In addition to being a social worker and family therapist, I am a loss doula. Loss doulas are a little different from labor doulas. A loss doula supports people who are miscarrying, having a stillbirth, or whose child is not expected to live long after birth. When I’ve talked to people about this aspect of my work, one of three responses occur. Either they react with horror, “Why would you ever want to do that?” 2) They recognize it as a necessary service, “I’m glad you do that, but I couldn’t handle it” or they join the club of people who never wanted to be in that club. “That happened to me. I needed someone like you.” (Or, hopefully, “I had someone like you, and they helped through an incredibly tough time.”)
Pregnancy loss is much more common than you may believe.
A miscarriage is classified as any pregnancy loss before 23 weeks’ gestation. After 24 weeks, if a baby is born deceased, the medical term is “stillbirth.” Babies born alive between 24 and 37 weeks are referred to as premature. 1 in 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage, and about 1 in 100 women have recurrent (meaning more than three) miscarriages. Miscarriage, in particular, can be experienced in a variety of ways. Some people experience the movie version—sudden bleeding and the loss of the baby physically, while others are not aware that their child has died until they receive an ultrasound and no fetal heartbeat is detected.
Why we don’t talk about it.
While miscarriage and stillbirth are very common, we’ve only recently started talking about miscarriage, pregnancy loss, and infertility. For many people, it’s still a forbidden topic. The secrecy about miscarriage however, adds to the psychological pain. Loss can already feel very isolating, and keeping a loss “secret” increases feelings of isolation. Sometimes people hesitate sharing about their miscarriage(s) because they are worried about the responses they will receive from friends and loved ones. (See: Things Not to Say to Someone Who Has Experienced A Pregnancy Loss.) There is still quite a bit of mystery surrounding miscarriage. Often people will never know what caused the loss of their child and this complicates the grieving process.
As I’ve written before, grief is a complicated, individual process. Therapy often involves helping the bereaved reconcile mixed emotions about their loss and assisting with the creation of a new narrative. It can also involve commemorating or memorializing the person who died. Often, medical doctors will unnecessarily complicate the grieving process by not making the right suggestions. This can include deciding how the deceased’s remains will be handled, whether there will be a memorial service, and naming the deceased. Sometimes, it involves couples’ therapy, as men and women may handle the death of a child before birth very differently. In moments of struggle and grief, I want couples to turn toward, rather than away from each other, which therapy can help facilitate.
If you are interested in receiving individual or couples therapy to address a pregnancy loss, contact us. If you’re interested in a pregnancy loss group, please let me know that as well! I am considering whether we have enough interest to have a mixed group. However, there may be one group for people who have been pregnant and another for their partners.
AAMFT Approved Supervisor
Kentucky Board Approved MFT Supervisor
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Clinical Social Worker in KY
Licensed Clinical Social Worker in IN