What to Expect When You're No Longer Expecting

(Photo: iStock / Martin Dimitrov)

When a woman finds out she’s pregnant, a flood of emotions often accompanies the news. For some, pregnancy is a long time coming, and for others it’s a life-changing surprise. Regardless of circumstance, things take a drastic turn when a pregnancy ends suddenly due to miscarriage. Lack of support can make this even more difficult.

“Studies reveal that anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage,” says Dr. Teresa Dean Malcolm, OB-GYN and Practice Lead at Arizona's Banner Surprise Health Center. While those numbers make it sound like miscarriage is common, there is not a lot of support for women and families after a miscarriage has been diagnosed.

If you’ve had a miscarriage or you know someone who had one recently, understanding what happens after a miscarriage – both physically and emotionally – can aid in healing and make the experience a little less isolating.

Here are six things you can expect to happen after a miscarriage:

1. It can be physically painful

A very common myth about miscarriage is that it’s just like a regular period, only heavier. But the physical effects of miscarriage are more painful than that. You may experience cramps that are on par with a labor contraction, your leg muscles may ache and you can feel very tired. Hormonal changes take their toll too. “The hormonal changes that occur after miscarriage may affect [your] ability to concentrate or sleep, and [you] may experience a loss of appetite or frequent episodes of crying,” adds Dr. Malcolm.

If you had medical intervention – like a D&C or medication – your symptoms might be more amplified. You also may experience painful engorged breasts a few days after your body has miscarried.

2. You may (or may not) grieve

Some women don't feel extremely sad after a miscarriage, but many other women intensely feel the pain of their loss. There is no right or wrong way to process--sometimes you may even flip from one extreme to the other.

"Women experience a range of emotions and grief can take shape in many different forms," says Dr. Malcolm. "Women may feel angry, lonely, guilty, or a disappoint for all of the dreams she had for her child when she realized she was pregnant."

3. Finding someone to talk to is vital

"The sense of bonding between a woman and her baby can be strong even if the miscarriage occurred early in the pregnancy," says Dr. Malcolm. Taking the time to work through your feelings is an important part of healing.

Talking to your partner, friends or family can be a great outlet to work through your feelings surrounding the miscarriage. You can also look into seeing a counselor who specializes in perinatal grief.

4. You’ll have questions that may not have answers

Asking the question "Why?" is often one of the hardest parts of going through a miscarriage. Often the cause can’t be found. Dr. Malcom says miscarriage can happen for a variety of reasons--hormonal or genetic problems, maternal trauma, undiagnosed illnesses or lifestyle choices.

“Women often blame themselves and the truth is, miscarriage is typically outside of their control,” says Dr. Malcolm.

5. Some people may not know what to say

Even though the numbers suggest miscarriage isn’t uncommon, it's not something we often talk about as a society. Although many women want to share their story and their feelings, such a sad and negative topic leaves many uncomfortable. Because of this, many women are silent--and when they share, well-intentioned people often say things a grieving woman may find hurtful.

6. You won’t forget and that’s okay

“Women typically heal faster physically than they do emotionally,” warns Dr. Malcolm. The baby that passed may always be in the back of your mind and you’ll have waves of grief even when you don’t expect it. Certain dates may trigger the “grief flood” (feeling like you’re back in the earlier days of your loss) such as your baby’s due date or events like baby showers and you may wonder if you’ll ever heal.

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Women and families hold on to their memories even decades later and while the raw grief may lessen over time, it's okay if the pain is always be there. Dr. Malcolm advises women to take the time to grieve. “There is no set time allotment for healing and it is not something that can be rushed."

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