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Why It Can Be Difficult to Heal After a Miscarriage, Even If You're Already a Mom
Married to Medicine’s Toya Bush-Harris suffered a miscarriage and is currently grieving the loss with her husband and children.
Losing a pregnancy at any stage can be very emotional — even if you're already a mom, or the pregnancy wasn't planned.
Toya Bush-Harris has been candid with her experience on Married to Medicine, sharing last week the exciting moment when her husband, Dr. Eugene Harris, and her sons learned that she was pregnant. But this week’s episode shared a glimpse of their family’s intimate conversation where her sons, Ashton and Avery, discussed their feelings while processing the sad news that Toya lost the baby. Avery shared that he was feeling “mad, because the baby died,” while Ashton was concerned about crying if someone brought it up.
Personal Space spoke to licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Lina Kaplan, who specializes in perinatal issues, to learn more about why an early miscarriage can be so difficult to move past.
Dr. Kaplan explained that one of the stresses in the aftermath of a miscarriage is that “spontaneous miscarriages are still being minimized” and may not be categorized the same way as other forms of perinatal loss. She noted that even in the medical community, there is a tendency to “de-mother the woman” by thinking of it as “a glitch in the system” and that once the “woman recovers and is physically OK, she can just move on and get pregnant again.”
This can “trivialize their experience” because for the woman who experienced the miscarriage, it’s a big deal. They may have already formed intense feelings toward the baby — even if she only knew she was pregnant for a brief time. This can be a disservice to women since they may not properly grieve or talk about it if they feel like they won’t “get the adequate support or understanding.”
Dr. Kaplan explained that one of the more complicated elements of a first trimester miscarriage is that it’s an abstract loss. In other circumstances, “when we experience loss, there is a particular visible or identified object that we grieve and mourn… but here, parents don't have that.”
Therefore, “it’s a very abstract loss — but something that has a lot of meaning and feelings attached to it.” Unlike other forms of perinatal loss, as in later stages of pregnancy or a stillborn, the woman “cannot really see what she lost, and it’s nothing she can really identify.”
Abstract loss tends to mourn the potential of what that pregnancy could be. For example, for Toya and her family, they had already fantasized that “it could be the little girl” they have always wanted.
Dr. Kaplan explained that “even if it is someone who has children, it doesn't take away from the fact that it could have been their dream” to have another one. Additionally, if it's someone who's already had “successful and healthy pregnancies and children, it causes even more shock that this time something went wrong.” Therefore, “it might be more devastating” because they were unprepared for that kind of disappointment, especially if they have to explain the loss to their children who knew about the pregnancy.
Dr. Kaplan explained that a common emotion following a miscarriage is a feeling of guilt because “the loss is so overwhelming and out of control, that we try to find something that makes us feel like we have some measure of control, or have something to do with this situation.” However, in most cases “there is no real reason that it happened…and it couldn't have been prevented.”
Despite that, some women wonder if it was something they did — “people come up with all kinds of reasons that could have caused it and in the process of that they engage in self guilt.” Dr. Kaplan explains we do this to try “to assume control when we feel helpless and vulnerable.”
In Toya’s case, the main guilt she was feeling was sharing with her children she was expecting so early on in her pregnancy. She admitted she regretted telling her sons because she “accidentally showed them pain” that could have been spared, had they not known she was pregnant.
Dr. Kaplan noted “it takes time to physically and emotionally heal” after facing the disappointment and sadness that can arise after a miscarriage. In some cases, the woman may want to try to get pregnant again, “especially if it was a wanted pregnancy.” But because people deal with loss so differently, moving forward can look different for everyone.
For some, it’s easier “to resume their normal life and get back to work,” while others “may need more time to be sad and disappointed.” She also noted that “just because a person may want to resume normal life, that doesn't mean they aren't sad or grieving — that’s their way of coping.” Dr. Harris thought that time would help them get back to normal, while Toya joked that she could use some tequila after not drinking for the past six weeks.
Dr. Kaplan also encouraged those struggling with the loss to look at their “community for perinatal support, and seek therapy or spiritual counseling.” Sometimes people just need a place (whatever that place may be) “to let down their guard and express the full range of despair, sadness, and loss, where they don't have to minimize it or pretend it's fine… a space where their grief can be seen and supported.”