The Star: Grieving lost babies
Mar. 19, 2004
Sadness and guilt following miscarriages and stillbirths may often be buried
Despite all the high-tech wizardry, miscarriages often still remain a medical mystery, with about half of all pregnancy losses unexplained. And miscarriages are so common — they end about 15 to 20 per cent of all known pregnancies — that they usually are not investigated until after the second or third incident.
"A lot of people don't realize the chance of loss," says psychiatrist Gail Robinson, director of Women's Mental Health at the University Health Network. "In this age of technology, they think once they're pregnant we can fix everything."
The psychological fallout, even after a single early miscarriage, can be devastating. Friends, family, sometimes even spouses, brush aside the grief with well-meaning but dismissive comments, "You can get pregnant again" or "It's for the best." "It would be like coming to the emergency room to find that your husband had died and being told, `Don't worry. You can get married again,'" says Robinson. "The message is, don't grieve. Get over it."
Friendships can be frayed, marriages jeopardized. Even the bond with other children can be tainted. For solace, some seek out bereavement groups. "Everyone assumes you're over it — except people who've had similar losses," says Cassandra Worbanski, 29, who has had two miscarriages....
With the majority of miscarriages unexplained, the women often fill the void with guilt. "They blame a glass of wine they had, a run they took, ambivalent feelings about the baby, a long-ago abortion," says psychiatrist Robinson. "They pull in all kinds of things to explain it."...
While reactions to a miscarriage vary widely, about 75 per cent of women with early losses feel their baby has died, says Jan Pearce, executive director of Perinatal Bereavement Services Ontario. The others view it as just something that happened, a learning experience.
The deeply grieving majority often find that friends and family don't feel their pain. "The big problem is reconciling the opinion of the world that nothing big happened with the way they feel," says Pearce.
When Cari Haim miscarried at eight weeks, she felt devastated. It was a first miscarriage and she was only 25, but none of that helped how she felt. "I was quite surprised by how hard it hit me," says Haim. "I felt guilty for being so upset. I kept telling myself it wasn't a real tragedy."
But it took her two years to recover. "My husband never understood the depths of my despair," says Haim, who thinks it contributed to their eventual divorce....
Five years later, in another relationship, she got pregnant and miscarried at nine weeks. Again she felt deep sorrow. "Both times I found myself very instinctively apologizing to the babies, `I'm sorry there was nothing I could do to help you.'" But this time she attended PBSO support groups. "They didn't judge how I felt," says Haim. "They allowed me to grieve."
A husband and wife often mourn differently, sometimes creating marital tensions. "People have their own styles," says Robinson. "She may want to be sad and talk about it, but he may think she should be out playing golf."
Having not physically experienced the miscarriage, he might not feel as sad. "He may be in a bind," says the psychiatrist. "He's afraid if he brings it up he'll upset her, but she gets the message not to talk about it."
Or the man may blame himself, feeling guilty he couldn't protect his child. "I hear dads saying, `If I'd been a better provider, my wife wouldn't have had to work and maybe this wouldn't have happened,'" says Pearce....
For information on Perinatal Bereavement Services Ontario's support groups and other services, call 905-472-1807 or 1-888-301-7276 or visit http://www.pbso.ca. Bereaved Families of Ontario also offers self-help support groups for families who have experienced miscarriages or stillbirths. In Toronto, call 416-440-0290 or visit http://www.bfotoronto.ca.
...more from this article