Isolation, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and grief are all common experiences to name after a miscarriage. Experiencing a miscarriage is traumatic in and of itself; lack of in-person support and isolation compounded by the pandemic is its own personal brand of grief.
According to a study published in Ultrasound in Obstetrics & Gynecology, first-trimester miscarriage rates increased 25% throughout the population during the pandemic. It also forced pregnant people to endure miscarriages at home with reduced access to hospital services due to potential COVID-19 exposure.
People who experience miscarriage may show higher levels of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It’s no surprise that pandemic conditions also increase the risk of mental health issues.
How do you cope with a loss made even more debilitating by a pandemic? Arden Cartrette, AKA The Miscarriage Doula, shares how she’s helping others navigate pregnancy loss amid COVID-19 and the specific hardships women who experience miscarriages face.
What miscarriage support looks like
The heartbreak of miscarriage is an experience Cartrette knows all too well, after enduring two miscarriages herself within a short span of time. Cartrette sought support online, and then others started turning to her for help.
If you ask several people what miscarriage support looks like, you’ll likely find each poses a different answer based on individual needs. If one thing is clear, it’s that there is no one way someone should feel after a loss, and all feelings are valid. Doulas provide necessary emotional, physical, and educational support and can help to affirm those feelings. Doulas’ roles have changed to accommodate new hospital policies throughout the pandemic and have largely taken their work virtual.
Cartrette explains, “I work with women one-on-one and inform them on what to expect, what to ask their doctors, and how to cope with their trauma. If a friend or family member is providing miscarriage support, that support may be more listening and validating than physically doing something to support their loved one.”
How the pandemic heightened trauma
Imagine letting your partner know that a pregnancy is no longer viable over video chat because they can’t physically be in the doctor’s office with you.
“The pandemic caused women to experience doctors appointments, ultrasounds, and surgeries alone,” says Cartrette. The pain from experiencing something excruciating without physical or emotional support can lead many to feel worse; many psychologists name this as a recipe for trauma.
“One of the biggest ways to support your partner, whichever partner it may be, is by being there to hold their hand as you learn the news and as you make difficult decisions,” she said. “When that is taken away from you, it almost feels like that loss only happened to you as a single person, which is as isolating as it gets.”
Cartrette notes before the pandemic, there was a need for a societal shift to accommodate miscarriage support, from acknowledging the experience in conversation to the workplace. Cartrette notes, “society has failed women in many ways when it comes to reproductive health in general. By not normalizing taking time off work or getting paid time from work when experiencing pregnancy loss, it forces women to work through the trauma which ultimately adds to the trauma.”
When asked about the experiences of women miscarrying throughout the pandemic, Cartrette notes, “my clients have experienced a deeper trauma than I’ve seen before.”
“Women are feeling more alone than ever because of the protocols in place during the pandemic. It’s not even just the isolation. For some women, their procedures, like a D&C during the pandemic, were not deemed important, so women were made to wait weeks for the procedure. Carrying around your baby, who isn’t alive, for weeks is an agonizing pain. Then when women are told to wait, the chance of miscarrying at home (being very unprepared) is likely to happen,” said Cartrette.
What resources do people dealing with miscarriage during the pandemic have?
Though the pandemic barred in-person aid, support around pregnancy loss was tenuous before Covid. Cartrette says, “it’s believed that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage and 2-5% of those couples will experience two or more losses. But until recent years, women didn’t openly share the fact that they had experienced loss. So when it happened, we had nowhere to go for information or support. Now, we share our trauma and desperately search for others who feel the way we do.”
Cartrette frequently uses different platforms to support anyone who may need it, through Instagram, her podcast, or her website. Cartrette also holds Zoom calls with clients and hosts online groups where people going through miscarriage can connect with others around the world. She also provides grief worksheets for clients and tailors resources to individual needs.
Because the pain in miscarriage involves mourning a life that was invisible to the rest of the world, Cartrette suggests paying homage to the loss with a physical reminder “whether it be an item of clothing or a miscarriage-related item like a painting or piece of jewelry, do something that reminds you that your baby is with you even if you can’t see or feel them.”
Cartrette also suggests acupuncture, therapy, and doing things you love, especially if you weren’t able to do them during the pregnancy.
Knowing that others share your grief and that you are not alone are two crucial components in healing from the trauma of miscarriage.
“Whether you were pregnant for four weeks, eight weeks, ten weeks, or more—your grief is valid,” says Cartrette.