Earlier Generations and Unresolved Miscarriage Grief
Unresolved Miscarriage Grief
If a loss happened in an earlier generation, when miscarriage was minimised and possibly seen as terminology for ‘abortion’. It was often experienced as a disenfranchised grief or ‘Unresolved Miscarriage Grief’ and there was even less understanding than there is today. Other women losing babies and children to prevalent childhood ailments may have discounted a miscarried baby as a minor misadventure. The significance of the loss may not have been recognised then, nor understood until old memories and feelings are triggered. Hurtful things said, sometimes with good intentions by friends even, can stay in our memories too.
If this is was what happened to you, your grief may still remain unresolved. If you feel it is, you may like to consult a grief counsellor or find consolation and validation by doing some of the things we found beneficial. Do not think that it is too late. We have had phone calls from 80 year old women and older.
One lady told us she had kept her miscarriage secret for years until she spoke to us – even from her husband. This could have been partly through the shame of not being able to provide a son for her husband and/or because she felt less of a woman at a time when a woman’s main role was child-bearing. She felt a tremendous relief discussing her loss and having a small ceremony. Other women may have had different reasons but whatever they were; the relief of bringing these legitimate feelings of loss into the open can begin healing and acceptance.
Our ‘Saying Goodbye’ section has suggestions that may appeal to you. Choosing a name for your baby to give him/her identification and to be able to confirm the reality of what happened, and honour and acknowledge that little lost life. Perhaps chose an name that could be for either sex if it was unknown.
For a memorial place, you may think of an alternative environment to our suggestions that is especially poignant and pertinent for your situation or more in tune with your religion, ethnicity or timeframe. Whatever works for you. You do not need anyone’s permission to do that. Your feelings are valid no matter what anyone else says or however long ago your loss was. There is no time span for dealing with grief. It does not go away if unresolved, it only goes deeper.
If other people do not understand – that is their problem not yours. We all deserve the peace of coming to terms with the past, especially from family loss. If it is appropriate, you may like to involve other family members or old friends in whatever you choose to do.
If you find this has brought up overwhelming feelings for you, know that the intensity will pass and that the grief is better to be experienced and released. It will have been its suppression and the lack of validation by others at the time that will have caused additional pain. Do not hesitate to get help if that is what is required. There is no shame in grieving and everyone grieves in a way that is right for them.
Baby Loss Day
The 15th October is world wide ‘Baby Loss Day’ so you may like to ask your church representative to hold a special ceremony at that time for all these lost little ones or have a look around websites near ‘Baby Loss Day’ to see if there is already something happening in your location. As 1 in 4 babies miscarry and other babies die for various reasons, you will find you have plenty of company. A group of church people found that out recently (2007) in Hamilton, New Zealand when they gathered together with several denominations for a memorial ceremony and so many of the earlier (‘E’) generation turned up.
Miscarriage grief has always been and is often still a minimised and invalidated ‘hidden grief’.
That is why we exist (see ‘Who we are’).
“Anger was the first reaction that I really remember about my miscarriage. I couldn’t believe that my body had let me down. I had 24/7 vomiting for 3 months – all for nothing! Was it the vomiting that caused the miscarriage? Was it something else I did or didn’t do? Should I berate myself? Why had it happened? Why did I feel so guilty? My partner was just sad and didn’t really understand my response.
I had arrived in hospital about 12am after suddenly losing what seemed like everything into the toilet at home, but there was still pain along with feeling upset and helplessly angry. An A&E doctor briefly saw me and he said we needed to wait and see what was going to happen, no hint. He promptly left me in the middle of a room, on my own in a high bed, with no bell nearby and my partner dismissed. I had no idea he was waiting just outside the room. I lay there getting past the anger, feeling isolated and tearful, and also fearful and nervous of what to expect. Alone there in that dimly lit, unfriendly antiseptic white room I faced the fact that my baby was dead. Nothing seemed real and I felt part of me had disappeared too.
After a while the increasing agony of my body and the discomfort of the hard narrow bed took over. Still not knowing what I was waiting for and too exhausted to do anything about it, I lay there for several hours. When the doctor finally came back he asked me a couple of questions and immediately called a nurse to prepare me for surgery.
The following morning he came and saw me on his rounds, this time with plenty of staff, all young trainee doctors. They were positioned right around my bed and the doctor remarked that they were interested to see how I was feeling and was sure I wouldn’t mind as they had been present at my D&C in the early hours of the morning. I couldn’t speak, thinking of what angle they had been looking at me. The colour rose embarrassingly in my cheeks and I ducked my head, mumbling answers to his questions. I couldn’t believe how thoughtless his remarks were and later became very angry again.
This was not helped at a check-up a fortnight later at a surgery where I was not known (we had not long arrived in town) and the doctor questioned me about things that did not seem relevant but I still answered. My partner and I were waiting for my divorce which was pending and I had unexpectedly become pregnant but it wasn’t a worry as he particularly wanted children and neither of us was concerned about the paper work. I had begun to come to terms with our loss but was still feeling pretty fragile and sad having mainly got past the anger stage.
This doctor’s reaction to our marital status was to immediately accuse me of aborting myself. He said he was a practicing Catholic and my actions were unforgivable in the eyes of God. I was so shocked that he would even consider I would do that I just sat there as he ranted at me. Part of my mind was on the paperweight knife that I could see in front of me and I kept looking at it thinking ‘I should pick it up and do something with it’. All the anger had come rushing back.
I didn’t move my hand, I just walked out with-out another word or getting my check-up. It took me years to recover from that experience and grieve properly with acceptance for our lost baby. I had confided in no-one at the time. My future husband and I hardly spoke of the miscarriage and it wasn’t until I was talking to other women about their own miscarriage experiences years afterwards, I finally realized how much pain I was still carrying myself. It might have been a long time ago but I had lost my baby too. I wanted suddenly to scream that out at them but didn’t. Later I went down to an empty beach on a stormy day and yelled it out to the crashing waves. I felt better and they easily absorbed the last of my angry energy”.
Grandparents and Great Grandparents
Grandmothers can often feel they need to suppress their emotions to be able to offer their support, especially if it is their own daughter who has suffered the loss.
Their grief can be for the pain their child is experiencing as well as their own. The anticipation of the familiar, simple joy of holding a baby again and watching it grow has gone for now and, even if they had experienced miscarriage themselves, it will still be a shock to them. If they have not had much cause for grief in their life, they may not realise what is happening initially. Others, who may not have been particularly looking forward to having grandchildren, could find themselves unexpectedly sad. Our grief section can apply to anyone and they may find some solace there in our suggestions.
Waiting for grand-children
As many young couples delay pregnancy for travel, careers or other reasons, Grandmothers could have wondered if a grand-child would be born before they die, so time can be against them. Perhaps their children’s/daughter-in-law’s inability to conceive, virtually an oddity in their day, had been a factor, adding to the stress over the loss, especially if the baby was conceived from the IVF process.
For some, it may be the first grand-child, others may have had girls only and were secretly wishing to have a grandson to create a sense of fulfilment, either for themselves or their husbands. Seeing the family line continue can be really important and this, of course, will include grandfathers. They can be just as stressed as their partners, witnessing their child’s or daughter-in-law’s grief and perhaps their son’s own hidden male grief or their own.
If the grandmother had miscarried herself, although the pain from that grief would have lost its edge over the years, memories tend to become sharp again, even if only temporarily, and add to the current stressful situation. Miscarriage was often, and still can be, not talked about openly by some families. Many women may have brushed off their grief at the time of their own miscarriage, but see their experience differently in today’s world and have difficulty dealing with it now, compounding their grief.
Even when they did grieve, this may not have been done in a healthy way, as miscarriage was usually seen as a ‘minor medical emergency’, requiring ‘a stiff upper lip’ and worse, a self-abortion stigma could have been associated with admitting to having had a miscarriage, and women were often seen as being at fault, anyway, leading to thoughts of shame.
The guilt associated with miscarriage was not helped by this attitude and women were left feeling they were to blame and their grief went unrecognised. Many women suppressed their feelings for whatever reason and a new miscarriage in the family can bring them to the surface again. We have had calls from several on our Supportline telling us this has happened. Miscarriage was certainly minimised and often invalidated (and still can be today), so a grandmother may be coping with the feeling that this is happening again.
It may help all concerned if the grandmother was to suggest a small ceremony or some other mark of recognition of the loss felt by the family, even if it’s weeks or months down the track. (see ‘Finding acceptance‘ section) Create a space where she will feel comfortable about releasing her own feelings and others will be able to see how much she is affected and realise that they should not overlook her grief.
Grandmothers can be very empowering, and if they miscarried themselves, are really valuable as confirmation of hope that most women do go on to have other children. Never underestimate the effect a mother’s words can have.
Strong feelings about sex, pregnancy and birth are inherent in all of us as it is a basic function of human beings to reproduce. Why wouldn’t we grieve at our losses, our own or that of our children’s? It is a natural part of living and no shame or embarrassment should be attached to how we feel. We are grieving.
“As a young woman I lost two babies through miscarriage and I remember the ache and desperate need to have my own baby. I eventually did and that baby is now a beautiful young woman and I have once again felt the sting of miscarriage as two of my grandchildren slipped away before we got the chance to say hello. It hurts so bad I felt her pain, I’d been there before. Now we have another chance. It’s early still but we wait and hope. Baby has a heart beat and Grandma is knitting again.”