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How to Process Grief Surrounding Pregnancy Loss

Trying to make sense of your pregnancy loss and unsure where to begin? Find support, affirmations and ways to honor your grief in this compassionate guide.

March 31st, 2023 | 14 min. read

By Lisa Rosenthal

Pregnancy loss is finally being talked about more openly, and it’s normal to have questions about how to process grief around this heartbreaking experience. You likely felt so much hope, happiness and anticipation when you found out you were pregnant, and now you're suddenly trying to make sense of what happened.

In this article: 

Note: We will be using the term pregnancy loss in this article instead of miscarriage, as that word can imply someone did something wrong to "cause" it. We prefer to use the term pregnancy loss since it more accurately describes what happened.

Processing Grief Surrounding Pregnancy Loss

Pregnancy loss isn’t a cognitive brain thing. It’s not a pain you can talk yourself out of. It is a heart thing - emotional and hormonal.  

There’s a thought process many rely on when it comes to grief: if you don’t talk about it, it’s not real, it’s not painful, it’s not important. If you just bury it, you can get on with your life. 

But that way of processing pain doesn’t encourage empathetic questions, not even the simplest, "How are you?" for a person experiencing pregnancy loss. This goes right along with the idea of grieving alone, burying things, and not feeling your feelings. You know, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.  

It's isolating. Which makes it incredibly lonely.  

A Different Way to Approach Grief

The other way to approach pregnancy loss is rooted in connection, empathy, and a desire to process difficult emotions. When you're struggling with a loss, having someone offer a shoulder to lean on or cry on helps you know that you’re not alone on this painful road.  

By choosing to talk about your experience or offering space for others who may want to share about their own loss, that pain is shared, and you don't have to bear it alone. We all know that there are few things more loving and healing than having someone offer to listen to you.

Each heart processes things at its own way. At its own pace. But there are some tangible, actionable ways we can help our broken hearts recover from loss.

Let's talk about what they are, and what people around you can do to support you during this period of grieving. You may even want to share these ideas with them if they aren't sure what to do (or not do) to help. 

Helpful Suggestions for Friends & Family

Know someone who has experienced a pregnancy loss? You don’t have to know the perfect things to say in order to support them. However, if not knowing what to say would stop you from reaching out, here are a few ideas that will (most likely) be welcomed.

What to Say to Someone After Pregnancy Loss

  • It’s ok not to be ok.
  • I’m here to listen anytime you want to talk.  
  • My heart is breaking for you and with you.  
  • Please don’t feel you need to text or call back if you’re not up to it, I just wanted you to know I’m thinking about you.
  • I don’t know what to say, except that I am here for you and I love you.
  • Please call me anytime day or night, I’m here for you.
  • You don’t need to say anything, we can just sit here together.
  • Please know that any feelings you’re having are ok to tell me about.

Meet Laura & Ben

A fertility patient shares how she and her husband coped with the heartbreak of losing a long-awaited pregnancy and how it feels to conceive again after loss.

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What Not to Say to Someone After Pregnancy Loss

Consider intention versus impact before you speak to someone who is grieving. Here are a few phrases to avoid, no matter how well-intentioned you may feel when saying them:

  • It wasn’t meant to be.
  • It’s not your time yet.
  • At least you could get pregnant.
  • You’ll have another one!
  • You can always adopt.
  • It was so early, it wasn’t really a baby yet.
  • I know people who have had five miscarriages and went on to have a healthy baby.
  • You’re going to be fine.
  • God wanted this baby home with him. (Step carefully around what God would or wouldn’t have wanted. A person experiencing loss may be having very complicated feelings about God right now. The last thing you want to do is make someone more upset.)

Remember - your words matter. 

How to Support Someone Through Pregnancy Loss

Offer something specific instead of asking what they need.

A grieving person often can’t or doesn’t want to focus on mundane things like errands or meals. Use the suggestions below that most make sense for the person you care about, or use these ideas as a jumping off point for your own.

  • Offer a listening ear
  • Ask if you can come by and visit for a short time
  • Let them know you’re available to go out for a walk, a movie or shopping
  • Offer to pick up their groceries
  • Give them a gift certificate for a massage
  • Offer to send a meal from their favorite restaurant
  • Ask if you can take their dog for a longer walk that they may not have the energy for
  • Let them know you’re available to help manage baby items they may have received
  • Ask if they'd like to paint, draw or write about their baby and bring supplies for them

Practicing Radical Self-Acceptance

When you’re grieving the loss of a pregnancy, you may feel like all you want to do is talk about it, and other times, you may feel at a loss for words to convey what you are experiencing.  

Your emotions can quickly swing from one side of the pendulum to the other. Loss hurts, often in a visceral, very real way. That pain may come in waves, or it may be constant.  

All of it is ok, normal and expected. Try not to judge yourself or set high expectations right now. Grieving is a normal response to loss. This is the time to let yourself be.  

My Personal Experience with Pregnancy Loss

With my pregnancy loss, all I could do was curl up in a ball and cry in bed for the first week.

What brought me to my proverbial knees was all the effort, dedication and time invested in something I so desperately wanted, just for it to be so cruelly taken away from me. I could not wrap my brain around it, my heart took over and I just mourned.  

Getting out of bed to go back to work and life felt almost impossible. Somehow this momentous thing had happened, and the world went on as if everything was normal. But for me, it was never the same "normal" again. Never.

On Grieving What Might Have Been 

To this day, I know how old that baby, who was barely more than an embryo, would have been. This is not a political statement; it is an emotional statement. If you know, you know.  

If you don’t know, it goes like this: you may believe that an embryo is NOT a baby, not a child, not what your dreams are made of. It may be engrained in your mind and even your heart, as a political, moral, ethical belief that an embryo is NOT a baby.

Conversely, you may feel the opposite! If your belief is that an embryo is a baby from conception, this is just as complex, confusing and devastating.

But there’s something that happens when egg and sperm join and an embryo begins to develop - we begin to envision our baby. We see ourselves pregnant, we see ourselves giving birth, we see ourselves holding our child, guiding their first steps, watching them lose their first tooth. 

We see their future and we see our own.  

When that future is lost, we grieve - not just for that embryo or that pregnancy, but for the birth that won’t end with a baby in our arms, and for the child that we won’t be raising.  

This is what pregnancy loss is, what it looks like, how momentous the loss is. It is the incredibly heartbreaking, premature end to something that has barely begun.  

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Ceremonies & Rituals to Honor Your Loss

Acknowledging this momentous loss can feel like a way to honor the life that was not lived. It can help bridge the gap between the loss and readjusting to a new version of life. 

Here are a few ways to tangibly honor your pregnancy loss: 

Hold a Ceremony

A ceremony could look like a gathering of the people closest to you or it could be just you and another loved one. It could even be entirely private, just for you. It can consist of speaking, reading something meaningful out loud, or be completely silent. 

Spend Time Alone

This can consist of time spent in a special place, either outdoor or indoor. You can invite the universe into the moment, feeling your way into a space of connectedness. 

Physical Acts of Love

This could involve a symbolic burial of a small token, a picture, or a goodbye letter.

It could be the planting of a tree or flowers. It could be writing something in the sand that the waves then carry into the ocean. It could be stacking stones on top of each other and saying a blessing. It could be as simple as singing or listening to a song.

What feels right to you?

These rituals can happen immediately or a year later. This is your time to heal. Whatever you choose to do, remember to practice radical self-acceptance and self-love.

This is a time to love yourself as you are in this moment, honor your efforts, and grieve your loss. This isn't a time to think about blame and what went wrong - it's about forgiveness and acknowledgement of your effort and dedication. 

Do things at your own pace, taking your needs into account and finding what’s best for you, while doing your best to let those who love you be a part of the process and help.  

Affirmations for Those Experiencing Pregnancy Loss

Use an affirmation in the present tense. Set a timer for one minute and repeat the affirmation out loud or in your mind’s eye. This is a reminder of what you believe to be true. Use one of the affirmations below or create one that speaks to you.  

  • I am loved and I am loving
  • My body and heart are capable of healing
  • My baby lives in my heart and is safe there
  • I am alive and I am present in this moment
  • My baby will always be remembered
  • I forgive myself 

Where to Find Grief Support 

If you have experienced a pregnancy loss and are suffering, there is help available from support groups, individuals, or advocates like myself. Therapy can also be a good option to explore at this time. 

Here are some suggestions:

One in four women will experience a pregnancy loss. You are not alone in this. We are here for you. Here to listen and offer support. Here to help you process the pain you are feeling.  

Lisa Rosenthal

With 30+ years experience in the fertility field, as well as navigating her own infertility, Lisa has dedicated her life to advocating for and supporting those struggling to grow their families. Her work includes serving as Illume Fertility's Patient Advocate, Strategic Content Lead, and founder of Fertile Yoga, as well as advocating for those with infertility at RESOLVE and other organizations.