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For those who don't live to breathe

By Mary Bryant - posted Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Why don’t we have a grieving ritual for miscarriage?

When I lost my baby at 11 weeks into my pregnancy I had no idea what to do. Was I to grieve like a mother whose baby had died (that was how I felt) or should I get up and make breakfast for the family, cry a little and get to work?

Well the answer was clear to me. Everyone knows that miscarriage is a risk you take when you attempt to have a child, I knew that it must be painful because my cheery mother-in-law still talks about her child in heaven, and everyone knows that there is no ritual or ceremony that we share to celebrate the life lost, the baby returned to heaven: so I went off to work.


In fact it wasn’t until time came for me to chance the gift of life again that I had to face my pain, my grief my tears, my fears that had clumsily been stored away. It was at this moment that I became angry and disappointed but also confused as to why there is no ritual for the loss of a child through miscarriage.

Why did this pain have to be so private, why did this pain have to be so minimised?

It seemed like every woman I met in the weeks after Michael Gabriel died rebirthed their unhealed stories over and over again, as if my experience opened the door for their pain to escape.

If that wasn’t challenging enough the language used by medical staff denies the use of the word “baby” and replaces it with terms such as “spontaneous abortion”, or “remnants of pregnancy”, maybe with the hope of convincing the mother that they are overreacting and that in fact a piece of flesh has moved away not a life - a son or daughter.

But this lie is short lived and only adds to the confusion. The mother knows the life that was there. The mother knows the dreams they have already dreamt for that child’s life and they know it was more than flesh.

If the mother faces the reality that it was a child, they are hit with the paradox that this child of theirs is not offered a funeral or given a name but is flush down the toilet or thrown out with the hospital waste. And that truth made me feel shameful and it still makes me sad when I think that’s where my little angel went.


We have funerals for dogs and cats, we have divorce parties and house warmings so why is the loss of an expected child so forgotten and ignored. I wondered why groups and individuals who spend many hours defending the moment when life begins don’t advocate for honouring the moment when it ends.

The most dangerous result of no ceremony, funeral or ritual is that women who don’t get to grieve are at risk of experiencing unresolved grief, which may be accompanied by symptoms of anxiety and depression

A woman can expect to miscarry one in four pregnancies, this risk increases with age. Statistics show that women are now older at the time of their first pregnancy, with the help of technology they have more information earlier about the child they carry.

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About the Author

Mary Bryant is currently the Manager of a Bereavement Counselling Service at St Vincent's Hospital Sydney. She has been employed as a social worker/counsellor/ educator for over thirty years.

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