is an expectation in society that making babies is a natural part of life. Therefore, losing a baby carries with it a feeling of failure.
Miscarriage is shrouded in secrecy. I think I know it has happened to other people… wiser older people like an aunty of mine, but no-one talks about it… so neither should I.
A hidden experience
That miscarriage is a hidden experience for many people, perpetuates the feeling of shame for me. It is simply not talked about – “out there”. I don’t agree that women seek out websites such as this for support because we are busy at work. I believe it offers us anonymity, because speaking out in public about our experiences is just not done.
It is OK to wear a tee-shirt empathising with the tragic loss of life to breast-cancer, suicide or (now) domestic violence. Mental illness is acknowledged as part of life. We advertise it on TV. But we do not speak of the loss of our babies.
I can’t explain it in any other way than that it is something we associate with failure and shame. I don’t know which comes first, but I would like it to change. It leaves us very isolated. Thank you for this place, it has helped me to survive miscarriage and I am grateful for it everyday.”
“I don’t know about shame, but definitely incompetence. Like all those people who have their children ten months after their marriage thinking that somehow it’s because of their abilities, or that it’s in their control. As if we are just not competent and that’s just too bad. Which makes me reluctant to share the ‘miss’ with them, because I don’t need them feeling bad for me or whatever- like a pity case.”
Brené Brown on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday “Shame is Lethal”
“Shame cannot survive being spoken and cannot survive empathy.”
“I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” by Brené Brown.
This book is well researched and a revolution in understanding shame, how it relates to perfectionism, how it can be a part of big (seemingly life halting) events and how it can run our everyday lives. Brown gives lots of examples and offers ways to build shame resistance, learn about empathy and self-awareness. Amazon
“I thought I was the only one who felt that way…. Its not quite shame, but I am embarrassed to tell people I had a m/c as I feel like a failure and I feel like I have let them down.”
“When I was speaking with my brother after the m/c he said he felt the same (his wife has had 2 m/c). It is a shame we feel this way, and I can’t give any really logical reason why. This board is great, because we all have the same feelings and we don’t have to be embarrassed or ashamed, it is full of love and support.
Thanks to everyone.”
The quiet topic
“I’ve felt shame. And I once tried to explain it to my family. They questioned why I should feel shame and was basically told that was a load of rubbish!
I was ashamed for having failed, failed myself, my baby and my family. I was ashamed when I became pregnant again, in case I failed again, and I so feared anyone knowing that I was pregnant.
Like some of the others have said – it definitely is a topic that is kept very quiet. There are dozens of people who know I lost a pregnancy, yet no one talks to me about it. Not sure why really – I wonder if it is because they are scared it will upset me, or they think I should be over it and thus it does not matter or need to be talked about.
I guess everyone feels a different array of emotions following a miscarriage, but yes – I have felt a lot of shame.”
“I think shame is somewhat tied into guilt that many people feel. Even though the majority of miscarriages cannot be prevented, and women know that, so when thinking rationally, it is quite common to wonder “what if?” – i.e. what if I had known I was pregnant earlier? What if I had done something different? etc…
It’s so disappointing to lose an unborn baby, and since that baby is totally dependent on mum, I think is common for women to feel responsible for the loss – even when nothing they could have done would have changed things! (Nothing can save a non-viable pregnancy. M.S.A.)”
“Hi. Why shame? The only way in my thinking is if people perhaps had a termination but told people they miscarried maybe that’s why some feel shame…(just a thought) I feel no shame in my 3 m/cs that I’ve had but as the above people said its more incompetence I felt….no need for shame…it’s Gods way and obviously he knew it wasn’t time for a new life to be bought into this world…as the docs at hospital said to me when its the right time it will happen…
Shame, yes, I guess this would be one of the ways of expressing it. Many have found through the lack of support and understanding, that we have suffered a loss which is really not acknowledged. It is only those who have suffered a miscarriage who really understand.
We know, it is not usually our body’s fault, but often a chromosomal abnormality which has caused it. Yes, it is natural for a mother, especially a first time one to feel that their body has failed them, especially those who go on to have repeat miscarriages.
It is really thanks to the Auckland Miscarriage Support site that the information is actually there for others to validate their thoughts and feelings, this board likewise.
If others were better educated on miscarriage, then there would be far more support available. It’s a hard one really, we have suffered a loss, yet have nothing to show for it.
We are grieving but have not buried our babies, so peoples’ understanding is very limited. That’s when the thoughtless remarks such as “you can go on to have other children” seems so hurtful and heartless.
A good reason to feel shame I guess.
Many do not realise that our baby has an identity, they are a person who like others, have gone off to be an Angel in Heaven, just much sooner than any of us would have liked.”
“Can I add my 2cents worth too?
For me it wasn’t ‘shame’. ‘Failure’ is the word I’d probably use – how could my body fail me?”
(I asked myself that plenty of times when it happened)
I felt like I failed not only myself but also my wonderful DH. No-one wanted to talk about it, even my mother who had a m/c before me, told me to ‘just get over it you’ll have another one’ – but I wanted that one! I felt so alone.
There was one book that I was told about and it has been mentioned here in the past that really helped me, it’s called ‘Life after baby loss’. It’s written by a NZ woman, Nicola Miller-Clendon, and also has bits in it from other women as well. It helped me so much by realising that what I was feeling is ‘normal’ and it’s ok to have these feelings -it’s all part of grieving.
And then when I came across this website which has also helped with the healing, being able to talk to other people and having the caring support that is given is just wonderful. – God bless you all!”
“Hello! What a popular subject. My very first reaction to my m/c was shame. Shame because it took so long to even become pregnant when all my friends, family, and people in my community were getting pregnant with ease. Shame because after all this time, the 1st one died inside of me, forcing me to have a D&C due to a “missed abortion.” I didn’t even have the dramatic spotting, bleeding, cramping, just an enigmatic death.”
Women who have experienced termination
In my years of taking miscarriage support telephone calls, frequently the women with the strongest needs were those who at some time in their past had terminated a pregnancy (abortion). That baby’s loss had typically never been grieved over, and may not even have been seen as a death. Suddenly being faced with the loss of a baby they did want, these women also had to come to terms with the previous loss.
As a result the intensity of their grief is often overwhelming and out of proportion to this miscarriage. These women usually do not recognise a connection between their first loss and the extreme grief they are now experiencing. Adding to this situation is the fact that once they can see the connection, while they can openly share their grief over the miscarriage, very often the original secrecy surrounding their abortion creates a barrier to discussion about it now. It can be very difficult to fully resolve hidden grief so only half the grief is dealt with. In this situation it is vital to find an uninvolved, non-judgemental person to help you process all your feelings. (In NZ our GP’s can refer patients to 5 free sessions of counselling.)