Over 100,000 Australian women experience miscarriage every year. There’s an unwritten social rule that encourages us to keep pregnancy news quiet till 12 weeks, hence most couples experience miscarriage in silence and without support. This rule exists because the risk of miscarriages falls significantly at 12 weeks; by then the fetus has completed its critical development and the placenta is fully formed and functioning.
A miscarriage is described as a pregnancy loss before 20 weeks gestation. The physical treatment is safe and straightforward but the emotional repercussions can be complex and layered. For many women, miscarriage is a profound physical and emotional loss that stays with them for months and years afterward. Often there’s no known cause which can prompt feelings of frustration and guilt alongside sadness and concern. For those women who have recurrent miscarriages or who have miscarried after fertility treatment, their grief can be incredibly debilitating.
If your partner has recently experienced a miscarriage, she may have the physical discomfort of mild abdominal cramps but if her pain is significant or she develops a fever, its best to take her straight to the emergency department of your local hospital. If you’re currently supporting your loved one through an early pregnancy loss and you’re not sure what to do or say, please know that this is a very common response. Ultimately women want their miscarriage to be acknowledged, they want to know that you’re willing to listen and they want to feel safe and supported to discuss their loss in the weeks, months and years afterwards.
Despite the complexity of your partner’s grief, there are some simple and practical steps you can take to actively support her as she processes her miscarriage:
Create space for her to rest and heal
Every pregnancy ends in a birth of some kind and what follows is a postpartum period where your partner’s body adjusts to life after pregnancy. Miscarriage can be painful and it’s common to bleed lightly for a few weeks afterwards. In the first week after miscarriage, cramping and fatigue is expected. Rest is imperative and will be advised by your partner’s care provider. The most practical way to ensure she rests is to take care of errands, household chores, cooking and looking after your kids. Two days paid compassionate and bereavement leave is available to you and your partner if you’re employed on a full-time or part-time basis.
Acknowledge your combined loss
There are more public conversations about miscarriage than every before but unfortunately early pregnancy loss still prompts discomfort and silence in many people. Don’t be surprised if your friends and family don’t know what to say, don’t mention your loss at all or offer hurtful and dismissive comments to the tune of it wasn’t meant to be, you can get pregnant again or at least you’ve already got kids! Acknowledging the depth of your partners (and your) loss is one of the most powerful ways to support her.
Encourage her to talk
She may not want to talk about her loss (she may not know how to articulate what she’s feeling) for the first few days and weeks but reminding her that you’re right there and willing to listen is incredibly comforting. Your partner may find it helpful to listen to other womens miscarriage stories; they will help her feel less alone and offer her comfort and guidance moving forward. Access them here.
Take care of yourself
Honouring your own grief is a really important part of processing miscarriage as its common to feel a deep sense of helplessness but also push it aside to care for your partner. It can be really helpful to connect with friends or colleagues who have been through similar experiences (if you’ve got friends with kids, chances are that some of them have experienced miscarriage, too).
Seek professional help
If you notice that her grief, overwhelm and anxiety is persistent, lasting for more than two weeks and affecting her day-to-day life, it’s best to reach out for professional support as clinical anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common in the months following early pregnancy loss. Your GP is the best first step but there are also a number of organisations in Australia that offer information, guidance and counselling services for those experiencing pregnancy loss, including:
The Pink Elephants Support Network – pinkelephants.org.au
SANDS – sands.org.au
Bears of Hope – bearsofhope.org.au
Gidget Foundation – gidgetfoundation.org.au