Emotional Healing After a Miscarriage: A Guide for Women, Partners, Family, and Friends
A miscarriage can have deeply felt and long-lasting changes on a woman’s body, mind, and spirit. Because the experience affects her, it often affects each of her relationships: with her baby, partner, family and close friends, and herself.
Understanding the emotional and relational dynamics that may follow a miscarriage can help women and loved ones grieve and move closer to holistic healing in all areas of their lives.
Table of Contents
Miscarriage Recovery: A Woman’s Body and Self-Perception
Pregnancy can begin changing a woman’s body as early as the fourth week (PDF, 448 KB). At this point, she may start gaining weight due to hormonal increases and experience nausea, tender breasts, increased urination, and fatigue.
Becoming pregnant may also change a woman’s relationship with her body. Some of the women interviewed for this story reported feeling compelled to better care for themselves by drinking more water, packing healthy snacks, and getting enough sleep. Caring for the body becomes caring for the new life.
A miscarriage can breach this sense of self-trust and self-compassion. Afterward, women may feel a range of negative emotions toward their bodies, including anger, guilt, disappointment, or frustration with themselves for being unable to continue the pregnancy. Even after the body starts to recover, women can have a hard time reconnecting with their bodies, according to Nancy Jo Reedy, MPH, CNM, FACNM, faculty with the online Nurse-Midwifery/Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner programs from Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies. “A miscarriage early on is like the worst period of your entire life.”
Some women experience their bodies as a traumatic site after a miscarriage. A 2019 study found that nearly a third of women who experienced early pregnancy loss met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder one month later; around 18% met the criteria nine months later.
Depression and anxiety are common after pregnancy loss. Often there is an “appropriate sadness,” said Reedy, and anxiety that persists for up to a year is not uncommon for either partner. These feelings can be especially intense if the pregnancy was long-awaited.
After a Miscarriage: Self-Care and Personal Healing
Consider reaching out to a mental health provider.
“Losing a pregnancy is losing a child,” according to Reedy. A therapist or counselor can be helpful in sorting through the complicated emotions and grief that may accompany a pregnancy loss. Women with a history of depression or anxiety in particular can benefit from checking in with a mental health professional. If cost is a concern, look into the mental health benefits offered by an insurance plan, or search for a provider with a sliding scale payment system.
Continue to practice self-care after a miscarriage.
Even though the pregnancy will not continue, caring for the body is still essential for healthy miscarriage recovery. Hydration, good nutrition, light exercise, and sleep will help the body heal. Consider trying a new physical activity that brings you joy or allows for an emotional release, such as boxing. If possible, now is a good time to invest in self-care more than you typically would. For example, a postnatal massage can be therapeutic and may be covered by your health insurance plan.
Remember that most women can get pregnant again.
Around 85% of women who experience a pregnancy loss will go on to have healthy pregnancies, according to the American Pregnancy Association. For women with two or three miscarriages, that number is 75%. “[In] the majority of cases, we would not expect it to happen again in the future,” said Reedy. “For women that do have problems, there is testing we can do, and hopefully, help to avert another miscarriage.”
Miscarriage Recovery: The Baby and Future Pregnancies
For many women, emotional attachment begins early in the pregnancy. “Once the women are really into it, it’s not a pregnancy. It’s a baby,” said Reedy. While healthy and normal, that attachment can intensify feelings of loss after a miscarriage, which in turn can fuel a sense of guilt.
The most recent National Survey of Public Perceptions of Miscarriage found that almost half (47%) of respondents, both men and women who had a direct or observed experience with a miscarriage, reported feeling guilty. About 41% felt they had done something wrong, and 28% felt ashamed.
In reality nothing could have been done to cause or prevent the loss, said Reedy. According to the Mayo Clinic, most miscarriages happen because the fetus is not developing healthily — not because of anything the woman did or did not do. However, a significant percentage of Americans still believe stressful events (76%) or lifting heavy objects (64%) cause miscarriage.
Learning the facts about miscarriage can help dispel unhelpful myths, but both partners may still feel the painful loss and fear for future pregnancies. Women who have previously miscarried or had a stillborn baby typically take longer to attach to the next pregnancy — often until after the week the miscarriage happened. “It’s a subconscious way of protecting yourself from the unbearable grief of losing a child,” said Reedy.
After a Miscarriage: Healing for Families
Acknowledge the pregnancy existed.
By tradition, many would-be parents wait until after the first trimester, when the risk of miscarriage drops, to share their news. But if a miscarriage does happen, this old standard can put partners in a difficult position, grieving the loss of a pregnancy that few people knew about.
Recognizing the baby existed, to themselves and possibly to loved ones, can help partners move forward when ready. “You can’t say goodbye to something you never had,” said Reedy, “So acknowledging that the pregnancy was there [is important].”
Consider memorializing the baby.
For many partners, a miscarriage feels like losing a child. Acknowledging pregnancy loss in a way that is meaningful to you can be a healthy, appropriate way to grieve. “Sometimes you do that in your heart or in a letter or in a little family memorial,” said Reedy.
Remember that another pregnancy will not shorten the grief.
Becoming pregnant again can seem like the perfect solution to any potential suffering experienced after a miscarriage. However, conceiving will not necessarily erase those painful feelings. Instead of waiting for another pregnancy to find healing, consider what can help you feel better now. What activities did you enjoy before the loss, and can you reengage with them in a manageable way?
Miscarriage Recovery: A Partner Relationship
Women tend to form a healthy emotional attachment early in the pregnancy. Their partners tend to take longer, according to Reedy, usually attaching around 20 weeks when the baby begins to move. Because miscarriages typically occur before 20 weeks gestation, the two partners are likely to feel a different level of attachment when the loss occurs. Often the partner’s first concern is for the woman’s health and safety, which can cause her to wonder why he does not seem to care about the baby. Emotionally, they are in two different places.
A further complication is that partners may grieve the miscarriage differently. In Reedy’s experience, many of the gender stereotypes have proven true: women often want to talk with loved ones while men seek out activities. But the reverse can also be true: The woman may be ready to jump back into work while the man needs space to grieve. Either scenario can make communicating about each other’s needs difficult.
After a Miscarriage: Healing for Couples
For the Partner Who Was Pregnant
Keep in mind that your partner is less likely to have developed an attachment before 20 weeks.
This is normal emotional development and not an indicator that he does not care for the baby.
For the Partner Who Supported the Pregnancy
Reaffirm that the loss is not your partner’s fault.
Much of the American public places blame on women for miscarriage. In reality, most miscarriages (60%) happen due to chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus, according to a patient guide on repeated miscarriages.
Talk, listen, and process together.
Regardless of your own style of grieving and communicating, take special efforts to be aware of your partner’s emotional and mental health. Make your desire to meet her needs a priority.
Help think through ways to share the news with any other children.
Miscarriage can be a challenging and emotional experience to share with anyone. With your partner, brainstorm age-appropriate ways to explain what happened to any other children in your family. Picture books, such as Something Happened: A Book for Children and Parents Who Have Experienced Pregnancy Loss, may be appropriate for younger children.
Know that you do not need to think about trying to conceive again until you are both ready.
Friends and family members may ask you about conceiving again. While their queries and advice may be well-meaning, remember that the decision to pursue another pregnancy is yours, not theirs.
Miscarriage Recovery: Relatives and Friends
Although today’s culture has become more accepting of conversations about pain, particularly the suffering of women, miscarriage seems to persist as a taboo topic. As a result, a miscarriage recovery can feel isolating. A national survey on public perceptions of miscarriage found that around 41% of respondents felt alone after the miscarriage happened.
People may not know what to say even when the loss is shared and openly discussed. Even relatives and close friends can say hurtful things unintentionally, further isolating the woman and her partner.
At the same time, others in a woman’s community may be getting pregnant and safely delivering. Seeing others celebrate life while in a season of loss is unavoidable but can be deeply painful. Creating both healthy boundaries and open spaces for grief can help women, their partners, and their loved ones recover from their loss.
After a Miscarriage: Healing Among Loved Ones
For the Partner Who Was Pregnant
Take the time and space you need to recover.
Each individual’s timeline and needs in the healing process will be different. You may heal more slowly or quickly than peers or your own mother, even if they experienced pregnancy loss at the same number of weeks of gestation. Try to have compassion for your own healing. Consider logging out of social media or muting the updates of women who are pregnant, if these are painful to see.
Find a miscarriage support group.
A support group can provide a place of community and mutual understanding from women in miscarriage recovery. To find an online group, try searching for “miscarriage support” on social networks. For an in-person community, ask your care provider for recommendations.
For Relatives and Friends
Treat other pregnancies with sensitivity.
An individual who has recently experienced a miscarriage might feel pain or sadness to hear of others celebrating pregnancies. Share this news in a thoughtful way and allow space to process, if needed.
Help provide care for any other children.
In this season, partners may appreciate extra support in entertaining and caring for any other children in the family. Offer to babysit for an evening or take them for a day trip on a weekend day.
Stay especially close to women with a history of depression or anxiety.
Grieving a miscarriage can be an emotionally intense experience. If your loved one has a history of mental health concerns, check in often and follow up frequently.
Consider a family memorial.
After a miscarriage, some families may want to honor who the baby would have been. Possible ideas for commemorating the pregnancy include a memorial service, a family dinner, or a donation to a charitable organization.
No two women who experience miscarriage have the same recovery. Each has her own time line, grief, needs, and hopes — but Reedy believes they have one thing in common.
“Recovery doesn’t mean forgetting,” she said. “Recovery means it finds a place in your heart.”
Citation for this content: Nursing@Georgetown, the online Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner program from the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies