Why are miscarriages, and other losses of a child before/during birth, so upsetting to tentative parents?
Speaking as the emotionally bereft individual this question seems to make me, why is the notion of ‘trying again’ so hard to them?
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To address the "notion of trying again" being so hard, I can only relay my experience.
When my husband and I decided that we were ready to start our family, we were excited and hopeful. We were both young and it was just a couple of months after discontinuing birth control that we found out that I was pregnant. I knew right away, and we went to my doctor for confirmation of the pregnancy. He confirmed it and scheduled a twelve week initial OB visit for me. Being young, naive, and unjaded by any prior experience, I immediately called my family and shared the news with them. Later that week, I also shared the news with my coworkers and friends. Dan and I were giddy with joy … I felt so excited and full of happiness … as if I was just brimming with little bubbles. I felt like I had this precious little "secret" when I walked around; I just kept smiling and smiling. We had all sorts of fun conversations about what we wanted to name a baby, who he/she would look like … we bought our first little baby item together in a neutral shade of pale green. And then, one Saturday, when Dan was buried in the basement of the medical school with his study group (out of cell coverage, of course!), I started bleeding. Just like that, our little bubble of joy was popped and over.
Yes, we knew we'd be trying again, but that first joy of pregnancy would never be the same. The innocent happiness was gone … I spent the first twenty weeks of my subsequent pregnancy worrying I'd miscarry and was determined not to get too attached again. You suddenly fear that you may never be able to carry a baby safely to term. It took having our ultrasound at twenty weeks to push me back into being hopeful and starting to bond with baby.
You always wonder about the baby you lost. Regardless of the fact that I love my oldest and would never trade him, there's still a sadness for the baby that wasn't. And the "trying again" made things sound so callous sometimes … people say it to be comforting, but sometimes it felt like the loss was being trivialized. It was still a very much wanted little baby. And the loss would forever leave its mark on me in a very "once burned" sort of way. We would go on to experience a total of three more miscarriages along the course of growing our family to its current (final!) size of four children.
I cannot even imagine what that loss for a struggling-to-conceive couple or the loss of a full-term baby would feel like, for a couple who know that this may be their only 'chance' at a child. Each attempt for some may have cost enormously emotionally, physically, and financially, so to simply be told to "try again" as if it really were that simple (or possible) might really be hurtful. And even though it really was "that simple" for us, it still was something that had an impact on how we both felt about the next pregnancy, and the miscarriage was still something I needed time to mourn for and recover from. It got a little easier to deal with the second and third times (because by then, I'd already given birth to a healthy baby), but it never was something that didn't hurt.
Most of the time, miscarriages just happen. When life deals you a blow like that, especially when you're newly along on this journey towards parenthood, it's crippling. It takes away that innocent joy and hope and leaves behind fear and guilt – even when most of the times, there cannot even be guilt attached reasonably. Although there is always some element of fear and uncertainty involved with any pregnancy, it changes after a miscarriage and becomes something much darker and tangible. It leaves behind this shadow of loss, no matter how early on it was in the pregnancy.
As we learned more, we'd find that the statistics are very high; many women experience miscarriages, especially in first pregnancies. After I became a mother and started to speak to other mothers, I'd find that almost all of them had experienced pregnancy loss (or struggle) of some sort. But we didn't know that going into it, and we had expected everything to go just as it was supposed to. And, when it didn't, it was jarring and the loss was something we hadn't even anticipated.
Of course it's upsetting to many tentative parents. We are human, and we hurt when we have lost.
I'm going to attempt to answer this differently: "they're not always upsetting."
I had a very early spontaneous miscarriage, at about seven weeks pregnant (ie five weeks gestation). I was upset about the delay in having a child, but I didn't feel that I'd lost a child; I didn't mourn this lost pregnancy as a lost "baby." To me, the fetus had never been viable, and never had the potential for consciousness, so in my mind, it was no more traumatic than menstruation – the loss of some cells which may have had the potential to nurture a pregnancy, but didn't.
We were referred to counselling, and advised that we shouldn't try to get pregnant again immediately, but should instead take time to "mourn the loss" – to the extent that I wondered if there were something wrong with us for not feeling that we needed to mourn. I'm glad that we instead followed our hearts, because we immediately became pregnant with our twin sons.
I don't think that people who don't mourn early miscarriages are heartless; they just may view things differently.
I would have felt very differently if the pregnancy had been further advanced, and definitely if I'd had a stillbirth, which would be devastating. Before I had children, I didn't understand what would be so traumatic about a stillbirth, either. But now I realise that much of the love that you feel for your child is not, unsentimental as it sounds, due to the qualities and history of that child, but because they're yours, and you're so emotionally invested in them. Much of that investment happens before the child is even born, and that's why the loss of an advanced pregnancy, or newborn, is absolutely devastating. It's also why those struggling with infertility would find even an early miscarriage quite upsetting – they've probably been anticipating a child for longer, and have a larger emotional investment.
More questions on Quora:
- Miscarriages: What is it like to have a miscarriage?
- Pregnancy: What goes through the minds of women in labour?
- Miscarriages: How do women get over the trauma of a miscarriage/still birth?
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