How to deal with complicated grief when logic isn't doing the trick?
April 29, 2015 12:23 PM   Subscribe

I recently had a missed miscarriage of a very much wanted pregnancy at 12 weeks. I know logically there must have been a problem that most likely wasn't my fault, that statistically miscarriages happen in 10-20% of known pregnancies....all of that. But this isn't helping my heart - advice?

After nearly a year of trying, I finally got pregnant, saw the fetus's heartbeat at 8.5 weeks, and, after I passed the 12 week mark, I settled in to the idea that we were going to mostly likely have a baby in October. A few days later, I had a small bleed and an ultrasound found that there was no heartbeat. A day later I had a D&C. The tests haven't come back with any clear answers as to why.

In addition, a few days after I got out of the hospital from the miscarriage, we found out pretty unexpectedly that my dad has terminal cancer, with an estimated prognosis of a year or two. It was a really horrible week.

This happened a month ago and I'm swinging between be OK and having big waves of sadness.

I've been reading some advice online about dealing with a miscarriage, but most seem to come from a perspective that I don't really identify with. I was raised conservative Christian, but now consider myself agnostic - so I don't really believe there is a God with a plan...although in my darker moments, I have echoes of this thinking and find myself wondering what lesson I was supposed to learn or what kind of trial or punishment this is for me. Is this to teach me to value what I have? And then I get angry because logically, I was on the bad end of biological percentages. Some shitty genetics or misaligned placenta.

I'm also struggling with how to categorise the fetus - it was precious to me, very, very precious. But not as precious as my 3 year old. I can't consider it a baby...but calling it a fetus seems too cold. What kind of loss was this? Not a child, I think, but, well, I saw its heartbeat.

And almost certainly, tangled up in there is the grief for my dad's diagnosis, which quite frankly, I could also use help making sense of.

So, if you had a miscarriage or similar grief, what non-religious things helped you accept it and find peace?

[I'll be talking to my lovely therapist next week, I'd just like more perspectives.]
posted by brambory to Human Relations (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Oh, my goodness, I'm so sad for you. I had a missed miscarriage at 11 weeks, two years ago, and it tore my heart up. I can't even imagine dealing with a loved one's cancer prognosis on top of it. I'm so sorry.

I just want you to know that everything you're feeling is okay. It's okay to be overcome with sadness. Your heart wanted that baby (to me, the minute I saw that double line, it was a baby. It was to me.) and now that baby doesn't exist and that is awful.

One thing that helped more than I expected was that my sister sent me a rose bush - a low, late-blooming white one, in memory of the lost child, and it bloomed shortly after we planted it. The flowers brought me comfort, somehow.

I am also in a similar situation re: religion - my mother works for the catholic church, but I consider myself agnostic. I couldn't find solace in "better place" stuff and wanted to choke people who said stuff like that to me. I also HATED the immediate focus of "the next one will stick!" on miscarriage message boards, because I needed time to process the one that wouldn't be.

Besides the rose bush, two things that helped me: 1. taking time to collapse into a nest and not feel or think or do when I needed to. Feel your feelings when you need to, and allow yourself to feel numb when you need to. 2. Taking care of my then-nine-month-old foster daughter (now three years old and officially adopted), because she didn't know what was going on. The idea that there was a kid who needed me was helpful, even though my husband was happy to jump in and attend to her when I needed to be alone.

I have had a hard time with our society's hush-hush attitude towards miscarriages. No one knows what to say, so most people say nothing. It seems to sort of freak people out when I talk about it openly. I hope there are people in your life (besides your SO) who will let you talk about it, let it be part of your story. Like you said, more people have been through this than we tend to know about, because for some reason we're supposed to be all secretive or stoic or something - but when I've talked about it, I've found some common ground with some unexpected people. And talking about it went a long way towards helping me accept it.

I'll be thinking of you. Feeling sad for a long time is normal. It was a death, after all, and we take time to grieve those - but for an unborn child, we're also grieving what could have been and now won't be. Please memail me if you want to talk more.
posted by SeedStitch at 12:37 PM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh honey, I am so sorry. I have miscarried twice and like you both happened at the time something else that was really terrible was happening too. It made me feel like I was drowning. I think it's totally normal to see that heartbeat and go, "Yes! Yes! My darling baby is on their way!" It's biologically and emotionally expected when you've been trying for a baby you want so badly. I also think it's okay to call your lost child a baby if that feels better than fetus. Being medically precise doesn't help much with the emotions IME.

I have been dealing with loss lately and though I used to see it all from a "what is this teaching me" perspective I now am trying to think of it all from a "what better thing does the universe have in store for me instead?" view. What if this miscarriage may have prevented you from carrying a child who was going to develop severe and terrible birth defects later on in your pregnancy, or put your life in danger due to some unknown, currently unseen illness? The universe sometimes steps in and says WAIT let me do some more things so we can get this right! And that's okay. Maybe looking at this loss from that POV would be helpful. Grieve as you need to, and then set your mind to thinking, "I look forward to another chance. I look forward to conceiving another beautiful, healthy child and carrying them to term and having them grow up alongside me." And just keep affirming it. Not because you need to learn something, which to me sometimes has a negative connotation like you're being punished. Wait and see what could happen now that might not have been able to come to fruition had this pregnancy survived.

Sending you love and good thoughts. I am very sorry for your loss and hope that you have lots of time with your dad left to process what's going on.
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:56 PM on April 29, 2015

Best answer: I'm so incredibly sorry for your loss.

The language you use can help to process and acknowledge the loss you and your partner and your three year old have all experienced. If you feel comfortable saying it, you are very much allowed to say you lost a baby. (It's not a reflection on pro-choice [which I am and was] language and it complicated how I wanted to speak about my own loss without affecting other women. Too much over thinking that didn't help anyone. The situations are different.)

"Miscarriage" probably doesn't describe a second trimester loss adequately, for you. It wouldn't for me. None of the medicalised terminology used around me acknowledged the magnitude of my loss.

I also think that miscarriage after previous pregnancy feels even worse than a first because you know what you've lost. This is terrible and you're allowed to feel that and say it as much as you like. You've also got the complication of physical responses to your loss, but the emotional toll is real and indescribably painful. I send you gentle hugs.

I also send more hugs for your dad's diagnosis. It doesn't get much more rotten than the week you've just had.

Be gentle with yourself and let the people around you take care of you. Grieve however you need, but know your loss is acknowledged as huge and processing will take time.
posted by taff at 1:00 PM on April 29, 2015

Very, very sorry for your loss and your dad's diagnosis. That's a lot to deal with all at once.

Obviously a lot to unpack as well. I won't weigh in on the big question of how to deal since I haven't physically experienced this type of loss as a mother has (though I've experienced this emotionally several times now :( as a husband). But I can help with the related categorization question: "I'm also struggling with how to categorise the fetus - it was precious to me, very, very precious. But not as precious as my 3 year old. I can't consider it a baby...but calling it a fetus seems too cold. What kind of loss was this? Not a child, I think, but, well, I saw its heartbeat."

What is keeping you, as a mother, from calling a human fetus a child or a baby or a tiny human person? Only people highly insistent on technical terminology for some particular reason use the term "fetus" (think embryologists in technical papers, reproductive-rights advocates shying away from potentially unpopular consequences, etc.). To everyone else in the world, the thing growing inside of you was a baby. Don't hew to scientific terminology if it prevents you from grieving fully. People don't say "my adolescent died" when their teenage son dies. Don't do that to yourself here.
posted by resurrexit at 1:02 PM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: >What kind of loss was this?

The loss of potential. The loss of a spark of life. The loss of a planned, wanted baby which will not arrive in October. It is super hard, and I am very sorry for your loss.

What helped? Grieving as I would for anyone taken from me too soon. Time. Getting pregnant again. I think that casually, cheerfully telling someone to do so is terrible, but I take deep comfort in my thoroughly non-logical feeling that my child wanted to be born in the fall instead of the spring, and did not know that this choice would pain me.

I found it a comfort to know that I was part of a lightly-veiled sisterhood of loss, and that so many women in my life stepped forward to tell me their stories. That made its ubiquity more real to me than the stats, made it feel more like a thing that made me a (mourning) human and less of a series of broken pieces.

If you need to talk, you're welcome to message me.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:07 PM on April 29, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss.

I like the idea of a heart as a way to remember. Something small and physical, about worry stone size, that you can hold on to if you need to.
posted by jillithd at 1:48 PM on April 29, 2015

There is another answer here on askme that is written by a woman who has had multiple miscarriages and she ended up viewing her fetus/embryos as "sparks" traveling through the cosmos... And it was her job to love the spark and be a good home to the spark as long as it rested with her... However long that may be. It was beautiful.
posted by catspajammies at 1:49 PM on April 29, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so very sorry that you are in grief.

A constructive suggestion - have you said goodbye to your fetus?
When I read this:
I'm also struggling with how to categorise the fetus - it was precious to me, very, very precious. But not as precious as my 3 year old. I can't consider it a baby...but calling it a fetus seems too cold. What kind of loss was this? Not a child, I think, but, well, I saw its heartbeat.

It strikes me that you have not yet given yourself the opportunity to say goodbye. This is one of the reasons that people have funerals. Maybe a personal ceremony where you can do that. Light a candle and blow it out. Write a note and plant it under a sapling. Something meaningful to you.

Best wishes.
posted by plinth at 2:01 PM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I miscarried triplets just into the second trimester. While more baby doesn't translate into more grief, it felt like a big experience. I had big anger, big grief. And at first I had no one to share that with outside of my husband who was sad but not devastated in the same way I was after carrying those babies in my body. So I did it all - I posted on the miscarriage boards and I bought a Jizo for my garden and I named them and even threw a glass at the wall one night because I just plain had too many emotions not to.

And then suddenly they revealed themselves, where the 'they' is the friends and relatives who'd also had miscarriages. Their stories were all so different - I knew people who'd had multiple miscarriages but didn't feel like it was a big deal. Miscarriages that went so badly they ended in hysterectomies. Miscarriages that re-solidified marriages that were about to break apart entirely. Miscarriages that ended marriages, too. Every story you can imagine came to me via emails and messages and texts and handwritten letters and cards.

As alone as I felt, I wasn't actually alone. I was part of the biggest clubs you never hear about until you're inducted onto the member rolls. And that bugged me. So many close friends and family members had had this experience and I never knew.

The next thing I did was go public. I announced my pregnancy's end on my blog and on Facebook and everywhere else. I started writing about how I was dealing with grief on my blog ( and then being the voice of miscarriage on my company's blog ( I put the word out that I would be there for anyone going through a miscarriage. I wrote about it on XO Jane ( I got a tattoo to memorialize those babies - and as a conversation prompt.

You know how miscarriage is just one of those things you're not supposed to talk about? Well, if you ask me what my tattoo means, I say "I miscarried triplets and it's the tattoo I got after that experience." (It's a Roman numeral three.) The guy at Starbucks has heard about my miscarriage. The lady at the library. And while some people make a face like ugh, why did I ask, plenty of other people have taken it as an invitation to share their own story with me, a stranger. Sometimes I get the sense it's the first time they've talked about the loss in years.

Some people bounce back from a miscarriage. And some, like me, don't. Four years later and it still makes me sad. But my Jizo is surrounded by blooming tulips and lilac in the spring and summer and my tattoo reminds me that that life only I ever really knew nonetheless existed, short as it was.

My advice is feel what you need to feel. Grieve however feels right, even if society's expectations for "recovery after miscarriage" suggest you're taking too long or feeling too much. This is your loss - you get to decide how you deal with it.
posted by Never teh Bride at 2:13 PM on April 29, 2015 [18 favorites]

Best answer: One thing that helped my wife and myself after a similar miscarriage (the day after we told our family we were pregnant) was to hold a small ceremony to wish along who ever was with us for a little while. We're both non-religious so it really wasn't a thought of heaven or someplace else like that, but was a time to get away (we went to the local beach) and talk to who ever it was and wish them well. We put some flowers and a drawing in the water and said some goodbyes / words.

We got the idea after hearing about the Japanese ceremony Mizuko kuyo (on NPR of course)

It helped but was still a tough time.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 2:35 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here is batmonkey's amazing "little spark" comment. It was so, so comforting to me when I went through a D&C after a nonviable pregnancy, discovered at 12 weeks. I knew that technically the sac hadn't developed into a living being, but talking about the pregnancy had made it so real. Referring to it as a spark, a spirit that moved from place to place, felt very appropriate.

I absolutely do not want to go all "just try it again!" because getting and staying pregnant can be so difficult. Please understand that. But I will say that when I did get pregnant later, thinking of the "little spark" helped me be at peace with the uncertainty of life, and of a successful pregnancy -- and a successful life, of a child AND of myself.

The awesome tchemgrrl up there is one of the most wonderful people I know. (T, forgive me for telling your story, but here's how I saw it, and it helped me.) If you can't tell from her username, she is a scientist and a relentless experimenter; she treats lots of stuff like scientific hypotheses to be tested (in a good way!). When she got pregnant, I remember her writing down the details of her pregnancy as if it were one of her precise attempts at reproducing a colorful dyeing effect on handspun yarn, or in one of her hightech nanowhatsis that I don't pretend to understand.

Because that's what we all do: we search for patterns to try and make sense out of something that is impossible to control.

When she lost her pregnancy, I was tremendously sad. But I thought, "I know there's no way she could have been any more precise. I know she did the absolute best she could, and held every procedure and checkpoint to the highest standard. And if a miscarriage can happen to someone like that, who tried so hard to make things right, then it's clear that it can happen to anybody, for any reason or no reason at all." And when I went through my own pregnancy loss, that gave me a lot of comfort.

Your dad has a little spark, too. Maybe it's grown to be a big spark over the years; maybe sometimes it flickers and sometimes you wonder where he gets the fuel. But no matter if he is here or not here, his spark will be alive. Energy doesn't disappear. It's the way my husband sleeps just like his father, even though he didn't see his dad more than a few times a year (if that). It's the way I sound like my grandma, ten years after she died a thousand miles away.

So I guess this is what faith is, in the end: just putting your emotions out there and trusting in something that on its face shouldn't be trusted. We trust that other people will be there for us, and sometimes they aren't... through no fault of their own. But even when we've been hurt by life, we still carry some of that faith inside that says, "I can't go on. I'll go on."

Sometimes all we can do is hope.
posted by St. Hubbins at 2:40 PM on April 29, 2015 [7 favorites]

P.S. We still refer to the first little spark as "the other one." She (my husband insists that it was a she) made it possible for us to love and prepare for the child who made it all the way, in a way that we wouldn't have been able to do without the other one.

Even now, it feels odd to say that we "lost" that spark. Because we didn't.
posted by St. Hubbins at 2:44 PM on April 29, 2015

Best answer: Oh, man. I am feeling for you. I also just miscarried at 12 weeks but I don't have extra family difficulties right now and that has to make a heartrending pain even worse.

We got our genetic testing results back yesterday and found out the baby was a girl, who had a fatal chromosomal defect and could not have lived. It put me at ease to realize that I did nothing to cause the defect and could have done nothing to prevent it either. She was our first, very wanted, baby and we don't get to have her. That hurts me immensely, but now that I know who she was and why she didn't live, it has been a load of my shoulders that I did not cause this. I hope your results bring you similar peace.
posted by notjustthefish at 3:04 PM on April 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Here's a blog post discussing a thing I found useful -- "'Mizuko' is the Japanese word for a miscarried baby. It translates to 'water child' because in Japanese Buddhism it is believed that the soul flows slowly into a child, the child becoming more solid as they age. In this way the mizuko is somewhere on the spectrum between being and nonbeing, neither a full person nor a nonperson."
posted by kmennie at 3:05 PM on April 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

It's not your fault. As you say, 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. Up to 50 percent or more of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Had my mom not miscarried, I wouldn't be here today. The prior pregnancy was due about 6 months before my birthday. It is impossible for me and the miscarried pregnancy to exist as adult humans in the same universe.

Why not celebrate your child and your partner and get to work creating more life, If that is what you want?
posted by GregorWill at 4:48 PM on April 29, 2015

Best answer: I am so sorry this has happened to you--both your miscarriage and your dad's diagnosis. What a lot of grief to gave to deal with at once--no wonder you feel overwhelmed.

Last year, I had a second trimester loss of a long awaited, much wanted pregnancy. It was terrible and devastating. The baby was a baby to my partner and me, and that's how we refer to him--we were and are pro-choice, but we lost a baby that we had hoped and planned for. I have found it helpful to really acknowledge just how much of a loss this was, and not downplay it at all. I do find other people are pretty supportive once they realize I'm OK with talking about it. Lots of women have also told me about their losses too--it's sadly pretty common.

I linked elsewhere on Metafilter to this discussion of ambiguous loss and disenfranchised grief; it made a lot of sense to me. You might find it a helpful way to think about both your feelings around your miscarriage and your dad's diagnosis.

Like you, I'm not religious, but batmonkey's comment about thinking of a visiting spark helped me immensely. We put the baby's ashes in our garden with a little Buddha statue as a sort of memorial. That helped too.

One month out is not long at all, and that was when my emotions (though of course very real and valid!) were also still ruled by lingering pregnancy hormones. It takes time for grief to subside, and as a good friend told me, it is very much an up and down process. I had a mix of good days and bad for a long time, but as every month passed, there were more good days than bad. Now, almost a year later, I have mostly good days even though I think of our baby every day.

As for finding meaning from the experience, well, I'd really have been fine not learning that life lesson. Personally, I have basically settled into the belief that sometimes random shitty things happen for no reason, and I just have to accept that. I find this idea weirdly comforting, actually, because it helps me let go of trying to control all outcomes. YMMV of course.

Big hugs. I'm sorry you are going through this. I hope you can be gentle with yourself and I hope you're able to find some peace.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:02 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your hormones are amplifying everything right now, it's okay to be pure emotion. It's okay to cry and scream and not leave the bed for a day or two. Your suffered a loss and you are facing another loss, all while your body is still healing. It's a lousy situation. And not having faith to fall back on makes it all worse. It's okay to ask for prayers even if you don't pray (you didn't ask but I did pray for you). Reach out to your community. Let your friends and/or your parents church congregation bring you meals. Let someone take care of you. Give yourself time.

It's also okay to go to church as an unbeliever. Many are set up for that purpose. If it brings you comfort then that is where you need to be. And, with what you are facing with your dad, having a group of people looking out for you is not a bad thing. You can't find Godly people in every church so just start trying some out. Go outside the religion you were raised in. See what fits.
posted by myselfasme at 5:13 AM on April 30, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you very much for the responses. I've marked as best answers the ones that resonated most with me, but all of them were really helpful.
posted by brambory at 12:43 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

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