Beck said she's heard countless stories from women whose doctors and nurses have treated them insensitively. One woman who was scheduled to go through a surgery to remove the fetus in her uterus was forced to sit in a room with pregnant women or new moms and their babies, she said. Many times, no literature, counseling or support is offered, Beck said. "You are going through the saddest thing you've ever gone through, and people don't get it," she said. "There's a different sadness, to see life flowing out of them," Beck added.
Elena Coffey, an obstetric social worker for 33 years, agreed. "I think what makes it particularly difficult for families suffering a miscarriage, is that society kind of treats it incidentally," said Coffey, who created the Perinatal Bereavement Team at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Hospital in Worcester in the late 1980s. "Everybody's loss is important." Even when dealing with early miscarriages, Coffey said the emotions are powerful. "As soon as you've confirmed the pregnancy, you're attached," she said.
People ranging from physicians to family friends simply don't know how to handle pregnancy loss and think that the best way to deal with it is to forge ahead and not talk about it, Coffey said. "People are uncomfortable with it," she said. "They just don't know what to do. Some just ignore it. What they're doing is ignoring a life. It's disrespectful."
That's why she said the first job of her team—comprised of social workers, nurses, doctors and administrative staff who may come in contact with the grieving parents—is to "validate the loss." Hospitals around the country offer a wide range of services for parents who've suffered pregnancy loss, from brochures, books, counseling services and clerical consultations, to memory boxes for later term miscarriages or stillbirths including (if possible) a lock of hair, the baby's footprints, photos, blankets and sometimes the chance to hold the baby.
But such services are not always standard at every hospital or at individual doctors' offices. Many times, patients have to know to request referrals for counseling or literature before they'll receive any support, experts say.
If you've suffered a miscarriage and feel as though no one understands or is sympathetic, know that you're not alone. Here are some recommendations, culled from interviews with miscarriage sufferers and mental health professionals:
- Feel free to talk about it. Even though some people may seem uncomfortable with the subject, you have the right to discuss what is a tragic loss.
- You can and should mourn. Everyone has different time tables for coping with their losses. Maybe you need to cry it out. Someone else may need to get busy with work or another project. Whatever your way of mourning, remember that, as with any other death in the family, you should be given the time you need.
- Read up. There are plenty of medical online resources, books and pamphlets on miscarriage. Use them to try to help you and your physician figure out if there's a discernable cause for the pregnancy loss. But keep in mind that in most cases, a reason is not found.
- Find others. If you don't get the reception or support you need from close friends and family, call local hospitals and ask them for contact information for the nearest pregnancy loss support group. Talking to others who are in similar situations can be very therapeutic.
- Find virtual support. If you can't get to a support group in person, go online. There are a variety of Internet-based bulletin boards and support groups that specialize in miscarriage and pregnancy loss. These places give you the freedom to vent your frustration at the rest of the people who "don't get it."
- See a counselor. If you believe you're having trouble functioning, coping with everyday life or dealing with the loss, find a counselor who can help, preferably one with experience in pregnancy-related issues. If the first counselor isn't a good match, seek out another one.
- Do something personal. Some women like to do something to remember their lost child. Some plant trees, others do special things on what would have been the due date. If the pregnancy loss was a later term loss, some families have a funeral and bury the remains, while others have made memory boxes with hospital social workers. Whatever your situation, if you need to do something to acknowledge the loss, do so.