Taking the time to heal – three things I’ve learned

Emma talks about grieving and healing after a missed miscarriage, and how she and her husband were affected differently.

My husband’s approach to grieving is very different to mine... The important thing is we try not to judge each other.

“I’m really sorry, but there’s no heartbeat”. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that those words and that moment will stay with me for the rest of my days. I’d registered the silence a few split seconds before the sonographer said anything, but still the shock was immense and overwhelming.

From the beginning I was determined that my missed miscarriage experience would not define or beat me. I think I saw it as a personal challenge that I needed to get back on my feet and move on quickly and with as little fuss as possible. Of course, it hasn’t been that simple.

It’s taken me seven months since that awful moment to reach the point where I feel able to reflect on all that has happened. I wanted to share what I’ve learned in the hope it helps someone else who is finding it hard to come to terms with the time it takes to mentally and physically heal.

1. No one is ‘better’ at grieving

My husband’s approach to grieving is very different to mine. Right from the beginning I felt I was not only on another page to my husband but reading another book altogether. During the scan he asked all sorts of seemingly inappropriate questions about the scale on the screen. At the time, through a sickening haze of disbelief and shock, I remember still managing to be slightly embarrassed. We’d lost our baby and he wanted to know the scale? He didn’t notice the tears streaming down my face and seemed almost surprised when he turned to look at me.

A couple of days later he asked whether I minded him going on a night out with some colleagues. I couldn’t believe he was even asking – I was sat there waiting to miscarry our child, and he wanted to go on a night out?

It took a while, but I’ve come to realise we all deal with grief differently and his reaction was no more bizarre than mine following our scan. I’d thought I’d get in the car and cry my heart out. Instead, I felt oddly detached from myself and asked to go to Curry’s as previously planned to look at – of all things – vacuum cleaners.

This may seem like a heartless, disrespectful and downright weird thing to do, but in reality I couldn’t bear to get in the car and drive home with the new knowledge that I was essentially still pregnant, but there was no baby. I needed a few more minutes to pretend that it was just a normal day and my world hadn’t imploded.

My husband was the same, in a way. He needed facts and answers and time to process what he’d heard – and then he needed other men to talk to. I didn’t understand at the time, but after a few days we were able to talk honestly with each other and I felt closer to him as a result. In the months that have followed he has quietly dealt with his emotions and – instead of being the rock I intended to be – I have found myself feeling increasingly anxious and low.

He’s patiently helped me deal with this in practical ways, such as encouraging me to go on walks as a family, talk with my friends more or planning nice things to do together. At times I’ve felt resentful that he can seem ‘fine’ while I struggle. The miscarriage is still affecting me more obviously, but I try to remember it’s not a race to get over it first and we experienced the loss in very different ways. The important thing is we try not to judge each other and work together towards our common goal of being happy together as a family.

2. Fertility expectations can be unhelpful

I opted for surgical management as my body was showing no signs of recognising the miscarriage. I read all the pamphlets given to me by the hospital and everything I could find on the Miscarriage Association’s website. This helped to prepare me for the operation, and it all went as well as could be expected. I initially felt relieved it was over and looked forward to getting back to ‘normal’ so we could try again.

However, what I was not prepared for was the ongoing physical aftereffects of the miscarriage. I had migraines and headaches every day for around three weeks. My parents came to look after my son and I had to take time off work. I slept a lot, but never felt rested. After joining the Miscarriage Association’s Facebook support forum, I discovered a lot of women experience the same, presumably due to the abrupt change in hormones.

Once the headaches were over, I became anaemic due to a change in my periods and I was extremely tired all the time. I felt embarrassed by the number of times I had to make a doctor’s appointment for an endless list of gynaecological problems. I’d been told I would be ‘extra fertile’ after the miscarriage, and when that didn’t prove to be the case I started to panic and felt there must be something wrong with me. The early reassurance I’d received that I’d be able to get pregnant again started to feel hollow and anxiety over my fertility grew while my confidence in my own body declined.

I’d like to say there is a happy ending to this part of my story, but it’s an ongoing battle. I would never have imagined I’d still be experiencing physical issues seven months on from my missed miscarriage, but here I am. From the number of women’s stories I see regularly on forums, I know I am not alone.

3. Time is relative when it comes to healing

At the beginning, in the height of the horror and heartache, I held on to the reassurance that ‘time heals’. I’d imagined a process of gradual healing and acceptance, where each day I’d feel a little better than the day before. For a couple of months following my miscarriage I felt quite positive and upbeat, and congratulated myself on bouncing back so quickly. I knew I’d never forget the child I’d lost but I felt philosophical about the reasons why and optimistic about what the future held. I then felt like a failure and somewhat cheated when a rollercoaster of emotions began to surface – grief, love, fear, guilt, sadness, anger, envy, hope, disappointment.

I now realise, rather late in the day, that this is most likely very normal. Losing a child, whether you ever held them in your arms or not, is likely to be traumatic. I was naïve to think I would be able to quickly and quietly pick myself up and move on and my expectations of myself were unrealistic and a little unkind.

I haven’t been proud of all I’ve thought and felt recently, and that has bothered me. It hasn’t been pretty at times: I felt a burning anger as my due date passed unmarked, waves of overwhelming envy as other people’s pregnancies were announced, deep guilt and despair that I am no closer to bringing a sibling home for my son.

This is normal. I am human and I have human emotions – I have lost a baby, want a baby and feel a little envious of those who are successfully bringing their babies home. It doesn’t make me a bad person and it isn’t anyone’s fault. I haven’t been able to ‘move on’, but as life events go this was a huge one and I am trying to be patient with myself.

Physically and mentally I am not the same as before my pregnancy loss and it is not easy. The expectation that we recover quickly – whether we place it on ourselves or it comes from others – is often unhelpful and counterproductive. I wanted to write this to reassure everyone out there who is still struggling in the aftermath of their miscarriage that it’s ok not to feel ok yet – and they’re not alone.