Liz Mannegren

Comparing Miscarriage and Stillbirth

I was seven months pregnant when I lost my first child. The doctors hurriedly pulled him from my stomach but they found no heartbeat, no breath. He was declared stillborn.

My second pregnancy ended quickly. I barely made it to the eight week mark when the doctors confirmed what my body had already told me – it was over. They told me I had “experienced a miscarriage.”

When you look at their definitions on paper, a miscarriage and a stillbirth are essentially the same thing. Both involve the loss of a beautiful baby in utero. A miscarriage occurs before 20 weeks of pregnancy, a stillbirth occurs after 20 weeks.* Both types of loss involve the pain of losing a child; and both leave a mother with empty arms and crushed dreams.

And yet, there’s no denying that these are two very different experiences.

Miscarriages Stillbirth
Miscarriages occur at a stage when the baby is incapable of surviving outside of the womb. (Before 20 weeks gestation). Miscarriages often occur before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. Stillbirth occurs after 20 weeks gestation. (Often times, this means it occurs at a stage in the pregnancy when the baby is capable of surviving outside of the womb.)
Approximately 1 out of every 6 pregnancies (of women who know that they are pregnant) end in miscarriage.* Approximately 1 in 200 pregnancies end in stillbirth.*
Most miscarriages are due to fetus abnormality (chromosomal or otherwise). You may never know for sure “why” you miscarried. After a stillbirth, the baby may require an autopsy to discover or confirm why the loss occurred.
While all women’s experiences and situations are slightly different, you may experience more “warning signs” with a miscarriage – bleeding, cramping, and back pain. A potential warning sign for stillbirth is the decrease of fetal movement.
Depending on when a miscarriage occurs, you may not recognize the baby or even see him. Due to its gestation, the baby will be larger and more developed when born. You may choose to hold him.
Most likely, you will not have a grave or physical location at which to mourn. Your baby may be buried or cremated. You may have an urn, ashes, or a grave site to visit and mourn at.

 

While the physical differences between a miscarriage and a stillbirth are easy to see, the emotional differences will never fit into the same neat, little tables. The way we mourn is not only unique to each mother, it’s also unique to each loss. 

After my miscarriage, I felt numb. I wondered why I didn’t grieve this child the way I had grieved after my stillbirth. I wasn’t able to mourn this loss as deeply as I’d mourned Landon, and that bothered me.

Miscarrying at 8 weeks, I hadn’t felt my little one move or kick. We didn’t know the gender of the baby and there were no ultrasound photos or lists of baby names tacked to the fridge. No one except my husband knew that I was expecting; I had no nausea and I wasn’t yet showing. To top it all off, I was so busy chasing a toddler around the house that I barely had time to “feel” pregnant.

There is no doubt that, for me, losing Landon at 31 weeks was a much heavier blow than my first trimester loss. The grieving process following the stillbirth was much longer and more challenging for me to work through.

But just because I didn’t feel the same intensity of grief after my miscarriage, doesn’t mean that I loved this baby any less or wanted it any less. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have the right to grieve this loss too. 

I didn’t know this little one as well as I knew my son. I didn’t feel her move or watch her dance on an ultrasound machine. But I still lost someone very, very special to me.

Because no matter how far along you are, the loss of a child is still the loss of a child.

I think it’s natural for us to want to compare the two types of loss. We wonder why one mama grieves harder than another or why one type of loss hurts for longer. We question whether we should be grieving more and whether we’re a “bad mom” for not grieving as long as someone else. We try to comfort ourselves or others by thinking, “at least I lost this baby early on…”

But there is no “at least” in this situation; one type of loss is not “better” than the other.

It’s not fair to compare our loss and subsequent grief to another mama’s; just as it’s not fair to compare our miscarriages to our stillbirths.

Loss is loss.

I will no longer let myself feel guilty for the fact that I mourned my miscarried babe for a shorter period of time than I mourned the one who was stillborn. I love them both, and I grieve them both as I need to.

Each baby is unique and each mama deserves the right to mourn her child as she feels best. We should not negate the impact of a loss by comparing our grief to that of another loss. Loss is scary, painful, and scarring but each loss is different. One loss cannot be compared to another beyond the fact that there is no pain like the death of a child.

It’s time for us to stop comparing our grief; because no matter whether we’ve experienced a miscarriage or a stillbirth, loss hurts.

At four weeks or at forty, a loss is a loss.

 


(*Statistics from www.healthlinkbc.ca)

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