Everyone knows what to do when a couple loses their baby. They bring comfort, food, and support. They attend the funeral. They grieve together.
But what if a couple loses their unborn child because of a miscarriage?
The March of Dimes estimates that half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, often before a woman even realizes she’s pregnant. For women who know they’re pregnant, the risk is anywhere from 15 to 25%.
For something so common, there’s not much support for couples dealing with the loss of their unborn child.
That’s why we talked to author V. Lakshmi in this week’s YBTV interview.
V., known to her friends as Rachel, suffered from infertility issues linked to endometriosis. When she finally found out she was pregnant, she was overjoyed.
Then, at 11 weeks, she received the news that would turn her life upside down…
What You’ll Learn
It began with a love story.
V. knew her husband was the one. They met in March, were engaged by May, and married in November. “We just knew. He’s my soul mate, he’s my best friend, and I can’t imagine life without him,” she says.
They began thinking about starting a family early on.
For V., becoming a mother was particularly meaningful, because a child would be the first biological connection she’d ever had. She’d been adopted from India as a baby and never knew her parents. The thought of having someone else in the family with her nose, her eyes, thrilled her.
V. and her husband began trying to conceive, but the pregnancy tests kept coming up negative. She began to wonder if something was wrong.
“There’s a lot of that in infertility: ‘What’s wrong with you?’ There’s a lot of self-blame … and it shouldn’t be there,” she says.
Then it happened…
She wasn’t feeling well, and she did a test. She was pregnant!
Her pregnancy was even more of a miracle because she’d had endometriosis for two decades. It had taken years to get diagnosed. She had a number of surgeries before she could even try to conceive. “For anybody who hasn’t been through it, it’s a deeply invasive process,” she says.
So to get pregnant naturally, after all of that?
“After we had been told we’d never get pregnant, we thought, ‘This is a miracle!'” she says.
But then her world came crashing down.
I can remember that day like it was yesterday … I remember the smell of the rain, I remember just knowing something was wrong.”
She went to the hospital with the husband, and the doctors verified it. They’d lost the baby at 11 weeks.
“In that moment, it was just like time stopped,” she says.
They got home, and family and friends rallied around them. V’s sister-in-law, who was visiting at the time, went out and bought them a tree. They planted the tree in the backyard as a memorial.
But it wasn’t enough.
When someone you love dies, there’s a funeral. There’s a gravesite. There are rituals to help you through.
V. had none of that. “I was at a loss, because I didn’t know what to do.”
“Years later,” she says, “I was taught by a wonderful therapist that in order to handle the grief—because I wasn’t handling it—[I needed] to do a ceremony.'”
They did a flower ceremony out on the water. They said prayers and scattered rose petals. She felt a huge relief, as if the ceremony had shifted something in her.
Back at home, V. shared the ceremony on LinkedIn, and the response was overwhelming. She saw a need for the miscarriage community to have greater support through the grieving process.
Grieving doesn’t start once you return home to the arms of your family and friends. It begins in the moment parents are told they’ve lost the baby.
For V., the experience of learning about the miscarriage was harder on her and her husband than it should have been.
She’d gone into the hospital to get checked out. They’d given her an ultrasound, but she didn’t know what they seen. “There’s no conversation. It was like, you have a test and then you’re put back into another room.”
The doctor came in, told them the baby had passed, and left. V. and her husband were speechless.
Luckily, a nurse stepped in.
“I want to give a shout-out to all the nurses in America, because we had the most incredible nurse,” she says. “She sat, and she cried with us, and she held our hands, and she was compassionate and loving. I will never forget her kindness that day.”
How might doctors and hospitals change their procedures, so that parents feel more supported through miscarriage?
For V., it’s simple. She’d like doctors “to realize that when you’re walking into that room, there’s a couple who had a dream, and that dream just died. And that, instead of holding the chart and not even having eye contact … [a doctor could] look at us in the eyes and say, ‘I’m really, really sorry that you lost a child,’ and show compassion.”
She also would like to see parents given information on how to deal with their grief. It would have made such a difference if someone had handed her a pamphlet and said, “These are the steps and the things that you could be doing to help yourself” process the grief.
Family and friends sometimes need information on how to support their loved ones, too.
Although she mostly felt supported, V. found that some didn’t know what to say, so they said nothing, “which to me was even more painful.”
Even if you don’t know what to say to someone who’s just gone through a miscarriage, you can still be there for them. You can drop by food, or leave it at the front door if you don’t feel you’re up to a conversation. You can call or leave a note to say:
I’m thinking about you, I’m here for you, but I just don’t have the words right now. I will come over, you can cry on my shoulder, I will listen to you, and I will hold you.
Something else that helped V. was writing her memoir, Finding Your Way When Life Changes Your Plans.
In it, she writes about being adopted, being an Indian Jewish woman, her infertility struggles, and how she has come to make sense of everything that has happened to her.
Today, V. speaks to schools, universities and companies on diversity awareness. She answers any questions they ask and dispels any stereotypes.
“I’ve come across so many tough things in my life, and I really wish that there was more humanity and more love and understanding,” she says.
Not all of us have been through the same story. We’ve not all walked the same path. Before you make an assumption, [listen to] a person’s story.”
Jump to Topics of Interest
2:15 How V. met her husband
3:11 What it meant to start a family as someone who’d been adopted
3:53 Fertility struggles
6:37 The day V. learned she’d lost her baby
7:46 Planting a tree
8:23 The flower ceremony
10:17 How doctors can communicate the news of a miscarriage better
13:13 The need for parents to receive information to help them through the grieving process as soon as they learn about the miscarriage
14:58 How to support a friend who’s recently suffered a miscarriage
17:02 V’s memoir and speaking engagements
18:20 More love and understanding in the world
V. was born an orphan in a remote village in India. At 11 months old, she was adopted by a white Jewish family in America. She struggled to find her way as an Indian Jewish woman, until a series of painful life experiences helped her understand her life mission: to inspire and help as many people as she can before she leaves this planet by sharing her stories. Get your copy of Finding Your Way When Life Changes Your Plans.