More than one in five pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. That’s about a quarter of a million in the UK each year.
Everyone who has had or is going to a pregnancy loss or miscarriage will experience this in their own way. Not everyone will feel the same. In this blog I am addressing situations where a miscarriage feels like a significant loss and how rituals may help in the grieving process.
There is no community space where parents affected by pregnancy loss can share their stories. We don’t have rituals or ceremonies in place to acknowledge this type of loss and the grief that comes with it.
A ritual can help create a space to grieve and to find a way to continue the bond with the tiny life that was lost before it had barely begun.
In this blog, I share five rituals that may help grieve an invisible loss.
If you have been affected by pregnancy loss and would like more information or support, please refer to the links at the end of this blog. Whatever you feel, you are not alone. I hope this blog will provide some support.
My story: the world lost all its colour
My first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. I remember the wonder, the disbelief and the joy when I found out that a new life was growing in me. It was two years after I had stopped taking the pill and a miracle had happened.
From the day the pregnancy test showed a positive result, my world changed completely. A new future opened up. My husband and I started dreaming about this little person. What he or she would look like. How this child would grow up, what he or she would enjoy doing. I saw the world with new eyes. Colours seemed deeper, the light seems brighter, new horizons took shape.
We decided not to tell anyone yet. This was our precious little secret.
But then, our lives took another turn. We went for the 12-week scan. It was not ok. No heartbeat. No life. The end.
At that moment, the world lost all its colour.
I was grieving. I was grieving the loss of my pregnancy. I was grieving the loss of my unborn child. I was grieving a future that was not to be.
It was a lonely process.
I was very lucky to have some dear friends and family members I could talk to. My husband and I shared our tears. But in the public space, I found it difficult to share my loss and to explain why I was acting differently. At work, they did not know I was pregnant. I did not want to tell as is felt like such a private an intimate experience.
I wasn’t sure either if I was exaggerating my grief. It was only the first trimester of the pregnancy, my belly hadn’t even swollen yet, and the scan made clear that the life had not even started to take real shape. People went through much worse experiences, I told myself, losing full term babies or children during or shortly after birth.
Shouldn’t I just get over it and be happy with the fact that I could get pregnant?
We lack a community space to grieve a pregnancy loss
The loss of a baby in pregnancy can evoke mixed and complex feelings. It can be an unhappy, frightening and lonely experience. It’s not a major event for everyone, but feelings of shock, grief and loss are common.
A miscarriage is a grieving an invisible loss. You are grieving someone you have never seen or met. They have never filled the room with their presence, but they are leaving an empty space behind. For people in your environment, it’s even more abstract. They might not even have known that you were pregnant.
Grieving a miscarriage can be a difficult and lonely process, and we don’t have community rituals or ceremonies in place to acknowledge this type of loss.
How can a ritual help grieve an invisible loss?
“A ritual starts the journey, puts your foot on the path when you feel like you can’t move … in allowing yourself to grieve you begin to heal.” – Dr Anna Rogers, Obstetrician & Gynaecologist
A ritual helps make the invisible visible.
A ritual helps to express and honour the emotions that come with your loss.
A ritual helps acknowledge your loss and can be an experience of support.
A ritual helps continue the relationship with your unborn child.
Some parents create a special space for their unborn child with candles, flowers, a statue or other objects that are meaningful for them. Making your unborn child symbolically visible makes your loss tangible. You can relate to it, and do something to strengthen the bond with your unborn child.
Below, I describe five additional possible rituals you can do after a pregnancy loss. Maybe they resonate with you, maybe not. Please note that you don’t have to do a ritual. Every person grieves differently, and what works for one, may not be right for others.
Five rituals for miscarriages
1. Organise a ceremony or memorial service
You may want to hold some kind of ceremony or memorial service. This might be in your place of worship, in another place that’s special to you, or at home. It could be just for close friends and family or just you and your partner and other children you may have.
Examples of what to include:
- Read a poem or say a prayer if you’re religious
- Share stories about the pregnancy, the dreams you had and the future you envisioned with this new life
- Do a naming ritual/blessing for the unborn baby
- If you have remains you could bury them
- Do a ritual symbolising a letting go: blow bubbles, release a dove or balloons
2. Plant flowers or a tree
If you have a garden, planting flowers or a tree can be a meaningful way to honour your unborn child and to give shape to your grief. The flowers or fruits that grow on the tree may be a yearly reminder of the ongoing love that this life has given to you. If you don’t have a garden you could consider to contact a local garden of remembrance.
3. Write a poem or a letter
Writing can be a good way to find words for your loss. You may write a poem, or write a letter to your baby. Don’t worry too much about the words and getting it right. Let the words flow and write them down as they come. Find some examples here. You can keep it in a special place or memory box.
4. Create art
Creating a work of art can be very healing. Make, for example, a painting, a drawing, a collage. Use clay, mixed media, or play music. Get your partner involved if they would like to. Don’t worry about technique, or being perfect. Choose mediums and colours that you feel drawn to.
5. Find comfort in a Jizu statue
In Japan, Jizu statues honour the souls of babies that were never born. According to Buddhist belief, a baby who is never born can’t go to heaven, having never had the opportunity to accumulate good karma. But Jizo can smuggle these souls to paradise in his pockets. He also delivers toys and snacks to the souls of unborn babies.
Some people find comfort in Jizu statues. Jizu is a baby-faced stone statue, often with praying hands. You may crotchet a hat or a coat, which can be a fulfilling activity. You can talk to the statue, cuddle him. You can put the statue in a particular place, or move it around the house. In an article in the New York Times, Angela Elson shares how a Jizu has helped her in grieving her miscarriage.
Everyone is different, there is no right or wrong
Everyone will react differently to a miscarriage and there is no right or wrong way. Don’t feel you have to perform a ritual, or do anything at all. Maybe this is not the time. Rituals and memorial acts can be done later, even years after the loss.
If you read this and you have been or are going through a pregnancy loss I hope you have found some comfort in this blog. Take care and be gentle to yourself. Sending love and thoughts.
Miscarriage Association. Information about miscarriage, molar pregnancy or ectopic pregnancy. Also offers a safe forum to share experiences and ask questions.
Sands. Provides free support to anyone affected by the death of a baby through our national helpline, forum and network of support groups.
Baby Loss Awareness Week. Information about the Baby Loss Awareness Week, held every year in early October. The week ends with a global ‘Wave Of Light’: people from around the world are invited to light a candle at 7pm local time in memory of all the babies who lit up our lives for such a short time.