By Denise Padilla de Font
Being a therapist didn’t spare me from the effect that recurring miscarriages had on my mental health. I had plenty of moments I thought I’d never be whole again, days and nights feeling humbled to the core, weeping, cursing everything I thought I believed in. There was no roadmap for how to cope, so—eventually—I came up with my own.
My miscarriages brought me face to face with some wildly uncomfortable feelings. When I wasn’t burying my tear-streaked face in a pillow, I documented the experience and tracked the thoughts and feelings that were showing up for me. The document grew as I added the experiences of the women who entrusted me with their emotional care after they’d experienced miscarriages themselves. This blog is an offering to all those who feel lonely in their thoughts after pregnancy loss.
We can’t talk about miscarriage without first discussing the name: miscarriage. The word itself is misleading. It implies fault or blame. We internalize this word to mean “I failed.”
See what that does?
It increases our self-judgment, leading us to believe that the abrupt end of the pregnancy was due to a “mistake” that we (or our body) made. It’s important to be aware of how adopting the word “miscarriage” affects you. If it has a negative and shameful effect, try using another descriptive word or phrase. That said, simply because it’s the word most of us have inherited, I’ll stick to using the word miscarriage in this blog.
Out to Sea
After the initial shock and disbelief (sometimes relief) that follows the loss, we become a host to a flood of different (sometimes opposing) emotions that take time to process.
Let me repeat, underline, and highlight: These feelings take time to process! They will bubble to the surface eventually if they aren’t dealt with, discussed, or shared. In general, it takes a heck of a lot longer to process these feelings than the physical symptoms.
The feelings that follow a miscarriage are like an emotional rip current. Nothing in life prepares you for it! One minute you’re wading through the waters of pregnancy. Next thing you know, you’re swept away to a very lonely place. Even when we share our experience with others, it can feel like they’re enjoying life on the shore while we’re miles out to sea, struggling to swim.
We try our best to make sense of what just happened in our bodies. Our minds are desperate for understanding and a clear path back to dry land and safety. We feel so vulnerable, emotional, and afraid of the “what if”s. (Like, “what if this happens again?”, “what if it was my fault?”, etc.) So we search for tangible ways to fix it, to push away the feelings. It’s like grabbing onto a life raft that has a hole in it. Why? Because pushing away feelings doesn’t make them disappear. They’ll come back eventually. Plus, “fixing” something implies that it’s broken and needs repair—not to mention the fact that our “quick fix” patriarchal society is intolerant of discomfort, and it hasn’t provided us with the tools to survive this ultra-feminine phenomenon. This sets us up for an unbearably lonely—and seemingly endless—experience of pain and shame.
The Obsessive Search for Answers
Miscarriage can make us feel such a tremendous loss of control that we look for any answers to make sense of what happened…and how to prevent it from happening again. We hash and rehash what we could have done differently and what to do next, and we search for answers, sometimes obsessively. With social media and the internet at our fingertips, we search down into worm holes of information, looking for the magical answer to solve our problem. But what if there is nothing to do? What if we’ll never know the reason why it happened? What will we do then?
Our longing to stop thinking and feeling—so we can rejoin our life—can cause us to rush past the painful emotions and focus on solutions. And that might work for some people. But it can have the opposite effect for many others, leading to even more mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression, hyper-vigilance, obsessive thoughts, and PTSD.
In part two of this blog, I’ll share more on the emotional process that comes after miscarriage, as well as some less common ways to cope …
Bio: Denise Padilla de Font is a professional Art Therapist who specializes in women’s issues and support for healing arts practitioners. With over a decade of service to her community, she founded her private practice, River Water Healing, in 2013. http://riverwaterhealing.com/bio-1/