After a year-and-a-half of trying to conceive, followed by the loss of 4 consecutive pregnancies, I felt like I’d earned a graduate degree in grief. My friend and mentor, psychologist Dr. Christina Hibbert, says we all have a Ph.D. in our own lives, and by this point, I felt like I had more pedigree for understanding grief than I had ever wanted.
I grieved the loss of my trust in my body. I grieved the loss of the lives I’d envisioned for my children who would never be born. I grieved the loss of my innocence, of the belief that working hard and being a good person would help me achieve the things I wanted.
Mostly, with each loss, I grieved a life, and it was a different experience each time.
After my first miscarriage, I curled up on my couch and didn’t leave it for a week. I cried and ate and watched television and snuggled my dogs. I saw the world through a dark cloud that I intrinsically knew I’d find a way through, but I couldn’t imagine how, or when, or what that would look like.
With each loss, I grieved a life, and it was a different experience each time.
As I experienced more losses, I began, both in therapy sessions and in personal journaling, to move through my experiences in different ways.
After years of grief and loss—and therapy bills that rivaled the cost of recurrent miscarriage testing, treatment, hospital visits, and surgeries—I learned so many things about coping with grief.
I hope they help you as much as they helped me.
1. Give Yourself Permission to Grieve
I mean this quite literally— write a permission slip for yourself. It’s like the slip you carried through the hallway to be allowed to go to the bathroom in school, but for emotions. Because only you can give yourself permission to experience your grief.
Others will, unfortunately, sometimes make you feel like your grief isn’t valid. They’ll remind you that others have it worse. They’ll ask why you aren’t “over it” yet.
Those people do not understand. But they can make you feel like your emotions are wrong. But your emotions are yours, and you deserve them. You have my permission to experience them, but it’s essential that you give yourself that permission, as well.
Your emotions are yours, and you deserve them.
2. Don’t Compare Your Grief to Others
One of the most common things the miscarriage moms I work with complain about hearing is this gut-wrenching phrase: “At least you weren’t further along.”
Some women report finding this statement helpful, but the vast majority are devastated by it because it makes them feel like their grief has been invalidated. You are only allowed to grieve, it seems, if you were further along, if you’d reached some obscure date in your pregnancy when suddenly it’s OK to grieve.
But I promise you this. Whether you lost your pregnancy at 4 weeks or 40 weeks, it is OK to grieve. You deserve to experience whatever emotions come naturally to you.
You deserve to experience whatever emotions come naturally to you.
3. Believe That you Deserve to Feel Your Emotions
It sounds so simple, and yet it’s really not. When you feel like your grief is being invalidated, it’s easy to tell yourself that you should be “over it” or that it shouldn’t be such a big deal.
Maybe you know someone who had a loss similar to yours, but they weren’t nearly so rattled by it. That’s OK. Your experience isn’t theirs.
Maybe you know someone who’s been through something you consider to be far more traumatic, so you feel guilty for being so consumed by grief over something that you deem to be lesser.
It’s all OK. All these thoughts are coming from a part of our minds that are trying to rationalize our emotions and pull us out of whatever we’re feeling because it’s uncomfortable.
Learn to live with the discomfort.
4. Write a Statement About Why Your Grief is Valid
I clearly believe in writing things down. By writing, we send concrete messages to our subconscious minds that may help them understand that we’re OK with the emotions we’re experiencing.
Essentially, you’re writing a new permission slip, this time to a part of your brain that you can’t access with simple words, but only with actions.
Here’s an example:
My grief is valid because I just lost an entire life that I’d dreamed of. I’d imagined how I would announce my pregnancy. I’d wondered where my child would go to school. I’d tried to picture them laughing and playing. I’d hoped they’d choose a specific college or career. I’d hoped I’d be the type of mother who would not pressure them into living up to my desires for them, though. My grief is valid because in losing this pregnancy, I lost dreams, and I lost a life.
This example may or may not ring true to you, but it shows the kind of detail you want to include. It helps you articulate exactly what you’re grieving, and it helps you realize that your grief is rarely about the loss alone.
But even if it is about the loss of your pregnancy and nothing else, your emotions are still valid.
5. Accept Your Negative Feelings
By giving yourself permission to grieve and validating that grief for yourself, you’re teaching your subconscious mind—the part that reacts feels, and creates emotions—that it’s OK to send you these negative feelings.
Many of us are inclined to push our negative feelings down, to repress them, to busy ourselves so much that we don’t let ourselves experience the discomfort of grief and loss.
But if we don’t allow ourselves to experience grief when it comes, instead hiding it away somewhere in the recesses of our minds, it will eventually find its way out.
And when it does, it will likely come as a surprise, and it may be exceedingly hurtful. You may lash out at someone you love, experience physical pain, engage in self-destructive behavior, and so much more.
It’s ideal to learn to live with the pain while it’s strongest so that we can work through our grief and move forward in a way that’s physically and emotionally healthy.
6. Understand That Your Loss is Not Your Fault
Let me shout it from the rooftops for you, friend. Your loss is not your fault!
I discovered that a uterine anomaly had caused my recurrent miscarriage experience, and I had to deal with a lot of grief over the fact that my body had ended my pregnancies.
But you know what? Ultimately, my losses were not my fault. I did not cause my uterus to be abnormal. What I did do was seek treatment that discovered the problem and fixed it. I deserved to celebrate how hard I’d worked to get my babies here, not beat myself up over something I had no control over.
Your loss is not your fault!
That coffee you drank, or exercise you did? It didn’t cause this.
You, friend, are not at fault. You are not to blame. I’m sorry this terrible thing has happened to you, but please, please hear me. It is not your fault!
7. Do Something Productive With Your Grief
When you feel like you’re able to begin moving forward from your grief, do something productive with it. You won’t believe the healing impact this can have on your psyche, and on your soul.
Maybe this means putting together a care package for a friend when she experiences loss. Perhaps it means opening up about your experience on social media so that others know they can reach out for you when they need help. Maybe it just means being extra kind to someone because you’ve learned we all need a little more kindness in the world.
You don’t have to change the world, but if you can intentionally channel energy into doing something good to help someone else because of what you’ve experienced and learned, I promise you will heal more and more every time.