I woke up in hospital with my husband on one side of the bed and a lovely lady chaplain on the other, and she said “Would you like to have a funeral for your baby?”
…and I was so touched, and I immediately said “Yes.”
And we went ahead, and we had the funeral, and although everyone knew I’d been fourteen weeks pregnant, almost no one knew about the funeral. I kept this particular aspect of our grief hidden.
Why was that?
There were nine of us at the little ceremony at the graveside: the lovely lady chaplain; a friend from my Quaker meeting, who officiated alongside her; and the rest were close girl friends from my quilting group (including one baby.) And it was so beautiful, and deeply moving and very valuable. And I’m so glad that it happened.
But it wasn’t until a lot later that I sheepishly told our families what we’d done. And a little part of me now still thinks that I “shouldn’t” be telling you about this!
It really surprises me, that I’ve felt like this. People often say that miscarriage is a “taboo” subject – and in some respects I think that it is, and in other respects I think that it isn’t, and that there’s actually quite a lot of talk about it in the media these days.
So why didn’t I feel able to tell anyone about the funeral?
“It wasn’t a “real” baby (yet) and so you ought not to be so upset, and people will think a funeral is frankly self-indulgent, and possibly even weird.” I think that more or less sums up the fears which were constraining me.
It’s not a nice combination of thoughts and beliefs, is it? It’s not that I believed any of them myself - but I feared that other people would! And I didn’t want to be judged, so I didn’t tell them.
If you can relate to any of these kinds of feelings, here are several things which it can be helpful to remember:
1. The "12 week rule" still seems to have a lot of influence in society
Even though I’d been at fourteen weeks when I had the miscarriage, I still didn’t feel comfortable telling people that we’d related to it as a “real” baby who merited a funeral.
I remember the first time that I was pregnant, I told people after just six weeks. And some people seemed disapproving and almost scandalised, because that’s “not the done thing to do.” (Supposing I had then had a miscarriage? - that’s “why” you don’t tell people you’re pregnant, so that you don’t then have to let them know later that you’re not.)
In fact, on that first occasion I did go on to have a miscarriage – and I did feel really foolish, having to explain that - and as if I “ought” to have obeyed the 12 week rule. And I felt ashamed of myself. And all of these feelings are quite uncomfortable to read about, aren’t they? (let alone feel!)
Why should I feel ashamed, about having told people? And then for losing my baby?
If you don’t tell very many people that you’re pregnant, then they’re not able to support you if you do need it later. I remember a colleague of mine telling her line manager that she was pregnant straight away, for just that reason. (If she had a miscarriage, she wanted to be able to take some time off afterwards to recover.)
Whether you choose to tell people that you’re pregnant – or not – is a very personal choice, and whatever you choose is absolutely the right thing for you, and not something for you to feel uncomfortable about.
Which brings me on to my next point:
2. It is a "real" baby
Not everybody relates to their pregnancy like this, but a large majority do. And so when you lose your baby, it is OK to be heart-broken and devastated, because you’re grieving for a child who didn’t have the chance to grow and develop, as you’d hoped for in all of your wishes and dreams for them.
Research in the United States has shown that the intensity of our grief after a miscarriage is commonly as strong as for someone we were close to who was walking around in our lives, who has died.
And the length of time that you were pregnant for makes no difference, either. The grief can still be just as intense.
So if you’ve had a miscarriage, it’s normal and appropriate to be grief-stricken, and I encourage you to give yourself permission to grieve, and not to feel that you should hide it, or that there’s anything wrong with you for feeling like this.
This is such a tough thing to experience, and anyone who’s been through it understands what it’s like, and we’re certainly not judging you - and please don’t judge yourself either.
3. Marking your baby's loss in some way can be very helpful
I’m so pleased that the hospital offered us a funeral. It was such a helpful and valuable way of marking our baby’s loss.
No matter how long you were pregnant for, or how long ago your miscarriage was, finding some way to commemorate your baby can still be a very kind thing to do for yourself and I really recommend it. (And you can tell as many or as few people that you’ve done this as feels best for you.)
Some ways to do this can include planting a tree, or lighting a candle, or writing in a book of Remembrance. Your baby was here, even if it was only for a very brief time, and you loved and cared for them so much, and it can be very comforting to feel that your baby’s presence is “anchored” somewhere in time and space, now that they’re no longer with you.
4. Sometimes it can be helpful to have some support
Coming to terms with a miscarriage can be very painful and upsetting, and some people find that it’s helpful to talk to someone who understands.
If you don’t have friends or family you can talk to, there are lots of miscarriage support organisations who would be happy to put you in touch with a kind and friendly person you can chat to. And miscarriage support therapists like me are also very happy to help. Please don’t feel that you have to suffer in silence and alone!
Whatever it is that you’ve been through, and however many people know (or don’t know) about the depths of your emotions, please be kind and gentle with yourself, and remember that it’s a very big thing that you’re dealing with. Have compassion for what you’re going through, and give yourself all the time that you need to grieve.
If there is any way I can support you, please do feel very free to be in touch. I’m sending you lots of love, and very good wishes,
~ Rosalind xxx