Miscarriage – the hidden grief

From today’s Irish Times

MORE THAN one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Put another way, 50 babies a day are lost through miscarriage in Ireland. But you’d never think miscarriage was so common considering how rarely we talk about it.

“Miscarriage is still a taboo subject, an awkward and uncomfortable topic for people to talk openly about,” says psychotherapist, Maggie O’Neill who works with women who have lost babies through miscarriage. “Life is lived so much in the fast lane now that grieving the loss of a baby through miscarriage is often seen as an indulgence.”

O’Neill lost a baby through miscarriage 14 years ago. “I was 18 weeks’ pregnant on my third child, Jack, when I was told that my baby had died in my womb,” she explains.

“My world fell apart. I always felt that part of me died with him, not enough for me to stop functioning in the world but enough for me to have to learn to live with a huge emptiness inside me.”

As time went on, O’Neill realised the ache in her heart wouldn’t go away so she stopped sharing her feelings with others.

“Over the next few years, I realised that I had given part of myself to my baby when he died as if to try at some level to protect him as his mother. I kept this to myself because it sounded so off the wall,” she explains.

O’Neill became involved with the Miscarriage Association of Ireland where she met hundreds of women and their partners deeply grieving the loss of their baby or babies, as many had recurrent miscarriages.

“Some women just need to talk and they can move on in a few months. Others become very introverted and depressed. People often say to couples: ‘Have a bit of fun and try again,’ and it’s really difficult to explain to them about the dreams, hopes and plans you had for this baby.”

In the early noughties, O’Neill trained as a psychotherapist. “My personal therapy gave me the chance to heal many parts of my grief. I was encouraged and helped by my therapist to attend to unfinished business I still had with Jack.

“I spent many weeks gathering what was needed to have a ritual for my baby (I hadn’t attended his funeral at the time because I felt unable to function so I let the hospital take care of it for us) and my therapist became such an important part of this very precious and very spiritual occasion with me.

“I then realised that this was the missing piece. The hospitals help you deal with the physical loss of the baby, the Miscarriage Association is very supportive emotionally, but women need a form of spiritual healing too following miscarriage.

“So many women have talked to me about feeling that ‘part of them is missing’,” continues O’Neill.

“They constantly have this inner searching with little or no idea exactly what it is they are searching for. They experience it as an inner emptiness that nothing or no one can fill,” she explains.

“We don’t cope well in life with this emptiness so we try in vain to fill this space, we often do this with addictions. For me, it was overeating, others have another baby very quickly, but absolutely nothing will fill this ‘hole in your soul’.”

O’Neill undertook further training in Shamanism to find ways to help women deal with what she calls “soul loss following miscarriage”. Together with psychotherapist Nora Kirrane, she now runs seasonal workshops for women grieving the loss of babies through miscarriage.

In these workshops, women are encouraged to reconnect with their babies.

“It’s necessary to work with the mother and also the essence of her baby. Instead of being constantly told that she needs to ‘let go’, she needs encouragement to reconnect with her baby, to retrieve that missing part of herself and integrate it back into her life where it belongs. It’s then and only then that she can begin her path of healing,” says O’Neill.

The Miscarriage Association has also become aware of the need for ritual for couples grieving the loss of a baby through miscarriage.

“The loss of a baby is a hidden grief. It’s nearly a family secret. People often feel very alone,” says June O’Toole from the Miscarriage Association.

“We offer phone support. We’ve a book of remembrance and memorial stones have been put in place in four cemeteries so that people have a place to go to mourn their loss.”


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. iamstacey
    Jul 16, 2009 @ 19:57:54

    That’s so amazing! What a way to use her experience and healing to help others.


  2. blue75
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 10:11:35

    feeling that ‘part of them is missing’,” – that’s pretty much how I feel after my miscarriage


  3. tracey
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 10:12:10

    a hidden grief really hits the nail on the head and I feel like it is me who is doing all the hiding


  4. Trackback: The loneliness of pregnancy loss « Diary of a Miracle

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