Coping With Grief After Miscarriage or Stillbirth

Losing a pregnancy can be deeply painful and traumatic.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: Jul 27, 2023
10 min read

When a miscarriage or stillbirth occurs, families experience profound grief that takes time and support to heal from. Although the grief journey is difficult, there are constructive ways to slowly move forward while honoring your baby.

Understanding Miscarriage and Stillbirth

A miscarriage, also called spontaneous abortion, is when a pregnancy ends on its own in the first 20 weeks. Sadly, about 10-15% of known pregnancies tragically end in miscarriage, often due to chromosomal abnormalities that make the pregnancy nonviable. Symptoms of miscarriage include vaginal bleeding, abdominal cramping, and loss of pregnancy symptoms like nausea.

A stillbirth is when the devastating loss of a baby occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy but before delivery. This happens in about 1 in 100 pregnancies in the U.S. Stillbirth may be caused by problems with the placenta, infections, or health conditions in the mother like diabetes and high blood pressure.

No matter when a pregnancy loss transpires, it often leaves families shocked, confused, and overwhelmed with profound grief. Know that there are healthy ways to work through grief and continue honoring your precious baby.

Recognizing Early Miscarriage Symptoms

Sadly, many pregnancies end very early, sometimes before a woman recognizes she is pregnant. An early pregnancy loss or chemical pregnancy is when embryonic development ceases in the first several weeks, causing bleeding and loss of pregnancy symptoms. This occurs in up to 75% of pregnancies.

Some signs of early pregnancy loss include:

  • Vaginal bleeding with clots
  • Cramping and pelvic pain
  • Loss of breast soreness and nausea
  • Passing fetal tissue

With an early loss, the grief is deep because hopes and dreams for the future are suddenly dashed. Take time to fully process the emotions through journaling, talking with loved ones, creating art, or any outlet that feels comforting.

Identifying a Threatened Miscarriage

Once a pregnancy is confirmed, bleeding during the first trimester can signal problems. Threatened miscarriage refers to any vaginal bleeding in the first 20 weeks. About 1 in 4 women experience some first trimester bleeding.

Causes of threatened miscarriage bleeding include:

  • Irritation of the cervix
  • Subchorionic hematoma (bleeding near placenta)
  • Infection
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Birth defects
  • Weakened cervix

Bleeding alone does not necessarily mean miscarriage is inevitable. Getting prompt medical care is important for evaluating the situation. Blood tests and ultrasound can check fetal heart rate, hormone levels, and potential causes of bleeding. Follow doctor’s orders for rest and medication.

Supportive care from loved ones also helps alleviate anxiety during this uncertain time. Though difficult, try to remain hopeful while taking every precaution to nurture the pregnancy.

Handling the Trauma of Miscarriage

When vaginal bleeding or cramping during pregnancy lead to an actual miscarriage, the grief can feel unbearable. The loss of a desired baby at any gestational age is traumatic.

Common causes of miscarriage include:

  • Chromosomal abnormalities
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Uterine or cervical issues
  • Chronic health conditions
  • Environmental factors
  • Lifestyle factors like smoking, drug use

Types of miscarriage include:

  • Incomplete miscarriage – tissue remains in uterus
  • Complete miscarriage – all pregnancy tissue expelled
  • Missed miscarriage – fetus dies with no symptoms
  • Septic miscarriage – infected fetal tissue

No matter the cause or type, give yourself plenty of time and space to grieve after miscarriage. Your baby was real and deserved. Gather support from understanding friends, family, clergy, therapists and support groups. Healing takes time.

Coping After a Stillbirth Loss

A stillbirth is the devastating in-utero death of a baby at or after 20 weeks gestation. Approximately 1 in 160 births end in stillbirth in the U.S.

While the exact cause is sometimes unknown, common reasons for stillbirth include:

  • Placental abruption – placenta detaches from womb
  • Gestational diabetes – high blood sugar damages baby
  • Preeclampsia – high blood pressure
  • Fetal growth restriction – poor growth
  • Infection – spreads to baby
  • Problems with umbilical cord
  • Genetic disorders

Carrying a baby for many months only to lose them in late pregnancy is a shattering experience. The grief can seem endless. The love you had for your child was real and always will be. After stillbirth, managing grief means:

  • Allowing yourself to fully grieve through crying, journaling, creating art, or any outlet
  • Leaning on your partner, family, friends, clergy and support groups during the darkest times
  • Talking about your precious baby – say and write their name, share memories
  • Holding a memorial service or ritual to honor the meaning and dignity of your baby’s life
  • Celebrating your baby’s birthday, due date or other milestones in quiet reflection
  • Considering counseling or a grief support group focused on stillbirth to guide you
  • Slowly establishing a “new normal” routine when ready with patience and self-care

The grief of stillbirth comes in unpredictable waves. With time and support, most parents do gradually transition from profound sorrow toward more joyful remembering their baby. You will always carry this child in your heart.

Getting Help for Complicated Grief

While grief after pregnancy loss is always long and intensely painful, most people are eventually able to adjust to life with help from loved ones. But if grief becomes severe or doesn’t improve over an extended time, you may be experiencing complicated grief or Prolonged Grief Disorder.

Symptoms of complicated grief include:

  • Overwhelming sorrow and pain that persist without relief
  • Detachment from friends and family
  • Feeling life has no meaning anymore
  • Intense bitterness, anger or guilt that damages relationships
  • Inability to carry out normal daily responsibilities
  • Prolonged depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts

If you are experiencing these severe, disabling symptoms, it’s very important to reach out for professional support. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help regulate emotions or refer you to a grief therapist. There are ways to find joy again.

Losing a baby at any point in pregnancy is a tragic and life-changing event. Be gentle with yourself and allow plenty of time to fully grieve in your own way. With compassion and the right support, you can slowly rebuild your life while keeping the love for your baby alive in your heart.